Archive for November, 2016

Why Presidential Election Campaigns Tighten At The End

Lewis D. Eigen

The last Presidential elections all seem to have tightened as Election Day got closer and closer. However, it may have nothing to do with the voters. It may be caused by the actions of all the other stakeholders in a Presidential election, each perusing its own vested interest and those happen to all benefit by having a tightening campaign. With these forces acting on the information that the public receives, we are told of a tightening race whether it is or isn’t.

Consider each one:

The Candidate Who Is Behind: The candidate and his/her campaign want to tell their supporters that the race is tightening as that shows that they have momentum and supporters will not give up on them. Their supporters might even not bother voting if they do not perceive that there is a good possibility that the candidate will win. The general perception that the race is tightening will be good for the morale of all the campaign volunteers whose efforts are needed if the candidate is to have any chance at all. Just as important is that if the race is perceived as not close, the donated money will dry up. A tightening race is the only way they can keep the donations coming in which they need if they have any chance at all.

The Candidate Who Is Ahead: He/she and his/her campaign staff, while feeling good about their lead, are always very worried that if their supporters feel too confident that the candidate will win, they may not go to the polls and vote. If weather is bad on election day, too many people will feel that their vote is not critical and stay home. Also, the last thing the leading candidate wants is to have his/her volunteers throughout the country to slow down in their frenetic efforts Also, the campaign’s donors could easily stop donating if they think the election is “in the bag”.

The Political Party Of The Candidate Who is Behind: The party would of course like to win the Presidency, but even if they lose, it is very important to get out as many of their voters as possible to vote for the Senate and House elections as well as the state and local elections. If the voter perception is that the race is tightening, they will more likely turn out and vote for the down ballot candidates of the Party.

The Political Party Of The Candidate Who Is Ahead: The logic for them is the same as the other party. Even if they win the Presidency, they want the additional votes for the down ballot candidates. They want to win by as large a margin as possible so they can claim a voter mandate. They also want people to keep donating which they will not do so much if they think that the race is “a sure thing” and will be won without their donations. So the party profits if the race is tightening.

The Media: They profit doubly if they report the race as tightening. First, the public watches more TV, listens to more radio, reads more newspapers and magazines, and surfs the Internet more if the race is close than if it is not. Those additional “eyeballs” mean more profits for them. Second, and this is often forgotten, the media are the beneficiaries of a huge amount of advertising dollars in a close election. The rate of advertising is generally much heavier as election day gets closer, with tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars reserved by the campaigns for the last push. But if the race is not close, the leading candidate and the losing candidate both may greatly reduce their advertising buys in what might otherwise be the heaviest advertising time. A tight race is very important to the media.

The Pollsters: Polling is a big business and there are a number of companies (and some non-profit operations) who get paid to conduct these polls. The poll buyers are the campaigns and the media both. If the race is not close, there is less need for both groups to have frequent polls. But if the race is tightening, then there is great importance for the campaigns and the media to have day to day (or even more frequent) polls. Pollsters are professionals and do not want to be wrong as that hurts their reputation for getting future business. But there is the short term self-interest factor, so even if the pollsters will not consciously interpret the data to say that a race is tightening if they really believe it is not, subconsciously there is a vested interest that could sway the results. Human nature tends to often bias results, for even trained scientists sometimes are biased by the interests of their funding source.

These six groups are the source of all of the public’s knowledge and information about the election race. Public opinion is informed by them. And they ALL have a vested interest in saying the race is tightening. Conversely, if it is not, their interests are ill-served.

While there are probably a few people who consciously decide to tell the public the race is tightening whether it is or not, the majority of the individuals within these six groups are more intellectually honest and ethical. However, the data with which the individuals observe to determine whether or not a race is tightening, is not clear cut. It is open to much interpretation. Also there are many different indicators of a race tightening, and which ones to look for and how to weigh their differential emphasis are subjective decisions of the professionals. We have only to surf the web, read the newspaper, or tune in to TV or radio news to see many examples of this: “The losing candidate is now ahead of last election’s winner with working class, non-college educated white males in Ohio”. “A newspaper that has traditionally endorsed the winning candidates party, has just endorsed the losing candidate”. “The winning candidate edge in leadership perception has gone down by one point. There are always plusses and minuses with so many data elements being tracked. Which ones or combinations should be weighted and by how much in order to reach a conclusion of a tightening race is subjective. If one is looking for a tightening race, each week will produce many data points that will support that hypothesis whether it is real or not. And recall, that the Media professionals are constantly being bombarded by the tweets, e-mail, and phone calls from the campaign staffs–especially for the losing candidate who has the most to gain–to show that the race is tightening. And then the journalists (on the air and off) ask questions of the candidates, their staffs about whether or not the race is tightening and almost all the answers that the get is that the race IS tightening. We then conclude that the races is tightening as everyone is talking about it.

As we know that even trained scientists’ findings can be unconsciously compromised by self-interest issues, the same forces are acting upon the pollsters, journalists, analysts, campaign strategists and other staff and consultants, as well as the candidates themselves. With so many of these people involved in the process of informing the public, it would be an impossible contradiction of human nature for it not to bias the information the public gets about a Presidential race tightening or not.

So with these forces acting, we can all look forward to tight presidential races in the future.

November 7, 2016 at 5:29 PM Leave a comment

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