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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

15 - Candidate Advertisements


Nowhere can democracy be better seen “in action” than during political campaigns. As Lau and Pomper (2002) argue, “Democracy is a dialogue between putative leaders and citizens. Campaigns provide the most obvious and the loudest forums for this dialogue. Candidates try to persuade voters to cast a ballot and to support their cause. Voters respond by coming to the polls and selecting their preferred candidates” (47). Candidates make their arguments in speeches at campaign rallies and on their Web sites, but those venues are primarily experienced by the most committed of partisans. It is only through their campaign advertisements that candidates have any chance of reaching uncommitted voters. And in times of even very approximate party balance, it is uncommitted voters who usually determine election outcomes. Hence, political ads are arguably the vehicle through which democracy operates.

Consider the choices facing a political candidate at the outset of a democratic election campaign. To simplify, let us assume a candidate's goal is to win the election, but he or she is facing one or more opponents who have the same goal and therefore want to defeat him or her. All candidates must decide what strategy to follow in order to maximize their chances of winning. But all candidates face resource limits that put very real constraints on what it is possible to do. Therein lies the rub. Candidates must decide how they can get the biggest bang for their buck.

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Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Political Science
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