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 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.

Persuadable Voters
Once a campaign has decided it will contest a particular state, it does not blindly throw resources in.  A 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.
 

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. 
Base Voters
As Election Day approaches the campaign also seeks to mobilize its core supporters.  Phone-banking and precinct-walking are staples of get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts.

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 1996, the Dole/Kemp and Clinton/Gore campaigns each received $61.8 million from the Fund.  Perot '96 received $29 million, based on Perot's showing in 1992.  In addition, the national parties are allowed to spend a fixed amount advocating the election of their nominees; in 1996 the limit for coordinated party expenditures was $12 million.  (All these figures will be adjusted for inflation for 2000).  In 1996 campaign finance laws were essentially shredded as the parties employed a very broad definition of soft money, which by law is not supposed to be used in connection with federal campaigns. 

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 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. Finally, in 2000, Internet advertising will no doubt play a role as campaign banner ads appear on various Web sites. 

General Election Travel

 Aug.  Sept.   Oct.  Nov.
 Gore
x
x
x
x
  Gore-Lieberman Visits by State
 Lieberman
x
x
x
x

 Bush
x
x
x
x
  Bush-Cheney Visits by State
 Cheney
x
x
x
x

 Nader
x
x
x
x

 Buchanan  
x
x
x

Caveats and Disclaimer: Travel information above is compiled from public schedules provided by the campaigns, supplemented in some instances by news accounts.  Therefore impromptu stops and private meetings are generally not reflected; also the Bush campaign was not very rigorous about providing info on fundraisers.  Finally, in terms of overall campaign travel, the activities of the candidates' spouses are not included.  Tipper Gore and Hadassah Lieberman were quite active; Lynne Cheney did some independent travels and Laura Bush relatively little.



Understanding Television Wars
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 1998, 1999, 2000  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.