Chapter Fifteen Outline I. The Stolen Election? Now & Then In 1876, the election of Republican



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Chapter Fifteen Outline



I. The Stolen Election? Now & Then
In 1876, the election of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was mired in controversy as the electoral vote count in several states was disputed. A commission from the House, Senate, and Supreme Court declared him the winner over Democrat Samuel Tilden, who had a 250,000 popular vote margin over Hayes.
In 2000, the election of George W. Bush took weeks to decide. It was similarly mired in controversy, voting irregularities, and a vote count that was disputed in several states (particularly Florida). After recounts in several districts, the Supreme Court declared George Bush the winner over Democrat Al Gore, who had more popular votes than Bush.
In both cases, the question remains—were these seats “stolen” or legitimately won? Since its inception, the U.S. political system has demanded accountability from elected officials. Even through years of war and depression, regular and free elections—and the political campaigns that fuel them—have provided for this accountability.
II. American Presidential Elections in Historical Perspective
Political parties and campaigns for president are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. The Founders expected that electors, chosen by the states, would appoint appropriate candidates, and that the Electoral College would select the chief executive—all without having to deal with the views of citizens or the interests of parties.
Today political parties nominate candidates in all fifty states, jump-starting a complex presidential selection process that has evolved over 200 years. Two factors in particular have led that evolution: the nomination phase and the general election phase.


  1. The Nomination Phase




  1. In the nomination phase, the political parties select the presidential and vice presidential candidates, or “party ticket,” to run in the general election. This process was not mentioned in the Constitution; electors made the decision in the first two presidential elections (for Washington in both 1789 and 1792).




  1. Though today’s two-party system was not anticipated at that time, by 1796 political alliances began to emerge and form the first two parties—the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans—and electors began following the cues of their party leadership when casting their votes.




  1. Democratic-Republicans dominated electoral politics from 1812 through 1828 (the Federalists disappeared). A split resulted in the creation of a new Democratic Party led by Andrew Jackson. The “Jacksonian era” became known for the expansion of white male suffrage, and state parties began to form caucuses to decide on which candidate to nominate.




  1. Reforms of the “Progressive era” of the early 1900s led to greater voter participation in the nomination process. The advent of the “direct primary” initially allowed voters to cast ballots for delegates who would be sent to the convention.




  1. It wasn’t until the 1960s that voters demonstrated more influence. In the 1976 open primaries, voters selected a greater percentage of delegates, who in turn chose Jimmy Carter. The direct appeal to voters became increasingly important to secure the number of delegates required for a nomination.


B. The General Election Phase
In the general election phase, the presidential and vice presidential candidates for each of the two parties (and at times a third party) campaign, are showcased at the national convention, face one another on election day, and wait for the state tabulations by the Electoral College.
The emergence of two parties forced a change in the election process. In the nation’s early years, state legislatures chose electors who cast two votes for president. Votes were counted before Congress, with the majority going to the president and the second place going to the vice president. In the 1800 election, the House had to decide on a tie, appointing Jefferson as president and Burr as vice president.
The system has been modified by the passage of several amendments:


  1. The Twelfth Amendment (1804) required that electors vote separately for president and vice president, reducing the possibility of a tie.




  1. The Twenty-Second Amendment (1951) limited presidents to two four-year terms in office.




  1. The Twenty-Third Amendment (1961) gave three votes to the District of Columbia (which is not a state and has no voting members in the House or Senate).

Today’s general election process consists of five stages:




  1. The prenomination campaign: After a new president is selected, potential candidates begin to consider and prepare for the next election in four years.




  1. The nomination campaign: Parties in each state hold primaries or caucuses to determine party delegates committed to certain candidates, and the candidate with the majority of delegates wins the party nomination.




  1. The national conventions: Each party holds a convention to highlight its platform and formally select its candidates.



  1. The general election campaign: As soon as it becomes clear which candidates the parties will back, those candidates choose their running mates and begin waging their campaigns, often well before the party conventions.




  1. The Electoral College decision: In all but two states (Maine and Nebraska), the candidate who wins the popular vote automatically receives all the electoral votes, which are equivalent to the state’s number of House members plus two. The candidate who receives a majority of electoral votes wins the election.


III. The Prenomination Campaign
A. The real campaign for president begins years before an election. During the first stage of the general election process, or prenomination campaign, interested individuals test the waters and set up “exploratory committees” to decide whether they have a solid chance before formally announcing a presidential candidacy. Those who can’t raise funds or handle the rigor of a campaign are weeded out.
B. When successful incumbents seek re-election, no one in the party challenges them. This was the case for the Republicans in 2004, when President Bush ran again, while ten Democrats announced candidacies. For the 2008 election, with no incumbents in the running, more than ten hopefuls from each party announced candidacies.


  1. The invisible primary is the competition between candidates seeking party nomination for “front-runner status”—the individual who gets broad support from party leaders, raises money, does the best in polls, and receives heavy media coverage. The invisible primary leading up to the 2008 primaries involved close to a dozen serious candidates from the two parties. With such competition, the political scene can shift quickly as stars rise or fall, and campaigns soar or falter.



IV. The Nomination Campaign
In stage two of the general election process, the nomination campaign, contenders for the presidency within each party compete for victory in the states. The importance of national conventions has declined in modern politics, putting much more emphasis on these state elections, in the form of primaries or caucuses.
A. Primaries and Caucuses
States allocate delegates through two processes—the primary and the caucus.


  1. A presidential primary is a statewide election in which voters choose delegates who are committed to certain candidates and will represent the state in the national conventions. For the 2008 election, more than forty-five states planned to conduct a primary. In an open primary, voters declare the party they support at the voting booth, and then cast their ballot. In a closed primary, voters declare party affiliations ahead of time, and on Election Day are allowed to vote only for that party.




  1. The caucus method is a process by which party members choose delegates, who are narrowed down to a slate of delegates for a statewide convention (or caucus). There, the final delegates committed to a particular candidate are selected for the national convention.

Each of the fifty states (as well as the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam) holds a primary or a caucus, beginning with the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary.


The calendar of state races, beginning with the Iowa caucus and ending with the primaries in Montana and South Dakota, is called the nomination campaign. In this stage, candidates work to win a majority of delegates in enough states to claim the party’s nomination.

B. The Traditional Importance of the Iowa and New Hampshire Contests
Iowa and New Hampshire are small states with relatively few delegates. In 2004, Iowa had fifteen delegates and New Hampshire had twenty-seven, while many states have delegate counts in the hundreds.
Because they are first on the calendar—not because of size or number of electoral votes—these two races get much media coverage and greatly influence the nominating process. Timing is everything. Candidates who seem to be frontrunners sometimes fail miserably in one or two of these early states, resulting in an overnight political downslide (such as Howard Dean in 2004).
In recent elections, some states have moved primaries and caucuses up in the calendar year to increase their importance, in a process called frontloading. This leads to the party nominee being determined earlier in the process and the general election extending for a longer period. Intense frontloading could be seen for candidates competing in the 2008 primaries, as several key states moved their dates up to January and February. In 2012, the schedule of primaries and caucuses will be similar to the 2008 schedule, as many states have opted to keep their contests as early as possible (albeit in accordance with party rules).

C. The Nominating Conventions


  1. Stage three of the general election process, the nominating conventions, were once the hotbeds of political debate as party leaders formed platforms while dealing, negotiating, and throwing support to favored candidates. Chicago’s 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago was characterized by Vietnam War protesters outside the convention hall, captured on national TV. Inside, antiwar supporters of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern clashed with party regulars supporting Hubert Humphrey.




  1. TV cameras rolled again in 1972 as Democratic delegates fought all night before nominating George McGovern. In 1976 Ronald Reagan spoiled Gerald Ford’s momentum. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter was undermined by Ted Kennedy’s lack of support.




  1. By the mid-1980s, conventions changed. Due to the powerful and often negative impact of television coverage, and a frontloading process that allowed delegates to be decided early on, parties began to choreograph conventions to display their platforms and celebrate their already-chosen tickets, rather than to hammer out deals for their nominations.




  1. By 2004, conventions featured video clips, family testimonials, and carefully planned prime-time speeches.


V. The General Election Campaign
Several elements need to be addressed in order to understand stage four, the general election campaign:
A. Incumbent Race versus Open Election
General election campaigns are highly visible, well-funded, and newsworthy events. An incumbent race, one between a sitting president and a challenger, often focuses on past performance in the White House. In 2004, George W. Bush’s defeat of John Kerry was based on his actions in office and the ability to convince voters that he deserved another term. The 2012 incumbent race is likely to pit the Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama against a Republican challenger, with Obama’s record as president serving as the main focus of the campaign. Throughout American history, eleven incumbents have lost presidential elections.
In an open seat election, neither candidate is an incumbent, and less focus is put on past experience. Less common are elections in which neither the president nor vice president are running again. In the 2008 election, President Bush was prohibited from seeking a third term and Vice President Cheney was not running, so it was the first open-ended contest in eighty years.

B. The Choice of a Vice Presidential Candidate
Vice presidential candidates are visible in the campaign, can boost a ticket or balance a ticket geographically, and are often chosen based on their ideological beliefs. They can also cause problems. When in 1972 the public learned that Senator Thomas Eagleton had received electroshock therapy, George McGovern quickly replaced him; Dan Quayle’s draft dodging caused problems for him as George H.W. Bush’s running mate; and Dick Cheney’s influence on the invasion of Iraq affected the Bush administration. In 2008, John McCain’s selection of the relatively unknown Alaska governor Sarah Palin, earned him plaudits from social conservatives. But the choice also led to excessive scrutiny of McCain’s selection process for the vice-presidential slot after Palin stumbled in several interviews with the mainstream media. By comparison, Barack Obama’s selection of Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware received relatively little scrutiny.

C. Gathering a Winning Coalition of States
Any successful candidate needs to put together a group of states that will win the election. When a campaign begins, states can be divided into three sections: strong Republican states, strong Democrat states, and battleground states (or swing states).
D. The Presidential Debates
The first presidential debates that caught the public interest were the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960, which some say won the presidency for JFK. Since then candidates have been expected to debate, and though they may not agree that it is strategically smart, they participate so they don’t appear afraid to do so. Campaigns negotiate intensely regarding the schedule and rules for debates, and media attention is fierce, but the impact of debates on voters is hard to measure. Polls may ask people to predict a winner, and viewers who watch may have strong convictions, but that doesn’t mean the debate has changed American thinking or voting. Debates may not have direct influence on election outcomes but they can change the dynamics of a campaign.
E. The Advertising
Television advertisements are common presidential campaign strategies. They lend name recognition, deliver basic messages, offer reasons to vote for or against an individual, and at their worst can attack opponents. While print ads, debates, talk shows, and news broadcasts may appeal to voters who are already interested in an election, television advertising is often targeted to independent or undecided voters.
F. The Electoral College Vote


  1. The fifth and final stage of the general election process is the decision by the Electoral College. A candidate does not win the presidency by getting the most “popular” votes, cast by citizens, but by getting the most votes in the Electoral College. The Constitution grants each state electoral votes based on the number of state’s representatives (currently between one and fifty-three) plus two (for the state’s senators), so the number can shift if the population changes.




  1. The total number of electoral votes remains fixed at 538, and a candidate must receive a majority—270—to win the presidency. Even small states with only three votes can influence the outcome of a close election.




  1. Article II of the Constitution gives state legislatures the authority to appoint electors, one for each electoral vote. In early elections, state legislatures chose these electors, but by 1860 many states used the popular vote to decide on electors. This is called the unit rule (or “winner-take-all” system) because the candidate who wins the most popular votes will receive all the electoral votes from that state. Only Maine and Nebraska do not use the unit rule.




  1. Voters technically choose electors, not candidates. And though they are committed to certain candidates, electors can legally break that pledge and vote as they please. Though rare, this has occurred with one elector in seven of the last fifteen presidential elections. The unit rule can be extremely significant when a close race hinges on the direction in which one or two states will swing all their electoral votes.




  1. The Electoral College was originally designed to take political decisions out of the hands of average citizens, but as democracy grew, states began to take the decisions of voters as their basis for electoral vote casting. Why not just tally the popular vote? The Electoral College system is designed so that less populated states actually have more power than if their votes were tallied with all others nationwide.


VI. Campaign Funding
Campaign financing is critical to today’s presidential races, and good candidates have strong skills for raising money. In 2008, all the candidates together raised more than $1.7 billion, nearly double the amount raised in 2004, and more than four times the amount raised in 2000.
A. Sources of Funding


  1. Campaigns commonly receive money from individuals, businesses, interest groups or lobbies, and parties. Donating money is traditionally a healthy sign that people are involved in the political process.




  1. By the 1970s, fundraising was conducted through political action committees (PACs)—the arms of interest groups that focus on raising money. Any group that wants to finance a campaign must form a PAC and register it with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). About 4,000 PACs exist today, donating 30 percent of the $1 billion raised in the 2004 congressional campaigns. Parties, House and Senate campaigns, and personal funds of candidates also contribute significant amounts to campaigns.




  1. The federal government and a handful of state governments also offer funding—though campaigns that accept it must face certain restrictions—by making available funds received when taxpayers check a donation box on their tax returns.




  1. Only recently, candidates have begun to use the Internet for online fundraising. In 2004, Howard Dean raised an unprecedented $40 million with his innovative online campaign, much of it from small donations. In 2008, Barack Obama’s campaign substantially raised the stakes in fundraising through the Internet by raising over $200 million through that medium.


B. Regulating Campaign Financing
Many laws now regulate the funding of campaigns, mostly to prevent a “quid pro quo”—a donation in return for favorable voting or attention by an elected official. The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), passed in 1971 and amended in 1974, required that all federal candidates disclose contributions and expenses and banned certain contributions by corporations, unions, national banks, and foreign nationals. This targeted the “hard money” (direct donations) but not the “soft money”—those funds that are not directly contributed to a campaign and do not advocate the election of a certain candidate.
In 1974, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was established to enforce all campaign financing rules and regulations, including limits on campaign contributions. Candidates are offered federal funds but must accept limits on campaign spending in the general election campaign, so they often turn down these funds.
Campaign finance has been criticized for several flaws:


  1. Limits were not indexed for inflation (but they are now, based on reforms of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, also known as the McCain-Feingold law).




  1. The system is inflexible in terms of the timeframe now seen, due to frontloading in modern campaigns.




  1. Independent campaign expenditures (soft money spent to support campaigns but not directly given to campaigns) allow a loophole for funding, and their unlimited use is now banned by FECA. In Buckley v. Valeo (1976) the Supreme Court ruled on the ways in which Congress could not limit independent expenditures from a candidate’s own funds. And in McConnell v. FEC (2003) the Court extended that ruling to apply to spending by political parties.

The most recent reforms have hit on soft money and independent campaign expenditures that have gone unregulated. The McCain-Feingold law includes the following rules:




  1. National parties and candidates for federal office cannot accept soft money.




  1. Corporations, unions, and others may not pay for radio or TV ads that refer to a candidate within two months of the general election, or one month of a primary election.




  1. Limits on hard money contributions were increased.



VII. Congressional Campaigns and Elections
A. All 435 seats in the House and one-third of Senate seats are contested in presidential election years. At the midway point between these years, midterm congressional elections are held for all House seats and another one-third of Senate seats.
B. Midterm elections differ from presidential elections in several ways:


  1. Voter interest and turnout is lower.




  1. There is no assistance from the coattail effect (in which voters are influenced by their choice of presidential candidate on the ballot).




  1. The party not in the White House has the advantage, and is more likely to regain control of Congress if the president’s popularity is low.




  1. Current members of Congress are voted back in at extremely high rates, often having a 90 percent chance of being reelected. This power of incumbency is due to several factors: name recognition; the tendency for one party to dominate a district and claim a number of congressional positions, called safe seats (as opposed to those districts with balanced Democrats and Republicans, which have marginal seats); and financial advantages, such as the franking privilege, which allows incumbents to mail materials to constituents at taxpayers’ cost.


VIII. Now & Then: Making the Connection
Elections and campaigns are at the center of the American political process. They involve a costly, lengthy, and complex process that often leads to controversy. Despite heated disputes over the actions of candidates and the tally of election ballots, the system prevails and continues to connect citizens with their government.
IX. Chapter Summary
American Presidential Elections in Historical Perspective


  1. Two phases make up the system for choosing a U.S. president—a nomination phase (when party nominees are chosen) and a general election phase (when a new president is selected).




  1. Through the 1830s, the two major parties chose nominees. Andrew Jackson’s new Democratic Party gave citizens more power in influencing nominations. Reforms of the twentieth century allowed voters in many states to vote directly for delegates who will choose their party’s nominees at a national convention.

The Pre-nomination Campaign


A. A pre-nomination campaign allows potential candidates to raise money, test the waters, gain party support, and decide whether to stay in the race.
The Nomination Campaign


  1. In their nomination campaigns, the focus is on winning primaries and caucuses. The calendar starts with Iowa and New Hampshire, whose results influence upcoming votes. Many states have engaged in “frontloading” in an attempt to reschedule their races earlier in the year.




  1. While national party conventions were once influential, today they are staged and choreographed showcases for parties.

The General Election Campaign




  1. General elections may involve either incumbent races (president against challenger) or open elections (no incumbent).




  1. Vice presidential candidates are chosen to boost a ticket, often geographically. Presidential debates have been televised since 1960 and have been held in every presidential election since 1976, though their impact on voting behavior is unclear.




  1. A majority of the 538 Electoral College votes (awarded to each state based on number of representatives plus two) must be won to win the presidency.




  1. Televised presidential debates between major presidential candidates occurred for the first time in 1960 and have been held in every presidential election since 1976. These debates tend to receive a large amount of attention from the press and the public, but their impact on the final election outcome remains unclear.

Campaign Funding




  1. Funding has become increasingly important to a campaign’s success, and both “hard money” and “soft money” donations have been regulated in a series of laws since 1974 to avoid improprieties. The Federal Election Commission enforces all election regulations and limitations that have been upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Congressional Campaigns and Elections




  1. In congressional elections, the power of incumbency is important. Unlike in midterm elections, congressional elections that coincide with presidential elections have larger voter turnout, and candidates of the party in the White House often benefits from the coattail effect.


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