The nature of the professionalized campaign Preliminary reflections

By Andrew Bradley,2014-06-17 16:19
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The nature of the professionalized campaign Preliminary reflections ...

The nature of the professionalized campaign: Preliminary reflections

    Jenny Smith

    Incomplete; version of 1 April 2002


    Scholars interested in contemporary political campaigns are generally agreed that, across at least

    the advanced industrial democracies, the modern election campaign process differs dramatically

    from the way campaigns were conducted only a few decades ago. Although the emergence of

    the “modern” or “New Style” election campaign was first described in the United States,

    comparative research on campaigns has detected similar transformations in an ever-growing

    number of countries, and the set of countries whose campaigns are said to have “modernized”

    expands with each election cycle.1 Despite widespread agreement about the existence and importance of this phenomenon, however, its nature and causes have never been assessed in a

    systematic, comparative way. This is the general task undertaken by my dissertation, which will

    explore the emergence and development of “modern electioneering” via a cross-national and

    over-time comparison of national election campaigns in the United States, Great Britain and


One of the most challenging conceptual problems facing this dissertation is the development of a

    working definition of the “modern campaign style” or the “modernization”

    (“professionalization,” “Americanization”) process. Most topics in comparative politics are

    (generally considered to be) sufficiently well bounded that scholars can quickly dispense with

    description and move on to explanation; here, however, this is not the case. For the sake of

    convenience, the activity of “campaigning” or “electioneering” will be restricted to its general

    election context, though not necessarily to the “official” campaign period (never much more than

    a month in Britain but longer in Germany and the US). The phenomenon of interest, then,

    broadly incorporates the election-related activities of candidates, parties, independent consultants,

    volunteer activists, and the news media and the responses of voters during this period. On

    the question of what distinguishes modern from (presumably) traditional forms of election campaigning, however, conceptual clarity is much harder to come by. However, if I am to

    explore what has caused campaign professionalization to occur, or what its implications for

    democratic politics may be, I must certainly be able to say what professionalization is. This

    question thus lies at the core of my project.

The problem of characterizing the nature of the professionalized campaign has seldom been

    approached with the sustained attention one might feel it deserves. Much of the writing in this

    area deals with objects of interest more circumscribed than the “campaign” as a whole, thus

     1 Those familiar with my previous expositions on this subject will recall that the issue of nomenclature has, at times,

    been discussed at some length. I have yet to settle the issue of which descriptor(s) for the “new campaign style” are

    best suited to this particular essay I am unsure, for example, whether I want to christen my own view with a

    particular label and I expect that highly inconsistent nomenclature will be found in the pages that follow. The

    variety of terms I have been known to use for the phenomenon of interest include the “modern campaign,” “modern

    electioneering,” the “professional” or “professionalized” campaign, and the “Americanized campaign” or the

    “Americanization of election campaigns.” “Americanization” is a term I have generally avoided but am thinking of

    restoring to greater prominence not as a strong descriptor of the causal nature of this phenomenon, but as a

    convenient weak descriptor of its first emergence that also fits well with popular perceptions.


(perhaps appropriately) sidestepping definitional complications; research on campaign

    advertising, the mass media in campaigns, political consultants, and campaign management

    generally takes this tack. However, a not inconsiderable body of work also seeks to address the

    modern campaign more generally, whether within a single country or in a comparative context.

    Under the rubric of “the modern campaign,” these authors have grouped together a whole

    assortment of changes (as well as some things that seem not to have changed), including many

    that should be clearly separated from it for analytical purposes particularly as some may be

    more usefully regarded as causes or consequences of the modernization process than as

    manifestations of the phenomenon itself.

The present essay takes aim at this chaos of definitions. It first attempts an analytic

    categorization of the principal characteristics that have thus far been identified as differentiating

    the professional from the pre-professional [or the modern from the traditional] campaign. It then

    proposes an alternative definition to these, which restricts “campaign professionalism” to its

    organizational and technical aspects and divides it I hope productively from phenomena

    whose precise connections with professionalism as such can then be more closely investigated.

    Finally, it applies the new definition to accounts of campaigning in Britain a country in which a

    transition to campaigns of the professional sort is generally agreed to have occurred in the

    postwar period. [The latter two sections are largely missing from the current draft, having been

    excised on grounds of insufficient comprehensibility.]

Two final points should be made by way of introduction. First, note that this essay is intended as

    an exercise in analytic description. It does not address the question of what has caused campaign

    professionalization, although this will be a central concern of the project as a whole. Second, the

    fact that it proposes a unified analytic description (or definition) should not be taken to imply

    that the modern campaign is a strictly homogeneous phenomenon. There has always been and

    will no doubt always be considerable cross-national diversity in the procedures by which

    politicians campaign for national office. Although I believe that the influence of campaign

    professionalization has generally been a homogenizing (or Americanizing) influence in politics,

    and although I believe that my definition of it is applicable to many political contexts (including

    the three quite diverse ones represented by my case studies), it should be understood clearly that

    different countries‟ experiences will approach the pure type of the definition in different ways

    and to different degrees.

The changing nature of political campaigns: Current perspectives

    None of this emphasis on the recent transformation in electioneering is to say that campaigns

    today have nothing in common with the campaigns of twenty, or fifty, or a hundred years ago.

    Election campaigns have (almost?) always been waged as a prelude to competitive elections in

    democratic countries; under one set of electoral rules or another, any democratic government

    must seek to have its mandate periodically renewed by the electorate, asking voters to prefer its

    claim to the opposition party or parties‟ offer of an alternative government. Long before the

    professionalization of campaigning began, traditions of “standing for office” in some countries

    (including the US and Britain) were displaced by the now familiar notion of “running for office”

     the active pursuit of electoral victory by the contending parties or candidates. Whether or not

    one regards competitive elections as a necessary (Dahl) or even sufficient (Schumpeter)


    condition for the existence of democracy per se, campaigns clearly play a vital role in the perpetuation and legitimation of democratic government. And, just as the functional role of

    campaigns has not changed over time, neither has their basic strategic premise: The goal is to

    win, and to maximize the probability of this outcome by allocating one‟s resources so as to

    2obtain a maximally favorable response from the voters. Achieving this goal, now as ever,

    requires different concrete approaches in the diverse situations that may confront a campaign.

    But many of the basic tasks are familiar. For example, all campaigns require information about

    the attitudes and preferences of the electorate. Such information might be gathered by

    canvassing local party chapters about their members‟ views and concerns, or by positioning

    patronage job-holders on Manhattan street corners to inquire about citizens‟ voting intentions

    (Riordan 1948), or by conducting an opinion poll and interpreting the results based on the laws

    of statistical sampling. The method of the opinion poll, however, is qualitatively different from

    the other approaches mentioned. For one thing, conducting a reliable poll requires expertise of a

    particular kind, expertise possessed by the pollster but perhaps not by other campaign workers.

    For another, the poll (if properly conducted) offers the campaign something the other approaches

    do not: a canvass of the electorate that is [claims to be] scientifically valid, and that claims an

    authority and finality not open to challenge from intuitions based on long experience in a party or

    constituency. It is these types of differences that inquirers into the nature of modern

    campaigning have sought to capture.

    Whatever it may be that has changed about campaigns in recent years, it is clear that these

    changes have taken place without substantial alterations in the legal framework within which

    campaigns are conducted. Although changes in the array of laws affecting campaigns as for

    example the new legislation on campaign finance enacted in Germany in the 1960s and in the

    United States in the 1970s may well accompany and facilitate the transformation, significant

    changes in the legal context of elections are the exception rather than the rule in stable

    democracies and have by no means always occurred together with the emergence of modern

    campaign practices. (This point is emphasized in the case of Britain by Butler 1995. Note that,

    for present purposes, the “law” includes also interpretations of legal requirements, such as the

    BBC‟s 1959 reinterpretation of its neutrality mandate to permit radio and TV news coverage of

    election campaigns)

    When it comes to characterizing the transformation itself, however, explicit definitions are few

    and far between. One widespread tendency is to list a group of loosely connected developments

    (all of which may be relevant in different ways) without further explication. The author may

    then implicitly accept this as sufficient clarification of the phenomenon of interest, or announce

    an explicit intention to focus on only one or a few of the developments cited. Butler and Ranney

    (1992:5-7), for example, provide a list of items characterizing pre-“modern” electioneering as

    various as the centrality of political parties; the importance of “instinct” and local, grounded

    knowledge in predicting election returns; strong party identification among voters; tactics

    including door-to-door canvassing, literature circulation, public meetings and posters; and

    campaign strategies dictated by “folk wisdom” (7) shared by party leaders and canvass

    volunteers alike. In a similarly diverse vein, Mancini and Swanson (1996:2) find that

     2 Of course, what is meant by “winning” will vary given different sets of electoral rules, and even given the

    particular expectations of a party or candidate entering a given campaign. Some parties and candidates are not

    interested in winning in any sense, but I leave them aside here.


“[i]ncreasingly … common practices” as campaigns modernize include “political commercials,

    candidates selected in part for the appealing image they project on television, technical experts

    advising candidates on strategies and voters‟ sentiments, media professionals hired to produce

    compelling campaign materials, mounting campaign expenses, and mass media moving to center

    3stage in campaigns.” The connections between these different items whether some bring

    others about, for example are left unexplored.

While few students of the “new style” campaign define this phenomenon outright (the specialists

    in “political marketing” are perhaps the one exception), a group of widely endorsed, largely

    implicit statements about its nature can be extracted from the academic literature on modern

    campaigning. The primary emphases I have identified are described in the paragraphs below.

    While they are by no means mutually exclusive, authors tend to emphasize one or a small

    number to the exclusion of others. [What I ultimately want to say about each view is in brackets.

    I‟m not sure whether these might be listed in some useful order; at the moment, the sequence is

    basically random.]

The modern campaign relies on marketing expertise. [Not necessarily.]

    Some scholars of contemporary election campaigns focus on the extent to which their research

    and promotional activities, and their decision-making processes more generally, resemble the

    activities carried out by private firms in the course of marketing their products. Bowler and

    Farrell (1992), for example, emphasize the importance of marketing approaches and

    professionals trained in commercial marketing for contemporary political campaigns. Some

    scholars, such as Mauser (1983) and Lees-Marshment (2001), go farther, asserting that the

    modern campaign is, in its essence, fundamentally an exercise in marketing. Lees-Marshment

    (2001), for example, draws a direct parallel between politics and commerce in distinguishing

    between market-oriented, sales-oriented, and product-oriented parties. The oldest type, the

    product-oriented party, attempts to communicate its message to voters but does not perform

    market research, simply assuming that voters will be willing to „buy‟ what it has on offer. The sales-oriented party, a sort of middle position, pursues market intelligence and designs

    communication approaches to „pitch‟ its product to voters, but the product itself remains

    invariant. The market-oriented party “uses market intelligence to identify voter demands, then

    designs its product to suit them” (2001:30) – rendering it, according to Lees-Marshment, a complete analogue of the modern commercial firm.

The modern campaign involves innovations in organization and decision-making processes.

    [Too undeveloped. This is substantially the line I want to take; however, existing moves in

    this direction have tended to underspecify just what organizational changes matter and


    Bowler and Farrell (1992) place considerable emphasis on the “organization and control” of

    campaigns (together with “preparation and planning” and “campaign themes and images”).

    They note first that understaffed and underfinanced parties will be unable to wage successful

    nationwide campaigns hardly a new development in party competition. They go on to say,