Political campaign

A political campaign is an organized effort which seeks to influence the decision making progress within a specific group. In democracies, political campaigns often refer to electoral campaigns, by which representatives are chosen or referendums are decided. In modern politics, the most high-profile political campaigns are focused on general elections and candidates for head of state or head of government, often a president or prime minister.

Campaign message

The message of the campaign contains the ideas that the candidate wants to share with the voters. It is to get those who agree with their ideas to support them when running for a political position. The message often consists of several talking points about policy issues. The points summarize the main ideas of the campaign and are repeated frequently in order to create a lasting impression with the voters. In many elections, the opposition party will try to get the candidate "off message" by bringing up policy or personal questions that are not related to the talking points. Most campaigns prefer to keep the message broad in order to attract the most potential voters. A message that is too narrow can alienate voters or slow the candidate down with explaining details. For example, in the 2008 American presidential election John McCain originally used a message that focused on his patriotism and political experience: "Country First"; later the message was changed to shift attention to his role as "The Original Maverick" within the political establishment. Barack Obama ran on a consistent, simple message of "change" throughout his campaign. However, even if the message is crafted carefully, it does not assure the candidate a victory at the polls. For a winning candidate, the message is refined and then becomes his or her in office.

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.


In a modern political campaign, the campaign organization (or "machine") will have a coherent structure of personnel in the same manner as any business of similar size.

Campaign manager

Successful campaigns usually require a campaign manager to coordinate the campaign's operations. Apart from a candidate, they are often a campaign's most visible leader. Modern campaign managers may be concerned with executing strategy rather than setting it - particularly if the senior strategists are typically outside political consultants such as primarily pollsters and media consultants.

Political consultants

Political consultants advise campaigns on virtually all of their activities, from research to field strategy. Consultants conduct candidate research, voter research, and opposition research for their clients.


Activists are the "foot soldiers" loyal to the cause, the true believers who will carry the run by volunteer activists. Such volunteers and interns may take part in activities such as canvassing door-to-door and making phone calls on behalf of the campaigns.


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, also entertainment and public relations, a mixture dubbed politainment. 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 techniques 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 available. The campaign will typically seek to identify supporters at the same time as getting its message across. The modern, open campaign method was pioneered by Aaron Burr during the American presidential election of 1800.[1][2][3]

Campaign communication

Election campaign communication refers to party-controlled communication, e.g. campaign advertising, and party-uncontrolled communication, e.g. media coverage of elections.

Campaign advertising

Campaign advertising is the use of paid media (newspapers, radio, television, etc.) to influence the decisions made for and by groups. These ads are designed by political consultants and the campaign's staff.

Media management

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 certain aspects regarding their specific country.


Modern technology and the internet

The internet is now a core element of modern political campaigns. Communication technologies such as e-mail, websites, and podcasts for various forms of activism enable faster communications by citizen movements and deliver a message to a large audience. These Internet technologies are used for cause-related fundraising, lobbying, volunteering, community building, and organizing. Individual political candidates are also using the internet to promote their election campaign. In a study of Norwegian election campaigns, politicians reported they used social media for marketing and for dialogue with voters. Facebook was the primary platform for marketing and Twitter was used for more continuous dialogue.[4]

Signifying the importance of internet political campaigning, Barack Obama's presidential campaign relied heavily on social media, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and new media channels to engage voters, recruit campaign volunteers, and raise campaign funds. The campaign brought the spotlight on the importance of using internet in new-age political campaigning by utilizing various forms of social media and new media (including Facebook, YouTube and a custom generated social engine) to reach new target populations. The campaign's social website, my.BarackObama.com, utilized a low cost and efficient method of mobilizing voters and increasing participation among various voter populations.[5] This new media was incredibly successful at reaching the younger population while helping all populations organize and promote action.

Now Online Election campaign has got a new dimension, the campaign information can be shared as in Rich Info format through campaign landing pages, integrating Google's rich snippets, structured data,[6] Social media open graphs, and husting support file formats for YouTube like .sbv (SubRip), .srt (subtitle resource track), .vtt (Video text trace), high proficiency and effective algorithmic integration will be the core factor in the frame-work. This technology integration helps campaign information to reach a wide audience in split seconds. This has successfully been tested and implemented in 2015 Aruvikkara Election Kerala.[7]* Marcus Giavanni, social media consultant and blockchain developer and second place opponent in the 2015 election, was first to file for the 2019 election. Marcus Giavanni Uses Advanced Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, and Voice Indexing Predictions to box in campaigns.[8]


A husting, or the hustings, was originally a physical platform from which representatives presented their views or cast votes before a parliamentary or other election body. By metonymy, the term may now refer to any event, such as debates or speeches, during an election campaign where one or more of the representative candidates are present.

Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME)

Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME), and the ability to reach the millennial demographic over social media and search engines, has become an important component to online Husting-based campaign efforts.

It's evident that SEME can influence unbiased voters heavily, a study by Mr. Ronald E. Robertson (Senior Research Psychologist at the American Institute of Behavioural Research and Technology and the former editor in chief of Psychology Today )

Other techniques

  • Writing directly to members of the public (either via a professional marketing firm or, particularly on a small scale, by volunteers)
  • By distributing leaflets or selling newspapers
  • Through websites, online communities, and solicited or unsolicited bulk email[9]
  • 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)
  • Remaining close to or at home to make speeches to supporters who come to visit as part of a front porch campaign
  • Vote-by-mail, previously known as "absentee ballots" have grown significantly in importance as an election tool. Campaigns in most states must have a strategy in place to impact early voting
  • Sale of official campaign merchandise (colloquially known as Swag, in reference to the baiting technique) as a way of commuting a competitor's popularity into campaign donations, volunteer recruitment, and free advertising[10]

Campaign types

Informational campaign

An informational campaign is a political campaign designed to raise public awareness and support for the positions of a candidate (or her/his party).[11] It is more intense than a paper campaign, which consists of little more than filing the necessary papers to get on the ballot, but is less intense than a competitive campaign, which aims to actually win election to the office. An informational campaign typically focuses on low-cost outreach such as news releases, getting interviewed in the paper, making a brochure for door to door distribution, organizing poll workers, etc.[12]

Paper campaign

A paper campaign is a political campaign in which the candidate only files the necessary paperwork to appear on the ballot.[13][14] The purpose of such a token effort may be simply to increase name awareness of a minor political party or to give voters of a certain ideology an opportunity to vote accordingly. It can be a cost-effective means of attracting media coverage. An informational campaign, by contrast, may involve news releases, newspaper interviews, door-to-door campaigning, and organizing polls. As the level of seriousness rises, the marginal cost of reaching more people rises accordingly, due to the high cost of TV commercials, paid staff, etc. which are used by competitive campaigns.[15]

Modern election campaigns in the United States

Types of elections

The United States is unusual in that dozens of different offices are filled by election, from drain commissioner to the President of the United States. Elections happen every year on many different dates in many different areas of the country.

All federal elections (that is, elections for president and vice president as well as elections to the House of Representatives and Senate) are partisan. Elections to most (but not all) statewide offices are partisan as well, and all state legislatures except for Nebraska are partisan.

Some state and local offices are non-partisan - these often include judicial elections, special district elections (the most common of which are elections to the school board, and elections to municipal (town council, city commission, mayor) and county (county commission, district attorney, sheriff) office. In some cases, candidates of the same political party challenging each other and in many cases without any campaign references to political parties, while in other cases, even non-partisan races may take on partisan overtones.

Process of campaigning

Major campaigns in the United States are often much longer than those in other democracies.

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 lobby 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. However, some candidates lacking the resources needed for a competitive campaign proceed with an inexpensive paper campaign or informational campaign designed to raise public awareness and support for their positions.

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 process 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.

Political consultants

Political campaigns in the United States are not merely a civic ritual and occasion for political debate, but a multibillion-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.

Independent expenditures

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 2004 Presidential campaign.[16]

Future developments

Many political players and commentators agree that American political campaigns are currently undergoing a period of change, due to increased use of the internet, which has become a valuable fundraising tool. This has led to the development of digital marketing, where customers can be targeted by demographic factors such age, location and occupation.

However, as modern technology continues to adapt to changes in society, Internet campaigning will never be able to serve as a complete replacement for traditional political campaigning without reducing the significant barriers to entry.[17] Internet political campaigning leaves out entire portions of each population because it only is accessible to a certain portion of the population, leaving those without this access disconnected.

For example, during Obama's recent presidential campaign, Internet political campaigning was supposedly effective at reaching the younger population, as they remain engaged with social websites and new media.[18] Because of the limits of technology, Obama's Internet campaign failed to reach older generations who didn't use this new media, as well as significant amounts of the population who didn't have access.


A forthcoming study in the American Political Science Review found that campaigns have "an average effect of zero in general elections".[19][20] The study found two instances where campaigning was effective: "First, when candidates take unusually unpopular positions and campaigns invest unusually heavily in identifying persuadable voters. Second, when campaigns contact voters long before election day and measure effects immediately — although this early persuasion decays."[19][20]

Presidential campaigns

A large body of political science research emphasizes how "fundamentals" - the state of the economy, whether the country is at war, how long the president's party has held the office, and which candidate is more ideologically moderate - predict presidential election outcomes.[21][22][23][24][25] However, campaigns may be necessary to enlighten otherwise uninformed voters about the fundamentals, which thus become increasingly predictive of preferences as the campaign progresses.[21][26][27][28] Research suggests that "the 2012 presidential campaigns increased turnout in highly targeted states by 7–8 percentage points, on average, indicating that modern campaigns can significantly alter the size and composition of the voting population.".[29]

National conventions

A consensus in the political science literature holds that national conventions usually have a measurable effect on presidential elections that is relatively resistant to decay.[26][27][28]

Presidential and vice-presidential debates

Research is mixed on the precise impact of debates.[26][28][30] Rather than encourage viewers to update their political views in accordance with the most persuasive arguments, viewers instead update their views to merely reflect what their favored candidate is saying.[31]

Presidential primaries

The fundamentals matter less in the outcome of presidential primaries. One prominent theory holds that the outcome of presidential primaries is largely determined by the preferences of party elites.[32] Presidential primaries are therefore less predictive, as all kinds of events may impact elites' perception of the viability of candidates. Gaffes, debates and media narratives play a greater role in primaries than in presidential elections.[22][33]


Traditional ground campaigning and voter contacts remain the most effective strategies.[29][34] Some research suggests that knocking on doors can increase turnout by as much as 10%[35] and phone calls by as much as 4%.[36] One study suggests that lawn signs increase vote share by 1.7 percentage points.[37] A review of more than 200 get-out-the-vote experiments finds that the most effective tactics are personal: Door-to-door canvassing increases turnout by an average of about 2.5 percentage points; volunteer phone calls raise it by about 1.9 points, compared to 1.0 points for calls from commercial phone banks; automated phone messages are ineffective.[38][39] Each field office that the Obama campaign opened in 2012 gave him approximately a 0.3% greater vote share.[40] The Obama 2008 campaign's use of field most offices has been credited as crucial in winning Indiana and North Carolina.[41] According to one study, the cost per vote by having a field office is $49.40.[41] Using out-of-state volunteers for canvassing is less effective in increasing turnout than using local and trained volunteers.[42][43]

Political science research generally finds negative advertisement (which has increased over time)[44] to be ineffective both at reducing the support and turnout for the opponent.[45] According to political scientists Stephen Ansolabehere and Shanto Iyengar, negative ads do succeed at driving down overall turnout though.[46] They also find that "negative ads work better for Republicans than for Democrats, and better for men than for women; unfortunately, negative ads also work better in general than positive ones."[46] Challengers who spend more time campaigning get a higher vote share against incumbents in state house elections.[47] According to political scientist Lynn Vavreck, "the evidence suggests that campaign ads have small effects that decay rapidly — very rapidly — but just enough of the impact accumulates to make running more advertising than your opponent seem a necessity."[48] A 2019 study of online political advertising conducted by a party in the 2016 Berlin state election campaign found that the online-ad campaign "increased the party's vote share by 0.7 percentage points" and that factual ads were more effective than emotional ads.[49]

According to political scientists Donald Green and Alan Gerber, it costs $31 to produce a vote going door to door, $91-$137 to produce a vote by sending out direct mailers, $47 per vote from leafletting, $58-$125 per vote from commercial phone banking, and $20-$35 per vote from voluntary phone banking.[50] A 2018 study in the American Economic Review found that door-to-door canvassing on behalf of the Francois Hollande campaign in the 2012 French presidential election "did not affect turnout, but increased Hollande's vote share in the first round and accounted for one fourth of his victory margin in the second. Visits' impact persisted in later elections, suggesting a lasting persuasion effect."[51] According to a 2018 study, repeated get-out-the-vote phone calls had diminishing effects but each additional phone call increased the probability to vote by 0.6-1.0 percentage points.[52] Another 2018 study found that "party leaflets boost turnout by 4.3 percentage points while canvassing has a small additional effect (0.6 percentage points)" in a United Kingdom election.[53]

A 2016 study found that visits by candidate visits to states have modest effects: "visits are most effective in influencing press coverage at the national level and within battleground states. Visits’ effects on voters themselves, however, are much more modest than consultants often claim, and visits appear to have no effects outside the market that hosts a visit."[54] The authors of the study argue that it would be more effective for campaigns to go to the pockets of the country where wealthy donors are (for fundraising) and hold rallies in the populous states both to attract national press and raise funds.[54] A 2005 study found that campaign visits had no statistically significant effect, after controlling for other factors, on voter turnout in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 elections.[55] On the other hand, a 2017 paper of the 1948 presidential election provides "strong evidence that candidate visits can influence electoral returns".[56] Other research also provides evidence that campaign visits increase vote share.[57]


Political campaigns have existed as long as there have been informed citizens to campaign amongst. 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. 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 lobby groups and political parties.

The first modern campaign is often described as William Ewart Gladstone's Midlothian campaign in 1878-80, although there may be earlier recognizably modern examples from the 19th century. The 1896 William McKinley presidential campaign laid the groundwork for modern campaigns.[58][59]

In the 1790-1820s, the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party battled it out in the so-called "First Party System". American election campaigns in the 19th century created the first mass-base political parties and invented many of the techniques of mass campaigning.

See also

Techniques and traditions
General topics


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Further reading

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