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Anticipating the 2018 Midterm Elections (October 2018): Emerging and Specialized Areas of Study

By Will Miller

Emerging and Specialized Areas of Study

Having firmly established the protean nature of campaign strategy and tactics in American politics, it is essential that interested readers regularly check for new works that analyze the most recent developments in the field. For more than half a century, political campaigns have absorbed innovative technologies with amazing speed. Databases, desktop video editing software, and app-driven smartphones have become standard. Advanced technologies such as SMS text-casting are used in high-profile campaigns and some down-ballot races. As with all other areas of life, the tools employed by an organization transform the structure of the organization itself, and the tools of political campaigns are the tools of political marketing. Understanding these developments as they occur allows readers to see technologies that reinforce the new-style business of electioneering, limiting factors on the industry’s expansion, and implications for connections between candidates and voters.

Specialized work covers many topics. Costas Panagopoulos’s Politicking Online is an early analysis of online politics. Contributors to the volume discuss the impact of technology for electioneering purposes, from running campaigns and increasing representation to ultimately strengthening democracy. The book reveals how social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook are used in campaigns along with email, SMS text messaging, and mobile phones to help inform, target, mobilize, and communicate with voters. More recently, Dan Schill and John Allen Hendricks’s volume The presidency and Social Media: Discourse, Disruption, and Digital Democracy in the 2016 Presidential Election examines the disruptive role communication technology played in the 2016 presidential primary campaign and general election, and how voters sought and received political information. Sean Richey and J. Benjamin Taylor’s Google and Democracy: Politics and the Power of the Internet uses original experiments and nationally representative cross-sectional data to show how Google Search returns quality information, and that users click on quality information and gain political knowledge and other contingent benefits.

Considering the ways candidates tend to market themselves to the public in the modern era of electioneering, Jennifer Lees-Marshment has come to the forefront of scholarship. First, in The Routledge Handbook of Political Marketing, she builds off Obama’s most successfully marketed campaign ever to understand the market, develop the product through branding and strategy, market internally, communicate with the public, and market as an elected official. Even more important to preparing for the midterm elections in 2018, Lees-Marshment’s Political Marketing in the United States—with Brian Conley and Ken Cosgrove—explores how politicians and parties use marketing concepts and tools, providing an up-to-date and broad overview of how marketing permeates U.S. politics. The volume focuses on current and recent elections and leaders and covers a range of topics, including market research, marketing parties and volunteers, strategy and branding, communications, delivery, and marketing in government.

Some works from previous years remain seminal for readers interested in campaigns and elections. Robert Friedenberg’s Communication Consultants in Political Campaigns: Ballot Box Warriors remains the go-to volume for communications consulting; Candace Nelson, David Diulio, and Stephen Medvic’s edited volume on campaign ethics, Shades of Gray: Perspectives on Campaign Ethics, remains the same for that field. And perhaps most tellingly, Ronald Gaddie’s Born to Run: Origins of the Political Career still does the best job of asking why anyone wants to run for office in the first place.

Considering the importance of polling to modern American elections, Jeffrey Stonecash’s Political Polling: Strategic Information in Campaigns helps to demystify the campaign polling process. Through the work, Stonecash—with over two decades of polling experience—focuses on the process of acquiring information during a campaign through polling. He describes how to write questions, draw samples of voters, and conduct calling. Moreover, he shows how to analyze results, and then interpret and present results in a way that will contribute to forming a strategy for a campaign. Herbert Asher’s Polling and the Public: What Every Citizen Should Know helps readers become savvy consumers of public opinion polls, offering solid grounding on how the media cover them, their use in campaigns and elections, and their interpretation. This trusted, brief guide provides a non-technical explanation of the methodology of polling so that readers can become informed participants in political discourse.

When considering campaign finance, Michael Malbin’s The Election after Reform: Money, Politics and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act remains critically important to understanding how money feeds elections today. More recent volumes by Robert Post and Pamela Karlan (Citizens Divided: Campaign Finance Reform and the Constitution) and Robert Mutch (Campaign Finance: What Everyone Needs to Know) account for revelations from past election cycles. Mutch, especially, does a sound job of showing that in 2015 well over half of the money contributed to the presidential race came from roughly 350 families. He ultimately asks whether we can still say we live in a democracy if a few hundred rich families provide a disproportionate shares of campaign funds.

In other areas of special interest to scholars, Robert Boatright has undertaken critically important analyses of primary elections in both Congressional Primary Elections and Getting Primaried: The Changing Politics of Congressional Primary Challenges. Kelly Dittmar has done the same for reviewing the distinctive conditions women face when they run for office—giving particular consideration to the challenges facing consultants and candidates—in Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns.

For readers seeking to study the newest developments in electioneering in one volume, Richard Semiatin’s Campaigns on the Cutting Edge examines the new rules of political fundraising, paid media in campaigns, social media impacts on elections, the future of polling and surveys, mobilizing the right voters, the future role of political parties, voter identification laws, and the challenges faced by minority candidates. All contributors share with readers a breadth of professional and academic experience.

Works Cited