Targeted Marketing and Long Campaigns

In her article targeted marketing, Keya Dannenbaum addresses how political campaigns continue to evolve and use new technologies. From television to social media and targeted advertising, the ways politicians are trying to communicate with potential voters continue to expand. However, As Dannenbaum highlights, while micro-targeting political messages can appeal to specific groups, the politician faces a serious problem with meeting everyone’s expectations once in office. This is one example of how being good at campaigning does not necessarily translate into any real skill at governing.

Neil Irwin looks at political campaigns from a different perspective, describing campaigns as one long hiring process. His opinion of this form of candidate evaluation is generally positive, but he does not address the problems of promising different things to different people (as addresses by Dannenbaum), or the downsides to the fundraising machine that is a presidential election campaign.

My point is not that either author is right or wrong–both make good arguments from where they are standing–but rather that, when it comes to our current campaign system, there are plenty of good and bad sides. Depending on which aspect of campaigns you are examining, your evaluations will look wildly different. But maybe that is part of the problem.

Going back to our discussion on presidential mandates, I think the layers of campaigns in a sense make it too difficult for the elected officials to discern why people chose to vote for them. If this is the case, taking the advise of Gary Gutting, and voting purely based on party might not be such a bad idea.



Governing as the Junior Senator from California

After a decisive win in the election for California’s seat in the U.S. Senate, Senator-elect Kamala Harris has begun her transition leading up to being sworn in on January 3rd. This week, Harris began announcing the names of people from her campaign and Attorney General offices that will be part of her team in Washington.  As we might expect based on the Vox piece we read about the effects of electing women to office, Harris’ hires for her D.C. staff includes several women in prominent roles. However, assessing which kind of lawmaker Harris intends to be goes beyond her picks of staffers; looking at the kinds of issues on which she is focusing as she transitions to Washington should give us an idea of which policies we can expect her to work on.

Since the election, Kamala Harris has frequently spoken out against President-elect Trump and his policies. She is especially focused on Trump’s immigration policy, which she has vowed to fight against. Her focus was underlined by her decision to make her first public appearance after the election at the head quarters of an immigrants’ rights group in California. This suggests that she has already chosen immigration as a central issue in her legislative agenda. However, Harris faces several obstacles to being an effective lawmaker, the most significant of which is being a freshman senator from the minority party.

In their analysis of what makes an effective lawmaker, Volden and Wiseman (2014) present a list of qualities and approaches that seem to be common practices for the most effective legislators. While some of these qualities are harder to assess in a politician new to a legislative position, some of these can nevertheless help us make an educated guess as to the kind of legislator Senator-elect Harris will be.

First off, Harris’ focus on immigration issues throughout her campaign and now her transition suggests that she takes the interests specifically relevant to Californians into account when shaping her message. Furthermore, a focus on immigration and criminal justice reform serve a good extension of her expertise and experience as the Attorney general of California, a further indicator of success.

Finally, while it seems unlikely for a Democrat in the current climate to seek out compromises across party lines, Harris has certainly mastered the skill of cultivating a broad set of powerful allies. This skill is best exemplified by looking at her list of endorsements from the election.

One final interesting aspect of Harris’ legislative agenda what her choice of issues might tell us about her priorities in terms of her future political career. Her clear indication that she intends to lead the fight on immigration issues against President Trump’s administration aligns with Herrnson’s (2016) analysis of the types of committees legislators pursue. In this case, immigration reform is a divisive issue with plenty of opportunity for Harris to position herself on the national stage. This, in combination with the already consistent speculation that Harris is aiming for a presidential run in 2020, suggests that Harris intends to continue to try to advance her political career.

Why Kamala Harris won in California

With 62% of the vote, Kamala Harris won a decisive victory in the race for the Senate seat in California. As the front runner for the entire campaign as well as the California primary, this result was not a surprise. Her backing by national democratic leaders, including President Obama, along with her clear fundraising advantage, meant that Sanchez never really stood a chance.

This was the first run of California’s new top-two primary system, in which only the top two vote recipients from the primary, regardless of party affiliation, are on the ballot in the general election. With two Democrats running against each other, Sanchez would have needed to pull support from Republicans, Independents, and moderate Democrats, something she seemingly failed to do. According to exit polls, Sanchez lost every age group and failed to whip up enthusiasm among California Republicans. In fact, of voters surveyed, “35% of Republicans and 15% of independents said they did not vote in the U.S. Senate race.” This shortcoming demonstrates a potential problem for the top-two primary system, if the lack of a candidate from one of the major parties leads to a significant drop in participation.

Harris’ success among virtually every demographic is hard to explain with just one argument, not because potential causes are lacking, but rather because she has been advantaged in every conventional measure of campaign success. She received significantly more media coverage than Sanchez throughout the campaign, has been backed by the Democratic party establishment, as well as interest groups, and is ideologically more extreme than Sanchez, which would overall seem to translate into higher levels of mobilization and general voter support. This means that a wide range of factors, rather than just one could explain her success. In reality, these factors probably worked together to form a successful campaign.

Another interesting fact about the outcome of this election is the comparisons already being drawn between Kamala Harris and President Obama. Some news outlets are already mentioning Harris in their guesses for who might become the first woman president, following Clinton’s defeat. Ultimately, the campaign for California’s senate seat is comforting, especially this election cycle, because it turned out exactly as expected, and as would be indicated by the traditional campaign factors. However, this campaign suffered in attention level and fundraising due to its structure, as everyone knew since the June primary, that the seat was guaranteed to stay Democratic.

Campaign Photos

In his article for the NYT, Leonard Mlodinow examines how a candidate’s appearance affects their perceived level of competence as well as their vote share in experimental as well as observational studies. It turns out looking competent is a complicated thing. The features mentioned as relevant for the evaluation of “able” looking women includes having “eyes with more curvature on the top than the bottom; hair that is short and parted on the side or combed back; a hairline that comes to a slight widow’s peak; a broad or round face; and a smile.” While the article did not include similar parameters for men running for office, I’m fairly sure they exist.


Now, I’m sure everyone has seen this picture at some point during the campaign. For one thing, it was plastered all over campus leading up to the presidential debates. But try to look at this image through the lens of Mlodinow’s summary of how a candidate might influence voter perception of competence. While I’m not sure how these pictures were chosen for the matchup, clear campaign messages can be derived from them. For one, it seems Clinton’s campaign got the memo (or maybe they wrote the book on female competence?). For another, the candidates’ demeanor, even in this still image, seems to align with their respective approaches to campaigning. Is it just me, or is Trump looking far more aggressive than Clinton? Of course, it is entirely possible that I am projecting the knowledge I have of how the campaign unfolded unto two simple headshots.

Media Coverage in California

Looking at the race for California’s Senate seat is interesting because the context of our readings this week (especially Falk) highlighted the differences in coverage based on gender. However, it’s hard to tell how these effects would manifest themselves when two women are running against each other, as is currently the case in California. That being said, there are other differences in coverage based on different factors, primarily Kamala Harris’ status as decisive frontrunner.

A search on Lexis Nexis reveals that Kamala Harris has received far more coverage in the last month, with 300 articles versus 185 for her opponent, Loretta Sanchez. Harris also seems to be mentioned more frequently in headlines. This is consistent with Falk’s findings that candidates that are seen as more viable receive more coverage.

Considering the two candidates in this race are both from the same party, it is not really surprising that they agree on the vast majority of issue that are currently being primed by the media. Their debate touched on Supreme court nominees, improving the Affordable Care Act, and providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, all issues on which the candidates agree. The focus of the campaign, both from the perspective of the candidates and on the part of the local media, has therefore shifted to the candidates’ differences in personality and experience. The most obvious example of this shift is when Loretta Sanchez ended the “dab.” This move was not only a departure from Harris’ very measured and professional approach to the debate, it also sparked a conversation about how different the approaches of the respective candidates are.

Sanchez has been branding herself as anti-establishment, while she has been painting Harris as just another political insider. This approach is particularly interesting considering that Sanchez is the one who has spent the last decade in Washington as a congresswoman.

Ultimately, this Senate race is fairly weak on issue coverage. The agenda is being set to make voters think about personality rather than policy differences. However, it is impossible to say how much of this tendency comes from the fact that there are few substantial policy differences between the two candidates versus the effects of having two women running against each other.

Campaign Finance

The front runner for the Senate race in California, Kamala Harris, has a complex fundraising organization behind her. In addition to her campaign, which has raised over $12 million as of 9/30/2016, a committee named the “Kamala Harris Victory Fund” has raised over $1.5 million. As a testament to the Democratic party establishment’s commitment to getting Harris elected, this campaign is a joint fundraising operation between the “Kamala Harris for Senate” campaign and the California Democratic Party. Although the campaign itself has received nearly $600,000 in contributions from PACs, this represents a fairly small proportion of overall contributions. The vast majority of money raised has come from individual contributions. Of the individual contributions, $9.6 million, which makes up 79% of money raised, was raised through large contributions.

One prominent industry that is backing Harris is the TV/movie industry, which is her second largest support after lawyers. This support is especially significant in a California race, since there is a large amount of money flowing into political campaigns from the entertainment industry. In the case of Kamala Harris, her campaign has received nearly $1 million in contributions from TV industry professionals. This group is conspicuously missing from Loretta Sanchez’s list of top contributors.

The case of the TV/movie industry is just one example of how Sanchez has fallen behind on fundraising. Her campaign contrasts that of Harris’ in that she has loaned $200,000 to her campaign. As outlined by Herrnson (2016), self-financing is generally a strategy used by first time and/or less viable candidates, who might struggle in the fight for resources. She faces an uphill battle in two of the three categories of donors named by Francia et al. (2003)

  1. As she has never really threatened Harris’ lead in the polls, investors have little reason to donate to her campaign. Without a real shot at winning the election, this money would not be well spent for someone wanting access to the next California Senator.
  2. As the more moderate of two Democrats, she has few strong ideologues on her side. While she might get some support from Republicans on election day, these voters seem unlikely to take it a step further and donate money across party lines.

These issues clearly manifest themselves when looking at contributions for Sanchez’s campaign. Not only has she raised only 1/4 of what her opponent has managed, she is lagging behind in the percentage of individual contributions. Overall, only 1 percent of what her campaign has raised has been in small individual contributions (as opposed to Harris’ 13 percent)

Ultimately, these two campaigns are in no way evenly matched. Harris is raising more money in larger amounts from individuals and PACs alike. This is hardly surprising, considering Harris’ massive insider backing from the Democratic Party, and this campaign seems an excellent case study for just how powerful parties and prominent elected officials can be in what seems to be a de facto extension of a primary, with two members of the same party fighting it out in the general election.





Party and Interest Group Support

While the California Senate race is historic, it is seemingly not very interesting. On one hand, you have an open seat in the largest state in the country in several decades, but on the other hand you have a guaranteed win for the Democrats, as both women running are from the same party. The top-two primary system might have made the race an intersting study for the primary, but at this point, the attention of the press is waning, with most new stories talking about how uninteresting the race has become.

As the front-runner, Kamala Harris leads in both fundraising and endorsements, most recently adding retiring senator Barbara Boxer to her list of endorsements. Moreover, Harris had raised more than $8 million more than Loretta Sanchez when the two last filed finance reports at the end of June. Significantly, nearly all spending by outside groups has supported Harris.

While the race has not been targeted nationally since it is a safe Democratic seat, the state party recently came under fire for funding attack ads against Sanchez. The critique was based on the assertion that the state party organization should be focused on supporting down-ballot contests where Democrats are facing opposition. This could be seen as a call for the political establishment to focus on party rather than individual victories; however, the fact that both congresswomen registering their dissatisfaction have endorsed Sanchez might also have something to do with it.

As the party favorite, Harris has also received $118,000 from leadership PACs, while Sanchez has received no such insider support. Ultimately, Sanchez faces a disadvantage since the endorsements of several Democratic leaders seem to have brought with them the interest groups and industries with the deepest pockets. Finally, when it comes to outside expenditures, the groups that are supporting Sanchez have a distinct Republican allegiance.