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Sam W Shenton

Voting and
Elections
Study
Guide
Study Guide for Voting and
Elections topic, featuring notes
for all sub- topics, practice
exam questions and key dates
for exams.

6GP03C A2 Govt. and


Politics

[VOTING AND ELECTIONS STUDY GUIDE]

Primaries
What are Primaries?
Primaries, in all shapes and forms, choose the next presidential candidate
for the particular party. There are many different types of primary:
o Closed Primaries in this type of primary, only members of the particular
party in question may vote, i.e. Republican members vote in Republican
primaries, Democrat members vote in Democrat primaries. Non- affiliated
people may vote in either of the primaries of their choosing
o Open Primaries in this type of primary, all registered voters are allowed to
take part, regardless of their political affiliation. People may still vote in either
partys primary, but not the other.
o Caucuses a simple meeting, open to all registered voters/ members of the
party, at which delegates to the partys national conventions are selected.
o Invisible Primaries candidates simply campaign for the money that is
available to them. No delegates are selected or voted on.
o Blanket Primaries everyone can vote in both primaries to choose a
presidential candidate. This type or primary is no longer used after it was ruled
unlawful by the Supreme Court in 2000.
Are Primaries good or bad?
Positives of primaries:
o They are more democratic than party leaders and the national committee
deciding the candidates that the voters may choose at an election- what
happens if the voters like neither? Are leaders more conservatively inclined?
o Influence of party leaders may be diluted, and thus, out there candidates with
no connection to the leaders and national committees could stand and possibly
become the candidates for the party.
o The competing candidates usually offer a range of policy and strategy; primaries
will therefore provide a good debate for this and able to decide which candidate
is most effective or able to me elected.
o In open primaries [see previous page], all voters have the opportunity to
participate at the very beginning of the electoral process, which can and does
increase political participation.
Negatives of Primaries:
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[VOTING AND ELECTIONS STUDY GUIDE]


o Experienced party leaders may make more informed decisions for their own
party than the wider electorate.
o Some candidates may campaign on their personal qualities rather than their
policies, meaning that the policy may be obscured through the primary process
and create more of a shop window politics.
o Competition can create the sense of disunity with public opinion, as the debate
becomes very heated. 2008 Clinton vs. Obama, for example, was a very heated
battle.
o In open primaries [see previous page], supporters of the opposing party may
vote for a weaker candidate in order to skew the partys chances at the ballot
box.
o If an early victor emerges, like in the Republican race of 2008, some states lack
a voice as they have not had their voices heard yet.
The Invisible Primary
This begins after a candidate declares their intention to stand for office. The candidate
must file with the FEC to say that he or she is standing and be bound by campaign
finance rules.
After numerous candidates have come forward, the invisible primary begins. This
is the process of fundraising and profile building before the main primary season
begins. This is so that candidates can become sufficiently well-known and gather
enough funds to run for the Presidency. Throughout the process, the media closely
track the candidates process and their fortunes, rating their progress according to:
o The amount of money they raise in preparation for the nomination (primary)
campaign. This has become increasingly important as the candidates recently
have been chosen early in an election year meaning that those with limited
funds will find it hard to catch up.
o The candidates standing in opinion polls. These indicate how well known each
candidate is, their perceived strengths and weaknesses, and their overall
popularity.
o The candidates effectiveness as campaigners, from how well they relate to
ordinary voters to how well they perform in debates, and their drive to win the
Presidency.
Super Tuesday
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[VOTING AND ELECTIONS STUDY GUIDE]


What is Super Tuesday?
State primary elections are spread out throughout the first half of the year, but Super
Tuesday (March 6th 2012) is when the most primary elections are held on a single day.
Naturally, its also when the most delegates (those responsible for officially
nominating a candidate at the parties national conventions) are at stake.
Why is it so Super?
With so many votes/delegates at stake, Super Tuesday is seen by many as a sign of
things to come for the candidates in the primary election and even in the general
election. But as well discuss later, not all Super Tuesdays are created equal; For
example, there are half as many states participating in the 2012 Super Tuesday as
there were in 2008, although this is expected as only one party is running primaries,
with Democratic nominee being the incumbent President, Barack Obama.
How long has Super Tuesday been around?
Super Tuesday is a relatively recent concoction. It certainly wasnt enshrined in the
Constitution, which doesnt even mention political parties.
It all began in 1988, when Southern Democrats sought to boost the influence of their
region by scheduling nine southern state primaries on the same day. One Tennessee
Democrat described it vividly: When your dog bites you four or five times, its time to
get a new dog. Weve been bitten and its time for the South to get a new dog. That
new dog was Super Tuesday.
Proponents of Super Tuesday also touted another reason for their strategy. Lumping so
many states together, they argued, would help shift the campaign away from socalled retail politics candidates appealing to voters on a local level to a more
broad approach that appeals to the entire country.
Of course, Super Tuesday had had its critics. One Democratic leader said it was too
much like a general election already. Indeed, after Super Tuesday it may seem that
the nomination is already set in stone, leading voters in later-voting states to feel that
their votes dont matter. And with so many contests at once, campaigns are spread
thin, so they often resort to tarmac campaigning, stopping in for little more than a
quick wave from the plane.
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[VOTING AND ELECTIONS STUDY GUIDE]


Which states are voting on Super Tuesday 2012? What are the stakes?
For the Democratic Party, there were no primary elections. For the Republican Party
primaries, 10 states voted on Super Tuesday: Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts,
North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia. Here are the
numbers at a glance:
o 353: total delegates won in primaries held prior to Super Tuesday
o 419: total delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday primaries
o 203: delegates won by Mitt Romney; 92: delegates won by Rick Santorum; 33:
delegates won by Newt Gingrich; 25: delegates won by Ron Paul
o 1,144: delegates needed for a candidate to win the GOP nomination
How 2012 does compare to previous elections?
This years numbers are in sharp contrast to Super Tuesday 2008, which was, well, a
lot more super. With 24 states voting, it was more than double this years number.
The reality is that Super Tuesdays super-ness varies drastically from election to
election. Because Super Tuesday and the whole primary election system are not in the
Constitution, the details are left to the laws of each state and the bylaws of each party
so they change along with the whims of party leaders and other influencing forces.
States are constantly jockeying for whatever position they think will strengthen their
influence, and political parties try to manage the states attempts as best they can to
maintain the interests of the party. Sometimes, these competing interests conflict. In
2008, for example, Florida and Michigan tried to move up their primary dates, and the
Democratic Party penalized the states by granting them only half-votes at the
convention.
The presidential campaign is often compared to a horse race. Considering the free-forall aspect of Super Tuesday and the ups and downs of primary scheduling, its an apt
analogy.
Case Study The New Hampshire Primary
What is it?
The New Hampshire primary is one of the most important primaries on the whole campaign
calendar as it gives both the parties and the candidates a good idea of the success of
a candidate and if they didnt perform so well then that would mean that theyd drop
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[VOTING AND ELECTIONS STUDY GUIDE]


out whereas the stronger candidates would have the confidence to carry onto the next
stage of primaries. It is based in New Hampshire so it means that it gives an idea also
about how the candidates are seen in the mid-east of America in the same way that the
Iowa Caucus, which garners just as much attention as the New Hampshire does, predicts
the general feeling for a candidate in the mid-west.
The History of the New Hampshire Primary
Since

1916

the

New

Hampshire

primary

has

been

very

important

when

deciding

presidential candidate but instead of voting directly for the candidates the people
would vote for delegates whod represent their votes at the National Convention. It
wasnt until 1949 that legislation was introduced which meant that people would vote
directly for the candidates instead of delegates. In 1952 43% of voters turned out to
vote for the candidates and in 1977 a law was passed which confirmed that New Hampshire
would be the first primary in the country, this shows the way in which this primary is
more democratic than the Caucuses as this sort means that the people in mass have a
direct voice in the future of the presidential race.
Is New Hampshire a good representation?
The New Hampshire Primary is widely considered to be a good representation of the
general feeling of the nation though this could be argued as the population of New
Hampshire in 96% white which means that only 4% of the population comes from an ethnic
minority which can be compared with a state such as California which has a wide range
of ethnicities for example 74% of the Californian population is white which means that
the other 26% comes from different ethnicities. This means that with the New Hampshire
primary the minorities in America dont necessarily get the best representation.
To conclude
Overall the New Hampshire Primary gives all candidates an opportunity to gain both
money and status within the presidential race and so it means that a relatively
candidate can come from being unknown before the primary to being one of the most
popular candidates after though due to the lack of diversity in New Hampshire it means
that perhaps candidates from minorities dont have as fair a chance as others though a
contradiction to this is Barack Obama.

National Conventions
Both of the major parties hold a national convention. They are:
o Usually held in the summer of a presidential election year (Aug/ Sep)
o Held in a large city. For example, in 2012, the Republicans held theirs in Tampa
(Florida), and the Democrats in Charlotte (North Carolina).
o Held at a venue decided by the partys national executive committee
o Attended be delegates (chosen in the primaries) and by the media so that they
may be televised.
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What are the Functions of National Conventions?
Formal Functions:
o Choose the partys Presidential candidate
o Choose the partys Vice Presidential candidate
o Decide the party platform (similar to a manifesto; their policies)
HOWEVER!
o Choosing Presidential candidates has been lost to the primary season; the
national convention now merely confirms the nominee. The last time the N/C
chose a presidential candidate was in 1976 when the Republican candidate was
in doubt, and President Ford defeated Ronald Reagan by 120 last minute votes
at the N/C.
o Choosing the Vice Presidential Candidate is now lost to the Presidential
candidate himself/ herself; not since 1956 has a convention chosen a running
mate. These are now always made before the N/C by the candidate- for
example, in 2012, Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan in August of 2012.
o When choosing this, a candidate must consider a balanced ticket
approach to their running mate. They must consider their:
Race
Gender
Religion
Geography
Political Experience
o For example, in 2008, Republican candidate McCain chose Sarah Palin as
his running mate.
o Choosing the party platform is now done by the National committee, and a draft
is submitted to N/C at the beginning of the 4 days. Heated debates are now
avoided as it creates a sense of disunity within the party, thus hampering the
chances of the party taking office.
o The last time that heated debates took place was in 1992, when the G.O.P
debates led to a massive disagreement on abortion rights.
Informal functions:
o Promote party unity
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o N/Cs are the only time that the entire national party meet together.
Wounds from the primary season can be healed and support can be given
to the winning candidate, for example with Hillary Clinton and Barack
Obama after the bitter primary season of 2008.
o The media will always pounce on a disunited party.
o Enthuse the party faithful
o Needed to canvass and campaign, and to communicate enthusiasm to
other people. They need to believe they can win on their platform and
their ticket.
o Enthuse the ordinary voters
o Ordinary voters are not present though the situation is televised.
o This is the first chance that the winning candidate has to address the
nation on what he/ she would do as President. They need to outline
policies and show Presidential features, and boost opinion poll ratings, like
Obama needed to do in 2008.
How important are modern day National Conventions?
o It could be suggested that, in comparison to years ago, modern day conventions
are of shrinking importance. The reasons for this are four-fold:
o The presidential candidates are chosen in the primaries.
o The vice-presidential candidates are selected by the presidential candidates and
announced before the Convention.
o The parties try to lay on scripted and sanitised Conventions, devoid of
controversy and hence of interest.
o The terrestrial television companies

give

much

less

coverage

to

the

conventions.
We could argue in the exam however that although the formal functions are declining
in importance, the informal functions of the Conventions are still important. The key
term many politicians use is less newsworthy.

Party Decline?
A book published by David Broder in 1972 says parties have:
o Lost control over selecting Presidential Candidates.
o Bypassed by federal matching funds.
o Candidates communicate with voters via TV and opinion polls not parties.
o Campaigns are more candidate & issue centered
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BUT! Some argue Theories of party decline are an exaggeration, because:


o
o
o
o
o

Parties have regained some control over presidential selection.


Both parties have modernized their national structures.
The growth of soft money in the 80s and 90s.
Nationalizing of campaigns.
Increased partisanship in Congress

Electoral College
How does the E/C work?
The Electoral College is outlined in the US constitution. Each state is assigned a
number of electors which is equivalent to the number of congressmen which that
state is entitled to. Every state has at least one member of the House of
Representatives, while no state has more or less than two Senators. This means that
every state must have at least three electors in the Electoral College. If youre still
struggling, the state of California has two Senators, and fifty- three (53) House of
Representative members, meaning it has fifty- five (55) electors assigned to it in the
Electoral College. The total number of Electoral College members is 538, meaning
that a candidate needs 270 to win. To put this into context, in 2008, Obama won 365
in 2008 to McCains 176, and 332 in 2012, to Romneys 207.
Most of the states use a winner takes all method of assigning the electors to a
presidential candidate. In these circumstances, the candidate who wins the most
votes in the state receives all of the electors. So, if Barack Obama won
California, he would win all fifty- five (55) members of the Electoral College. A person
wins the electors if they gain the most votes. For example, sticking with California,
Barack Obama won 61% of the vote in 2008, to McCains 37%, meaning that Obama
took all fifty- five (55) electors.
Is the E/C a good thing?

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Strengths of the E/C;
o Preserves the voice of small population states
o Promotes a two- horse race so the winner is going to receive over 50% of the
vote, and thus majority. This gives a mandate to govern.
Weakness of the E/C:
o Small population states are over- represented
o Winner takes all system distorts the results. In 2008, Obama won 52% of the
popular vote, but 68% of the Electoral College vote.
o Possible for candidate to win popular vote but lose electoral college, e.g. Al Gore
in 2000.
o Unfair to smaller/ third parties. PROT gained 19% of the popular vote in 1992,
but no Electoral College votes.
o The rogue or faithless electors vote for those that are not them that won the
vote in their state.
o System used in the case of an electoral mishap may cause the HoR choosing a
President from one party, and the Senate choosing a V.P from another.
How can the E/C be reformed?
There are three possible reforms:
o Abandon the "winner takes all" system Follow Maine and Nebraska's model
which is more proportional to the vote in each state.
o

If in 2000 this was used then it would have eased the problem of Bush vs.
Gore, while in 2012, Romney would have become president if this was

used.
o Pass state laws that prohibit 'rogue' Electors from casting such 'rogue' votes
o Abolish the Electoral College altogether and decide the election on total popular
vote.

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o This encourages multi- party elections where the winner could be chosen
with as little as 35% of the vote, and maybe even less! What happens if
you end up with a 3, 4, 5 party system? Would there need to be a run off
like France?

Congressional Elections
Congressional elections include elections to both the Senate and House of
Representatives. The number of Senators is fixed to two per state. The House of
Representatives currently has 435 voting- members, and 6 non- voting members. The
number of representatives that each state is entitled to is dependent upon their
population. This ranges from Alaskas one to Californias 53.
General details of these elections:
o Elections to both houses use the First Past the Post (FPTP) system, similar to
local and general elections in the UK. This means that the winner is simply the
person with the most votes in the district/ state.
o They take place on a strictly set date- the first Tuesday after the first Monday in
November, every two years, on an even-numbered year, meaning that elections
cannot be altered by the government of the day, like in many countries.
The House of Representatives:
o HoR members are elected every two years, as the constitution is designed to
ensure that these people are regularly held to account, as they are the ones
that hold much of the economic powers within the government. They may also
run in a primary before the election to select who gets to represent the district,
before Election Day. This is similar to the Presidential primaries, but on much
less a grand scale.
o Each member serves a single district.
o The number of districts, and thus members, has been dependent on population
shifts, which are measured on the census every ten years. The number of
Representatives, since 1929, has been limited to 435 voting- members. Before
then, there was to be a single district for every 30,000 people.
The Senate:

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o Originally, the senators were chosen by the state legislators they were to
represent, as outlined in the constitution. However, this was changed to include
a direct election the higher chamber.
o Senators serve six years in office. This is three times as long as those in the
House of Representatives. Each state also gets a fixed number of two senators.
o However, one third of the Senate is elected every two years, at the same time
as the elections to the House of Representatives. This is because the senate is
on a cycle, with each senator service 6 years, but with some senators terms
ending every two.
o As with the lower House, Senators may be challenged in a primary to represent
their state and party before an election. This is similar to the Presidential
primaries, but on much less a grand scale.
o In the event of a death or resignation, the governor the state the senator
represents makes an appointment to the senate, until the election can be held
to replace the senator. This is often a relative of the deceased senator. For
example, in 2000, Mel Carnahan of Missouri was killed in a plane crash, so his
widow, Jean, was nominated by the Missouri governor. She lost a special election
in 2002 by 1%.
Mid Term Elections a closer look:
Congressional elections take place both at the same time as a Presidential election,
and in-between two Presidential elections. The latter is referred to as a mid- term
election. They usually receive lower profiles and lower turn outs than Presidential
election years, creating the effect that they are of a lower political significance.
However, they can have serious impacts in a number of ways, for example:
A change in control of congress can cause difficulties between the President and
Congress, if the dominance of Congress becomes the opposing party to the president.
This happened in 1994, when the Republican Party took over both Houses of Congress, and
made Bill Clintons Presidency more difficult. The opposite happened in 2006, when the
Democrats took seized control of both chambers under George W. Bushs final term. The
next mid- term election is November 4 th 2014, with the Republicans defending the House,
and the Democrats defending the Senate, under Democratic President Barack Obama.
The results of a mid- term election may be seen as a referendum, or reflection, of the
President. This may cause the President to change tone and policy to reflect the
peoples views. This happened after 1994 under Bill Clinton, who was seen to adopt a
much more centrist approach after the mid- terms.

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On selected occasions, the opposite [of the above] happens, with the Presidents party
making gains in the mid- terms. This happened after the September 11th attacks, with the
2002 mid- terms. With George W. Bush on a national wave of popularity, the Republicans
made gains in both legislative chambers. This shows that it can make a Presidents
life/ job easier.
The key mid- term election battles may set the tone of the subsequent Presidential
election. For example, 2006 clearly showed that the Republicans dominance in Congress
since 1994, and the Presidency since 200, had become tiring , which meant that the
theme of change that Obama embodied became incredibly popular and allowed him to win
the White House in 2008.

The Medias Role in Elections


The media has a major role to play in elections in the USA in many different ways.
Unlike the UK, however, where the media and politics relationships are pretty much
confined to newspapers (until recently), the US political scene has embraced radio,
TV, and the internet in many different formats.
How must the politicians use the media?
Politicians must use the media successfully in order to win an election. This includes:
o Advertising extensively, using radio, newspapers, the internet, and (especially)
TV in order to promote their strengths, highlight their opponents weaknesses,
and attack any damaging claims to their campaigns.
o Appear at campaign rallies that prove the politicians can enthuse a crowd and at
town hall events where they can show that they can address ordinary voters
concerns.
o The internet has become a much more important medium in the 21 st Century.
Barack Obamas use of Tumblr and Twitter have made him incredibly popular
among the younger generations, showing that the good use of new media can
have positive influences on your election campaign, as well as being good with
the traditional media.
o Presidential candidates must also partake in TV debates [see below].
Presidential Candidates TV Debates
Presidential candidates must partake in a series of TV Debates in which they debate
policy. There are three debates over four weeks, with each focussing on a different
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area of policy (economy, foreign policy, social policy, ect.). There is also one debate
between the Vice Presidential candidates. The debates are conducted by the
Commission on Presidential Debates, set up in 1987. Interestingly, it allows for a third
party to take place if said party achieves 15% in an opinion poll.

In these debates, the candidates need to:


o Demonstrate they have strong and effective grasp of policy issues. An example
of negative performance of this is in 1992, when the third party Vice Presidential
candidate seemed massively out of his depth.
o Show that their policies are better and more beneficial to the USA than their
opponents.
o Show that they are articulate and able to cope with the pressure of a 90 minute
debate, watched by up to 50,000,000 people.
o Deliver a knock- out line that leaves the other candidate grasping for a
response, and causes the publics perception of the opponent to move into the
negative.
o In 1980, Ronald Reagan successfully dismissed lengthy, complex attacks by
President Carter in the Presidential Debate with a cheerful line: There you go
again, making the President appear negative and out of touch with wider
American society.

Concerns about the election campaign


Campaign Finance
The Election Campaign traditionally starts on Labor Day (the first Monday in
September), and runs until Election Day (first Tuesday after the first Monday in
November). It is very expensive, which leads the way to Campaign Finance being a
major issue and concern with the election campaign.
Background to Campaign Finance:
o Largely unregulated until the 1970s

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o There were reforms in 1970 that left major loopholes, and led to problems with
campaign finance in the 1980s and 1990s, and the election campaigns in that
time period.
o Soft Money
o Money spent on building the party up as opposed to actually winning an
election
o Issue Advocacy
o Allowing companies, individuals, and interest groups the chance to
advocate issues in exchange for money being given to a political party or
to a candidate. For example, an anti- abortion group could use money to
buy the issue being advocated by a party.
o Weakening of parties so that all the money goes to candidates
o Failure of the Federal Election Committee (FEC) to enforce the existing rules and
essentially allow corporate bribery.
Soft Money and Hard Money
In 1979, restrictions were lifted by the FEC which meant that soft money could be
used to raise awareness of elections, the issues being debated, and the procedures
which would allow people to vote.
Hard Money was defined as money used directly in an election campaign, used to
convince people to vote for, elect, or defeat a candidate.
These regulations can be misused, however:
o In the 1988 campaign, to bridge the funding gap, the Democrats started using
Soft Money to explain the issues being debated in the election; in other words,
by using alternative words to elect ect, they were able to get around the FECA
conditions on Soft Money. Once this had been used, all subsequent campaigns
used it, undermining the effectiveness and the authority of the FECA.
o The FECA was subsequently named the Failure to Enforce Commission
The McCain Campaign in 2000
With money being raised for campaigning continuing to grow, there was a strong sense by
2000 that FECA had failed and needed to be replaced. Running for the Republican
nomination, Senator John McCain made campaign finance reform the centre of his campaign

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and took pride in his small donors. Although he lost to George W. Bush, his stance gave
momentum to the issue.

Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold passed reforms in 2002. These were:
o National party committees were banned from spending soft money.
o Unions and corporate groups were banned from funding advertisements.
o Money from unions and big corporations was prohibited to be used on
advertisements that mention a specific candidate within sixty (60) days of a
National election and within thirty (30) days of a state primary. For example, you
could not run an advertisement buy a car here, Obama did, within the time
limits above.
o No fundraising allowed on Federal- owned land.
o Limits on contributions raised to $2,300 per person, which increased by inflation
every odd numbered year (2009, 2013, ect.).
o Banning of contributions by foreign nationals.
o All campaign advertisements must be approved with the words My name is x
and I approve this message.
As a result of the Supreme Court 2010 ruling of Citizens United v FEC, Super PACs
appeared. These had a significant role in the 2012 election with $710,000,000 being
spent through these.
527s:
The above reforms only applied to political parties! Because of this, trade unions set
up anti- bush advertisements under section 527 of the tax code (hence the name
527s). They spent about $400,000,000 on this one purpose, with $146,000,000
coming from just 25 people. However, this may not have been that influential as they
were not allowed to affiliate with the political parties. This meant that they may just
have duplicated the work of the political parties, instead of complement it. These
527s were far less visible in the 2006 mid- term elections and the 2008 Presidential
Elections.
Fundraising in the 2008 Obama campaign:

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The fundraising campaign of Barack Obama seemed to strike the perfect balance that
regulators had been wanting for over three decades; a mass movement contributing to the
campaign that make him a formidable competitor without it being a small bunch of
wealthy backers. He refused to take money from PACs or lobbyists in order to claim
independence. Half of the money came from people giving less than $1,000, and half of
that came from donations of less than $200! More than 2,000,000 people became involved
in this campaign in many ways. It is now a plausible suggestion that future candidates
who fail to enact similar broad support will not be credible.
However, by refusing public funds he may have effectively destroyed public funding for
candidates that would struggle still get the money they need to be able to contribute
to public life. No candidate has taken public funds since the 1990s, meaning that this
is now seen as a weakness. This may be seen to strengthen the position of those that
are wealthy as they will have to contribute more money, while it will make people who
cannot supply the board support Obama did seem not credible, especially if they lack
the charisma of Barak Obama.

Supreme Court Action Citizens United v FEC (2010)


On January 21st 2010, the Supreme Court struck down several campaign finance
regulations, including:
o Any funds available to a company or trade union can now be used for
advertising; previously only money raised specifically for that purpose could be
used.
o Time limits mentioned previously were lifted.
o Restrictions on direct contributions and requirements on organisations to
disclose election- related expenditure were kept in place.
Incumbency Advantages
It is arguable that the incumbent party or congressman has an advantage because of
many aspects, including:
o They have developed a track record of experience and achievements which an
opponent may not be able to match.
o They have had the opportunity to increase their profile because of their position.
An opponent has not had this chance.
o The media often invite politicians, whom are able to enhance their
position because of this. Opponents who have not been in politics before
do not have this.
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o In the case of congressman, incumbents have access to numerous resources


that allow them to communicate directly with voters. These include:
o Franking privileges
o Websites
o Large numbers of staff
Because of the advantages [see above points], and the idea that the incumbent will
win the election, people, as well as interest groups hoping to influence policy, are
more likely to back an incumbent.
How can these concerns be alleviated?
Some argue that there are many ways to alleviate these issues, including limiting the
number of congressional terms, like the presidency is limited to two terms. This was
first thought of in 1994, with the Republican mid- term election platform (the
Contract

with

America)

proposed

constitutional

amendment,

limiting

all

congressmen to 12 years a piece- two Senate terms, and 6 terms in the House of
Representatives. This failed to pass Congress, though many Republican enacted it
upon them, and thus, left their chamber by 2006.
Redistricting
An additional concern to incumbency advantage is that political parties re-draw
districts in order to protect their incumbency. This occurs, as, after each census, the
congressional districts in the House of Representatives are re-drawn to match
population shifts. This is redistricting, but if it is done in such a way that that it is to
benefit a party over another, then it is known as gerrymandering. In all but six
states (Iowa leaving redistricting in the hands of neutral civil servants, and 5 other
states using bipartisan committees), this is a real concern, as it is the state
legislatures, and thus politicians, that draw these congressional districts, and thus,
could be liable to gerrymandering. Many say that gerrymandering is on the rise. For
example, after the 2000 census, the GOP in Texas re-drew congressional districts
which gave them an additional five seats in the House of Representatives.
In

Charlie

Cooks

(leading

electoral

commentator),

there

are

as

few

as

30

truly

competitive districts left in the USA, thanks to redistricting and gerrymandering. This
is in contrast to 120 in the 1990s.
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Voter Participation
Unlike other countries where the governing agencies seek out unregistered voters,
there is no presumption that everyone should have to vote and fill out the paperwork.
Also, because everyone, on average, moves around the USA every 5 years, they may
simply not register to vote in their district.
The Motor Voter act of 1993 allows people to register when they renew or change
address on their driving license, and since this, 9,000,000 extra people have
registered to vote, but many have not used it in elections.
Some states also limit the political rights of people who have served prison sentences
or suffered mental illness. In 13 states, a felony constitutes disfranchisement for life.
This meant that 200,000 people in Florida are illegible to vote.
Other factors that hinder participation may include:
o Voter Fatigue is a real problem in the USA. Because they have the option to
vote in so many elections, people may simply become confused or become
disenchanted with frequent elections, and so, choose not to vote.
o Poverty Many people simply dont believe that politicians can address the
issues that affect the poor, such as racial tension and healthcare costs. This may
be why Obama was so popular, and why voter turnout increased in 2008
compared to 2004.
With all this said, since 2000, turnout has increased. For example,
105,000,000 people voted in 2000, which increased to 131,000,000 in 2008.

Perspectives on Elections in the USA


Views from the Right (Conservatives)
Conservatives judge the electoral system based on whether or not it creates a
citizens legislature. They tend to advocate reforms that promote the rights of
individual Americans, due to their fear of remote politicians who fail to recognise the
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needs of particular people. This is best achieved, they say, by limiting the terms of
congressmen through a constitutional amendment. They would also like to see the
system of recall elections applied to Congress. Opponents argue that these reforms
would be negative steps, because:
o They lead to incumbents who are doing well being removed from office, even if
they have more to give to their communities.
o They lead to youthful legislatures with a lack of expertise, meaning that
congress may become more ideological and not based on what works.
o Many ex- politicians already go into the lobbying industry. Term limits would
mean this revolving door would increase; meaning ex- politicians would seek
to influence current policies. This would be greater achieved as the lobbyists
would be the ones with the higher expertise and experience than the youthful
legislature (see above).
o Elections serve as term limits on badly performing politicians anyway, so there
is no need for forced term limits.
The opponents of the Right tend to argue that the outcomes they support would result
in wealthy interests being more prominent, and citizens legislatures being funded
by wealthy individuals who seek to influence.
Views from the Left (Progressives)
Progressives judge the electoral systems to the extent that it includes and represents
all sections of society, including those that are marginalised, and by the extent it
allows anybody who has a contribution to make to run for office. Therefore, the
extension of the franchise to black people, women, and 18 21 year olds has been
seen as positive progress, but they also see them as insecure gains.
This leads into the Lefts greatest concern- that the electoral system fails to ensure a
level playing field for everybody and that politics has become monopolised by the
wealthy. As part of this concern, they point to the fact that in the 2009 2011
Congress, only one Senator was not a millionaire. Because of this, it is the Left that
actively supports campaign finance reform. However, this is actively met with
opposition, because:
o Limiting contributions can be seen as an infringement of individual rights.
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o The ability to raise funds in a transparent way tells the electorate a lot about the
candidate.
o Candidates with the most money dont always win- McCain in 2008 held a
distant third place in terms of funding but still won the Republican primaries.
o Small donations are time consuming and cause the Presidential campaign to be
stretched out even longer than it currently is.
Moreover, the Left has somewhat undermined its own case in a number of ways. It
was left- wing pressure groups that invented 527 groups that reintroduced soft money
into election campaigns. Left- leaning candidate Barack Obama also appeared to
destroy what was left of the public finance system after he refused public money for
his election campaign.
Views from the Centre (Liberals)
Liberals tend to not support reforms that give an advantage to any particular type of
person. They also like to emphasise the strengths of the electoral system over its
weaknesses, such as the fact that it has been repeatedly refined so that politicians are
kept accountable to the voters. Liberals are happy with the current arrangement, and
thus, oppose many reforms proposed by the Right and the Left.

Conclusions on Voting and Elections


o There were disagreements at the Constitutional Convention about the extent to
which people could be trusted to choose their own representatives.
o There are different and distinct features of Presidential and Congressional
elections
o There is concern about elections, including about financing them and
incumbency advantage. There is huge dispute about the solution these issues.

Past Exam Questions


January 2010:
Why are US Presidential Election campaigns so long? (15)
Analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the Electoral College. (15)
June 2010:
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Analyse the significance of mid- term elections. (15)
To what extent did the 2008 presidential election prove that campaign finance
regulations are effective? (45)
January 2011:
Explain the factors that limit the electoral impact of smaller parties. (15)
To what extent are mid-term elections merely a referendum on the performance of a
president? (45)
June 2011:
Assess the extent to which incumbents have an advantage over the challengers in
Congressional elections. (15)
Does public participation in the presidential nomination process advance or hinder
democracy? (45)
January 2012:
What is the invisible primary, and how important is it? (15)
To what extent are caucuses an appropriate means of selecting candidates? (15)
June 2012:
Why has campaign finance proved difficult to reform? (15)
The Electoral College should be replaced by a national popular vote. Discuss. (45)
January 2013:
To what extent do the major party conventions (National Conventions) continue to
have a meaningful role? (15)
The record of the incumbent is decisive in deciding the outcome of a Presidential
election. Discuss. (45)
June 2013:
How significant are Presidential debates for election campaigns and outcomes? (15)
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The system of nominating presidential candidates is in need of reform. Discuss. (45)

Exam Dates
Psychology:
PSYA1 Exam Monday 11th May 2015 @ 13.00
PSYA2 Exam Monday 18th May 2015 @ 13.00
PSYA3 Exam Tuesday 9th June 2015 @ 13.00
PSYA4 Exam Tuesday 16th June 2015 @ 09.30
Government and Politics:
6GP03C Exam Monday 8th June 2015 @ 09.30 (VOTING AND ELECTIONS)
6GP04C Exam Wednesday 17th June 2015 @ 09.30
History:
HIS3K Exam Monday 8th June 2015 @ 09.30

Sam W Shenton | Rodillian Academy | Voting and Elections

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