The Message Matters: The Economy and Presidential Campaigns

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Overview

The economy is so powerful in determining the results of U.S. presidential elections that political scientists can predict winners and losers with amazing accuracy long before the campaigns start. But if it is true that "it's the economy, Stupid," why do incumbents in good economies sometimes lose? The reason, Lynn Vavreck argues, is that what matters is not just the state of the economy but how candidates react to it. By demonstrating more precisely than ever before how candidates and their campaigns affect the economic vote, The Message Matters provides a powerful new way of understanding past elections--and predicting future ones.

Vavreck examines the past sixty years of presidential elections and offers a new theory of campaigns that explains why electoral victory requires more than simply being the candidate favored by prevailing economic conditions. Using data from presidential elections since 1952, she reveals why, when, and how campaign messages make a difference--and when they can outweigh economic predictors of election outcomes.

The Message Matters does more than show why candidates favored by the economy must build their campaigns around economic messages. Vavreck's theory also explains why candidates disadvantaged by the economy must try to focus their elections on noneconomic issues that meet exacting criteria--and why this is so hard to do.

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Editorial Reviews

Political Science Quarterly
This is an impressive book. Vavreck's main contributions are to offer a coherent theory of how economic context should condition campaign effects, to document what types of campaigns presidential candidates have run, and to show that those candidates running the campaigns she suggests have influenced the election in their favor.
— Jonathan Nagler
MedieKultur
Vavreck's book is an interesting and very readable contribution for people with an interest in media and election studies. The themes candidates use within American election cycles are now much better illuminated and Vavreck opens the door for a host of exciting analyses that will likely be built on The Message Matters' foundation.
— Anders B. Rasmussen
American Prospect - Stanley B. Greenberg
This is not just another book about the impact of the economy on elections. The Message Matters breaks new ground in showing how presidential candidates effectively use the economy when it works in their favor and how some candidates win even when the economy is working against them.
Political Science Quarterly - Jonathan Nagler
This is an impressive book. Vavreck's main contributions are to offer a coherent theory of how economic context should condition campaign effects, to document what types of campaigns presidential candidates have run, and to show that those candidates running the campaigns she suggests have influenced the election in their favor.
MedieKultur - Anders B. Rasmussen
Vavreck's book is an interesting and very readable contribution for people with an interest in media and election studies. The themes candidates use within American election cycles are now much better illuminated and Vavreck opens the door for a host of exciting analyses that will likely be built on The Message Matters' foundation.
From the Publisher

"This is not just another book about the impact of the economy on elections. The Message Matters breaks new ground in showing how presidential candidates effectively use the economy when it works in their favor and how some candidates win even when the economy is working against them."--Stanley B. Greenberg, American Prospect

"Lucid writing sheds light on a subject often neglected, and readers can glean some useful information."--Choice

"This is an impressive book. Vavreck's main contributions are to offer a coherent theory of how economic context should condition campaign effects, to document what types of campaigns presidential candidates have run, and to show that those candidates running the campaigns she suggests have influenced the election in their favor."--Jonathan Nagler, Political Science Quarterly

"Vavreck's book is an interesting and very readable contribution for people with an interest in media and election studies. The themes candidates use within American election cycles are now much better illuminated and Vavreck opens the door for a host of exciting analyses that will likely be built on The Message Matters' foundation."--Anders B. Rasmussen, MedieKultur

American Prospect
This is not just another book about the impact of the economy on elections. The Message Matters breaks new ground in showing how presidential candidates effectively use the economy when it works in their favor and how some candidates win even when the economy is working against them.
— Stanley B. Greenberg
Choice
Lucid writing sheds light on a subject often neglected, and readers can glean some useful information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691139630
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/6/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author


Lynn Vavreck is associate professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is coeditor of "Campaign Reform: Insights and Evidence" and coprincipal investigator of the Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project.
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Table of Contents

List of Figures xi
List of Tables xiii
Acknowledgments xvii
Prologue xxi

CHAPTER ONE: Presidential Campaigns 1
Basic Questions 2
What's Coming 3

PART I

CHAPTER TWO: How and Why Campaigns Matter 9
The Challenge 10
Something's Happening in America 11
The Importance of the Economy 12
The Importance of the Media 14
A Theory of Campaign Effects 15
Integrating Literatures 16
Spatial Voting: The Past as Predictor of the Future 18
Retrospective Voting and Campaign Effects 22
Individual-Level Characteristics and Campaign Effects 23

CHAPTER THREE: Context Matters: A Campaign Typology 26
Theoretical Predictions 28
A Campaign Typology 31
Clarifying Campaigns 31
Insurgent Campaigns 32
When the Economy Is Mixed 33
Predicting Campaign Types, 1952-2000 35

PART II

CHAPTER FOUR: The Media Disconnect:Media and Candidate Messages 43
Candidates' Messages and How to Measure Them 46
Advertisements and Speeches 46
Newspaper Coverage 48
Coding the Ads, Speeches, and News Coverage 53
The Content of Modern Campaigns 57
The Media Disconnect 58

CHAPTER FIVE: The Message Matters: Candidate-Level Tests of the Theory 67
Clarifying Campaigns: Dominating Economic Discussion 69
Insurgent Campaigns: Issue Selection Matters 71
Stevenson 1952 and 1956: Second Time Same as the First 76
Goldwater 1964: Just Enough Power to Get the Job Done 78
Carter 1980 and Mondale 1984:War through Strength 80
Dukakis 1988: An Unfocused American Dream 82
Insurgent Candidates Making Wise Choices 83
Kennedy 1960: High Hopes 83
Nixon 1968: Freedom from Fear or Racial Appeal? 86
Carter 1976: Outside and Honest 90
Two More Tests of the Theory at the Candidate Level 105
A More Rigorous Test of Compliance 105
Explaining the Errors in Forecasting Models 107

PART III

CHAPTER SIX: The Message Matters:Microlevel Tests of the Theory 113
Clarifying Candidate Campaign Effects: Do Campaign Messages Shape Voters' Evaluations of Candidates? 115
High Fidelity? 116
Ads:Messages That Matter 120
Clarifying Candidate Campaign Effects: Do Campaign Messages Help Voters Learn about Candidates' Issue Positions? 123
Measuring Uncertainty 125
Reducing Uncertainty 128
Campaign Learning about the Economy 131
Insurgent-Candidate Campaign Effects: Changing the Debate by Increasing the Importance of Issues 134
The Most Important Problem in the Nation 137
Most Important Problem and Vote Choice 140
Insurgent Candidate Campaign Effects: Being Closer to Most Voters on the Insurgent Issue 144
The Difference in Distances 144
Differences in Distances and Vote Choice 151
The Message and Its Effects 155

CHAPTER SEVEN: Candidates Creating Context 159
Can Candidates Create the Context? 160
Creating Salience: Finding the Right Insurgent Issue 163

Appendix 167
References 191
Index 199

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