By Robert S. Erikson, Christopher Wlezien
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Extra resources for The Timeline of Presidential Elections: How Campaigns Do (and Do Not) Matter
Such a view would be wrong. , Berelson, Lazarsfeld, and McPhee 1954) discovered, voters tend to hold stable candidate preferences over the course of presidential campaigns. In large part, these preferences are the result of people’s stable partisan predispositions. For many American voters, identifying as a Republican or a Democrat (or perhaps a conservative or a liberal) anchors their beliefs so that their candidate choice becomes a long-standing decision that is diffi-cult to disturb. Those without firm political preferences naturally tend to be those with the least interest in politics.
Research on US presidential elections shows that big campaign events, such as the parties’ nominating conventions, effectively “correct” preferences, bringing them in line with the fundamentals (Holbrook 1996). Campaigns evidently help voters focus on and learn (or relearn) the positions of the parties, the candidates, and government performance. Moreover, as the campaign unfolds, voters increase their political attention. 5 There are further complexities, of course. To begin with, consider that election outcomes do not always play out as the fundamentals would have it.
5 Clearly we don’t want to count the same data twice, so we use only the data for the universe that seemingly best approximates the actual voting electorate. Where a survey house reports poll results for both an adult sample and a registered voter sample, we use data from the latter. 6 Third, especially in recent years, survey organizations often report results for overlapping polling periods. This is understandable and is as we would expect where a survey house operates a tracking poll and reports three-day moving averages.