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A political campaign is an organized effort which to influence the decision making process within a specific group. In democracies, political campaigns often refer to electoral campaigns, wherein representatives are chosen or referenda are decided. Political campaigns also include organized efforts to alter policy within any institution.
Politics is as old as humankind and is not limited to democratic or governmental institutions. Some examples of political campaigns are: the effort to execute or banish Socrates from Athens in the 5th century BCE, the uprising of petty nobility against John of England in the 13th century, or the 2005 push to remove Michael Eisner from the helm of The Walt Disney Company.
Any political campaign is made up of 4 elements. The modern mnemonic is message, money, mommy, and machine.
The message is a concise statement saying why voters should pick a candidate. Simple examples might include:
- "[John Doe is a business man, not a politician. His background in finance means he can bring fiscal discipline to state government."
- "As our society faces a rapid upswing in violent crime and an ever worsening education system, we need leaders who will keep our streets safe and restore accountability to our schools. John Doe is that leader."
- "Over the past four years, John Doe has missed over fifty City Council meetings. How can you lead if you don't show up? Jane Doe won't turn a blind eye to the government."
The message is one of the most important aspects of any political campaign. The habit of modern Western media outlets (especially radio and television) of taking short excerpts from speeches has resulted in the creation of the term "soundbite".
In a modern political campaign, the message must be carefully crafted before it is spread. Major campaigns will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on opinion polls and focus groups in order to figure out what message is needed to reach a majority on Election Day.
- Main article: Campaign finance
Fundraising techniques include having the candidate call or meet with large donors, sending direct mail pleas to small donors, and courting interest groups who could end up spending millions on the race if it is significant to their interests.
Finally, 'machine' represents human capital, the foot soldiers loyal to the cause, the true believers who will carry the run by volunteer activists. Successful campaigns usually require a campaign manager and some staff members who make strategic and tactical decisions while volunteers and interns canvass door-to-door and make phone calls.
Large modern campaigns use all three of the above components to create a successful strategy for victory.
See also: Campaign advertising
A campaign team (which may be as small as one inspired individual, or a heavily-resourced group of professionals) must consider how to communicate the message of the campaign, recruit volunteers, and raise money. Campaign advertising draws on techniques from commercial advertising and propaganda. The avenues available to political campaigns when distributing their messages is limited by the law, available resources, and the imagination of the campaigns' participants. These avenues include:
- The public media (in US parlance 'free media' or 'earned media') may run the story that someone is trying to get elected or to do something about such and such
- The paid media which consists of paid advertisements on TV, the radio, in newspapers, on billboards and, increasingly, the Internet
- Holding protests, rallies and other similar public events (if enough people can be persuaded to come)
- Holding mass meetings with speakers
- Writing directly to members of the public (either via a professional marketing firm or, particularly on a small scale, by volunteers)
- Canvassing face-to-face with members of the public, either at events, in the street ("mainstreeting"), or on the doorstep
- By cold-calling members of the public over the phone
- By distributing leaflets or selling newspapers
- Through websites, online communities, and solicited or unsolicited bulk email eg. 
- Through a new technique known as Microtargeting that helps identify and target small demographic slices of voters
- Through a whistlestop tour - a series of brief appearances in several small towns
- Hampering the ability of political competitors to campaign, by such techniques as counter-rallies, picketing of rival parties’ meetings, or overwhelming rival candidates’ offices with mischievous phone calls (most political parties in representative democracies publicly distance themselves from such disruptive and morale-affecting tactics, with the exception of those parties self-identifying as activist )
- Organizing political house parties
- Using endorsements of other celebrated party members to boost support (see coattail effect).
These methods are often combined into a formal strategy known as the campaign plan. The plan takes account of a campaign's goal, message, target audience, and resources in order to lay out a blueprint for victory.
The campaign will typically seek to identify supporters at the same time as getting its message across. These identified supporters are then sent additional information requesting their active support. They are asked to "join" the campaign by donating money, doing volunteer work, writing letters to the media, voting in a particular way, and generally assisting the cause.
Ongoing campaigns can become entrenched as institutions, charities, or political parties. Conversely, existing organizations may use campaigns to remain active, or to advance interests.
Types of elections
The United States is unusual in that there are dozens of different types of elections and political offices available, including everything from the sewer commission to the President of the United States.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Elections happen every year on many different dates in many different areas of the country.
At the local level, some offices (e.g., school board, town council, etc.) may be officially non-partisan, with candidates of the same political party challenging each other and in many cases without any campaign references to political parties. Other offices (e.g., county treasurer, county district attorney, county sheriff) may be filled in partisan manners with parties endorsing like-minded candidates and then working on their behalf.
All state and national elections are partisan (except judicial elections in some states).
Process of campaigning
Major campaigns in the United States are often much longer than those in other democracies.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
Campaigns start anywhere from several months to several years before election day. The first part of any campaign for a candidate is deciding to run. Prospective candidates will often speak with family, friends, professional associates, elected officials, community leaders, and the leaders of political parties before deciding to run. Candidates are often recruited by political parties and interest groups interested in electing like-minded politicians. During this period, people considering running for office will consider their ability to put together the money, organization, and public image needed to get elected. Many campaigns for major office do not progress past this point as people often do not feel confident in their ability to win.
Once a person decides to run, they will make a public announcement. This announcement could consist of anything from a simple press release to concerned media outlets to a major media event followed by a speaking tour. It is often well-known to many people that a candidate will run prior to an announcement being made. Campaigns will often be announced and then only officially "kicked off" months after active campaigning has begun. Being coy about whether a candidacy is planned is often a deliberate strategy by a prospective candidate, either to "test the waters" or to keep the media's attention.
One of the most important aspects of the major American political campaign is the ability to raise large sums of money, especially early on in the race. Political insiders and donors often judge candidates based on their ability to raise money. Not raising enough money early on can lead to problems later as donors are not willing to give funds to candidates they perceive to be losing, a perception based on their poor fundraising performance.
Also during this period, candidates travel around the area they are running in and meet with voters; speaking to them in large crowds, small groups, or even one-on-one. This allows voters to get a better picture of who a candidate is than that which they read about in the paper or see on television. Campaigns sometimes launch expensive media campaigns during this time to introduce the candidate to voters, although most wait until closer to election day.
Campaigns often dispatch volunteers into local communities to meet with voters and persuade people to support the candidate. The volunteers are also responsible for identifying supporters, recruiting them as volunteers or registering them to vote if they are not already registered. The identification of supporters will be useful later as campaigns remind voters to cast their votes.
Late in the campaign, campaigns will launch expensive television, radio, and direct mail campaigns aimed at persuading voters to support the candidate. Campaigns will also intensify their grassroots campaigns, coordinating their volunteers in a full court effort to win votes.
Voting in the United States often starts weeks before election day as mail-in ballots are a commonly used voting method. Campaigns will often run two persuasion programs, one aimed at mail-in voters and one aimed at the more traditional poll voters.
Campaigns for minor office may be relatively simple and inexpensive - talking to local newspapers, giving out campaign signs, and greeting people in the local square.
- Main article: Political consulting
Political campaigns in the United States are not merely a civic ritual and occasion for political debate, but a multi-billion dollar industry, dominated by professional political consultants using sophisticated campaign management tools, to an extent far greater than elsewhere in the world. Though the quadrennial presidential election attracts the most attention, the United States has a huge number of elected offices and there is wide variation between different states, counties, and municipalities on which offices are elected and under what procedures. Moreover, unlike democratic politics in much of the rest of the world, the US has relatively weak parties. While parties play a significant role in fundraising and occasionally in drafting people to run, campaigns are ultimately controlled by the individual candidates themselves.
Other issues and criticisms
Cost of campaign advertising
American political campaigns have become heavily reliant on broadcast media and direct mail advertising (typically designed and purchased through specialized consultants). Though virtually all campaign media are sometimes used at all levels (even candidates for local office have been known to purchase cable TV ads), smaller, lower-budget campaigns are typically more focused on direct mail, low-cost advertising (such as lawn signs), and direct voter contact. This reliance on expensive advertising is a leading factor behind the rise in the cost of running for office in the United States. This rising cost is considered by some to discourage those without well-monied connections, or money themselves, from running for office.
Money is raised and spent not only by candidate's campaign, but also by party committees, political action committees, and other groups (in the 2004 election cycle, much controversy has focused on a new category of organization, 527 groups). This is sometimes done through independent expenditures made in support or opposition of specific candidates but without any candidate's cooperation or approval. The lack of an overt connection between a candidate and third party groups allows one side of a campaign to attack the other side while avoiding criticism for going negative. A memorable example are the Swift Boat Veterans who criticized John Kerry in the United States presidential election, 2004, and who were condemned by Republican Senator John McCain.
Many political players and commentators agree that American political campaigns are currently undergoing a period of change, due to changing campaign-finance laws, increased use of the internet (which has become a valuable fundraising tool), and the apparently declining effectiveness of television advertising.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
Political campaigns have existed as long as there have been informed citizens to campaign amongst. Often mass campaigns are started by the less privileged or anti-establishment viewpoints (as against more powerful interests whose first resort is lobbying). The phenomenon of political campaigns are tightly tied to special interest groups and political parties. The first 'modern' campaign is thought to be William Gladstone's Midlothian campaign in the 1880s, although there may be earlier recognisably modern examples from the 19th century.
Democratic societies have regular election campaigns, but political campaigning can occur on particular issues even in non-democracies so long as freedom of expression is allowed.
American election campaigns in the 19th century created the first mass-base political parties and invented many of the techniques of mass campaigning.[How to reference and link to summary or text] In the 1790-1820s, the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party battled it out in the so-called "First Party System".
Alternatives to campaigning
Not all democratic elections involve political campaigning. Indeed, some democratic elections specifically rule out campaigning on the grounds that campaigning may compromise the democratic character of the elections (Abizadeh 2005), perhaps because of campaigns' susceptibility to the influence of money, or to the influence of special interest groups.
- Abizadeh, Arash. "Democratic Elections without Campaigns? Normative Foundations of National Baha'i Elections." World Order 37.1 (2005): 7-49.
- Barnes, S. H., and M. Kaase Political Action: Mass Participation in Five Western Democracies.Sage, 1979.
- Blewett, Neal. The Peers, the Parties and the People: The General Elections of 1910. London: Macmillan, 1972.
- Hix, S. The Political System of the European Union. St. Martin's Press, 1999.
- Katz, Richard S., and P. Mair (eds.), How Parties Organize: Change and Adaptation in Party Organizations in Western Democracies. Sage Publications, 1994.
- Katz, Richard S., and Peter Mair, "Changing Models of Party Organization and Party Democracy: The Emergence of the Cartel Party," Party Politics, Vol. 1, No. 1, 5-28 (1995) DOI: 10.1177/1354068895001001001 online abstract
- LaPalombara, Joseph and Myron Wiener (eds.), Political Parties and Political Development. Princeton University Press, 1966.
- Panebianco, A. Political Parties: Organization and Power. Cambridge University Press, 1988.
- Paquette, Laure. Campaign Strategy. New York: Nova, 2006.
- Poguntke, Thomas, and Paul Webb, eds. The Presidentialization of Politics: A Comparative Study of Modern Democracies. Oxford University Press. 2005 online
- Ware, Alan. Citizens, Parties and the State: A Reappraisal. Princeton University Press, 1987.
- Webb, Paul, David Farrell, and Ian Holliday, Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies Oxford University Press, 2002 online
- Robert J. Dinkin. Campaigning in America: A History of Election Practice. Westport: Greenwood, 1989.
- John Gerring, Party Ideologies in America, 1828-1996. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
- Lewis L. Gould, Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans. NY: Random House, 2003.
- Gary C. Jacobson. The Politics of Congressional Elections (5th Edition) NY: Longman, 2000.
- Richard Jensen, The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, 1888-1896. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971.
- L. Sandy Meisel, Political Parties and Elections in the United States: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1991.
- Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed. History of American Presidential Elections. 4 vols. New York: Chelsea House, 1971.
- James A. Thurber, Campaigns and Elections American Style. NY Westview Press; 2nd edition, 2004.
- Kirsten A. Foot and Steven M. Schneider, Web Campaigning. The MIT Press, 2006.
- Techniques and traditions
- General topics
- United States Federal Election Commission
- Campaign - Non Partisan Voter Education Site
- The American Association of Political Consultants
- IRS: Taxes for Political Organizations
- An in-depth look at the campaign of Lewis Lehrman for NY Governor in 1982
- The National Institute on Money in State Politics
- Center for American Women and Politics Ready to Run Campaign Training for Women
- Australian Electoral Commission
- AXJ-Grass Roots Independent Electoral Watchdog Commission
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