Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Do campaigns have an effect on the outcome of elections? This question is usually answered using one of two methods. The first method is when political pundits examine the two opposing campaigns and judge which one had a greater impact on the polls. The second method is when political scientists use statistical methods to analyze whether a campaign had an effect on the election outcome. Both methods fail to consider the factors influencing campaign strategies and the effect these campaign strategies have on the election outcome.
A third method, which I present in this dissertation, uses a formal model. This formal model treats the presidential election as a game between the two candidates competing for electoral votes in fifty-one locations. The model incorporates the assumption that the two candidates can have different prior probabilities of winning each state and can have different degrees of effectiveness at getting votes. The solution to this model is straightforward, but interesting. Candidate strategies are determined by the effectiveness of the candidates, the competitiveness of the state, and the state's electoral value. Candidates will allocate more resources 1) to states with higher electoral value, 2) to more competitive states, and 3) when they are more effective at getting votes. The structure of the model also provides an answer of when candidates can have an effect on the election outcome. When one candidate is more effective at getting votes, then that candidate will allocate more resources and receive a greater marginal return on each unit of resource than their opponent, resulting in an effect on the election outcome in their favor.
To test the model, I examine the historical record of the campaigns and candidate strategies in the nine presidential elections from 1976 to 2008. These historical accounts provide qualitative support for the assumptions and predictions of the model. I also statistically analyze data from five of these presidential elections and show quantitative support for the assumptions and predictions of the model.
Finally, I conclude by showing that the model is useful in answering other questions regarding campaigns in general, such as how candidates should allocate resources in governor and senate elections; how third party candidates should allocate resources; what happens if candidate effectiveness varies across state or time; and what happens if the cost varies across state? The model's ability to answer these questions shows that it can have a broad and substantial influence in the study of campaigns and elections.
Copyright 2010 Jonathan Paul Day
Day, Jonathan Paul. "The strategy of presidential campaigns." dissertation, University of Iowa, 2010.