In the general election, a number of orientating landmarks mark the way to Election Day: the traditional Labor Day kick-off, the ad campaign, September debate negotiations, the debates themselves, and a grueling last ditch effort as the candidates go all out to win over a few more voters in key states. Charges and countercharges fly; excitement builds.  While all this is happening, the campaigns are operating with one goal in mind: 270.  Two hundred-and-seventy electoral votes is the number needed to win, and major party presidential campaigns deploy their resources accordingly.
Each major party presidential campaign recieves a fixed amount of money from the Federal Election Campaign Fund for the general election; once the nomination has been secured and the conventions concluded, it must determine how best to spend that money.  In some states the campaign will "play hard" or even "play very hard."  These states receive frequent visits by the candidate, his wife, the vice presidential candidate, and surrogates, and the campaign makes serious ad buys in them.  At the other extreme, some states are essentially written off as unwinnable; they receive minimal resources. map icon

Persuadable Voters and Base Voters
Once a campaign has decided it will contest a particular state, it does not blindly throw resources in.  A conventional rule of thumb in presidential elections is that about 40 percent of those who turn out will vote for the Republican candidate no matter what and another 40 percent will vote for the Democrat no matter what.  Thus much energy and resources are devoted to trying to reach the remaining 20 percent of the electorate--persuadable swing voters--with the right message. 

Campaign stops are scheduled in media markets with high concentrations of persuadable voters.  People in these areas can expect to see a lot of political ads.  Direct mail pieces go out to swing voters.  The message is carefully tailored to attract persuadables or allay their concerns.  To attract persuadables, the major party nominees generally move toward the middle, toning down more extreme elements of their messages that they had used to appeal to party activists during the primaries.

In 2004, however, the electorate was highly polarized; people were for President Bush or they were against him.  The pool of persuadable voters was seen as smaller and the campaigns focused much attention on mobilizing their core supporters.  As Election Day approaches campaign redouble their efforts to mobilize supporters.  Phone-banking and precinct-walking are staples of get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts.

For a campaign, the electorate can be divided into three groups: those who are for the candidate, those who are "agin" him and the undecided.  In the fall, much of the campaign's resources are directed to this third group.  Then, in the closing weeks, the campaign makes a substantial effort to mobilize its base supporters. 

Campaign Finance
The fall campaigns of the major party candidates are financed by direct grants from the Federal Election Campaign Fund, which in turn is financed by the $3 check-off on individual income tax returns.  In 2004, the Kerry/Edwards and Bush/Cheney campaigns each received $74.620 million in federal funds to conduct their general election campaigns (this is the $20 million figure provided for in the 1974 Federal Election Campaign Act adjusted for inflation).  The campaigns must agree to abide by a spending limit, although they can raise funds for legal and accounting expenses.  The candidates officially become party nominees at their conventions.  The FEC certified the Kerry campaign to receive the funds on July 30, 2004, and it certified the Bush campaign a month later on September 2, 2004.  Kerry campaign officials have cited the fact that they had to spread their funds out over a month longer than the Bush campaign as a significant hurdle they had to overcome.  However, the campaigns are not the only players on the field.  The national parties are allowed to spend a fixed amount advocating the election of their nominees;  the limit for coordinated party expenditures in 2004 was $16,249,699.  The parties are also free to make independent expenditures supportive of their nominees.  In 2004 Section 527 groups such as America Coming Together and The Media Fund on the Democratic side and Progress for America and Swift Boat Vets and POWs for Truth on the Republican side raised and spent significant sums of money.

Ad Wars 
Needless to say, most of the money given to the campaigns goes into television advertising.  Generally in the summer, the campaign will have put together an ad team which includes both political and Madison Avenue talent.  Based on polling data, the themes the campaign wants to stress will have been identified. The ad team generates ideas to convey those themes, and produces spots which are then tested in focus groups, and, hopefully, approved by the campaign management.  However, the work does not stop with an ad "in the can" and approved; careful planning is required to ensure that the ads are seen by the target audience.  The demographic watching "60 Minutes" differs markedly from that watching "Oprah."  It is left to media planners, juggling GRPs and dayparts, to put together ad buys. 

Of course television is not the only paid medium available to the campaigns.  Radio is an effective way to reach some audiences, for example during drive-time.  Because of its lower profile radio is sometimes used to deliver negative messages.  Magazine and newspaper advertising can be very effective, but are not often utilized.  Persuasion mail and phone calls also convey the campaigns' messages as can Internet advertising.  In 2004 the Bush campaign pursued a more wide-ranging advertising effort than the Kerry campaign, investing significant amounts in cable and in radio. 

General Election Travel (Final 8 months of the campaign: March 3-Nov. 2, 2004)
March April May June  July  Aug.  Sept.  Oct./Nov.
 Pres. George W. Bush x x x x
x
x
x
x
 Vice Pres. and Mrs. Cheney x x x x
x
x
x
x
 First Lady Laura Bush x x x x
x
x
x
x
 Sen. John Kerry x x x x
x
x
x
x
 Sen. John Edwards
x
x
x
 Teresa Heinz Kerry
x
 Elizabeth Edwards x x x
 Ralph Nader  x x x  x x
x
x

Rationale, Methodology and Limitations: Travel information compiled from public schedules provided by the campaigns, from news accounts and other public information. 

President Bush and Senator Kerry Visits By State (Final 8 months: March 3-Nov. 2, 2004)
AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE FL(*) GA
Bush 1 - 3 2 2 4 - - 14 3
Kerry - - 4 1 6 6 1 - 15 1
.
HI ID IL IN IA(*) KS KY LA ME MD
Bush - - 1 1 14 1 1 1
Kerry - 2* 4 1 11 1 1 4
.
MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ
Bush 12 8 7 4 6
Kerry 8 7 6 6 5
.
NM NY NC ND OH(*) OK OR PA(*) RI SC
Bush 6 19 2 19
Kerry 6 24 3 19
.
SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI(*) WY
Bush - 1 2 8 13 -
Kerry - 4 2 6 15 -

and DC.



See Also
Campaign Communications >

Brennan Center reports
PBS program "The 30-Second Candidate"
SRDS
Television Bureau of Advertising
Nielsen Media Research
Examples of Media Planners/Buyers: Harmelin Media & Associates, TBS Media Management, Sherry Jacobs Media
A Leading Media Rep: Katz Media Group, Inc.

Copyright  © 2004, 2005  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.