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Modern campaigns: lesson overview

A number of changes in recent decades characterize modern campaigns and how their organization and strategies affect elections, including longer election cycles, increased campaign costs and fundraising efforts, increased reliance on professional consultants, and the role of social media in both communication and fundraising.

Key terms

campaign financeThe fundraising to support a candidate in their run for political office.
political consultantsPeople who promote the election of candidates for political office by helping advise candidates on how best to present their ideas to the public.

Key takeaways

The primacy of primaries — Before the 1970s, presidential candidates were chosen by party leaders (sometimes in secret), and the election process was usually much shorter. Primaries and caucuses were relatively unimportant—party leaders could freely ignore the results and choose a different candidate—and many states did not hold a vote at all.
Since the 1976 election, however, both Republicans and Democrats have used state primaries as the principal way of selecting presidential candidates, with every state (as well as the District of Columbia and some overseas territories) holding a vote. An unintended consequence of the increased importance of state-level votes is that the presidential election cycle has become longer, with candidates starting to campaign as many as three years ahead of election day.
Costs and consultants — Campaign costs have risen significantly since the 1970s, and today candidates rely heavily on individual donors as well as corporations to fund their campaigns. In the wake of longer cycles and increased costs, professional political consultants have become a staple of modern campaigns. Consultants often have responsibility for overall campaign management, conducting polls, and crafting messaging both for the media and for the public through ads and social media.
Effects of social media— In the twenty-first century, social media has become a hugely important medium for communicating campaign goals, mobilizing voters, and fundraising. Because many voters spend so much time online, social media is an effective way to reach them. Social media also allows candidates to communicate directly with the electorate rather than going through broadcast or print media, giving them greater control over messaging.
Finally, purchasing social media data enables campaigns to micro-target voters with more individualized messages designed to persuade or engage them based on their online behavior.

Review questions

What is one major change in the election process since the 1970s?
What is one benefit and one drawback of that change?

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