Our complex electoral system has features that are consistent with the pluralist model of democracy, features that are consistent with the majoritarian model of democracy, and features that may make it look rather undemocratic. Campaigns give organized groups the opportunity to influence the choice of candidates and the policies of government, which are consistent with the pluralist model. The nominating process and the electoral system are consistent with the types of popular control of government that the majoritarian model prescribes. When the outcome may not reflect the popular vote and the election costs require extensive fund raising, you have to wonder if the elections are truly democratic at all.


The opening case illustrates the complexity of the 2000 U.S. presidential election, during which it took thirty-six days to count the votes. It took the same amount of time, thirty-six days, for Canada to call a federal election, conduct the campaign, and decide the outcome. This chapter focuses on the various ways that states count ballots, parties nominate candidates, and candidates campaign. Unlike Canadian voters, American voters have to endure long, intensive campaigns and a mind-boggling number of candidates, issues, and constitutional amendments during their elections. And on top of all that, their presidential choice could win the popular vote, but lose the electoral election for the White House!

Evolution of Campaigning

Election campaigns, or organized efforts to persuade voters to choose one candidate over the others, have changed considerably over the years. In general, political parties play a much smaller role than they once did. The parties supply a label, as well as services and some funds. Candidates must campaign for their party’s nomination as well as for election. Instead of relying on party organizations, however, those seeking office use the services of pollsters, political consultants, the mass media, and, more recently, the Internet. In this new age of electronic media, campaigns have become more candidate-centered than party-centered.


Unlike most other countries in the world, Americans nominate their candidates through an election by party voters. For most state and local offices, candidates are chosen through primary elections of various types—open, modified open, modified closed and closed. Although national party conventions choose their presidential candidates, the convention delegates typically vote to reflect the outcome of the party primaries or caucuses before the convention is held. As a result, the outcome of the nominating conventions is known long beforehand. The Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary have become early tests of potential candidates’ appeal to party regulars and to ordinary voters. One of the characteristics of recent presidential election is the increased “front-loading” in the delegate selection process.


Although most people do not know it, our electoral college indirectly elects our presidents. Each state’s number of electoral votes is equal to the size of its congressional delegation (senators plus representatives). The District of Columbia also has three votes. In most states, electoral votes are awarded on a “winner-take-all” basis, which allows a candidate to win the electoral vote and the presidency while losing the popular vote. In recent years, ticket-splitting has been on the increase, and voters have tended to elect presidents from one party and members of Congress from the other party. Candidates for Congress are elected in a “first-past-the-post” system, which tends to magnify the victory margins of the winning party.


Candidates must pay attention to the political context of each election. Incumbent candidates will have an extreme advantage over a challenger, because of the incumbent’s name recognition. The size of the district, its voting population, and its socioeconomic makeup are also important. Although good candidates and a strong organization are valuable resources in modern political campaigning, money is the “life blood” of any campaign. Without money, a campaign will die. In recent years, Congress has moved to set strict reporting requirements for campaign contributions and created the Federal Election Commission to monitor campaign finances. Presidential nominees are eligible for public funds to support their campaigns if they agree to spend only those funds. Private individuals, political action committees, and national party committees, however, could spend unlimited amounts to promote candidates. Exploiting a loophole in the law, parties raise “soft money” to support party mailings, voter registration, and get-out-the-vote campaigns, which benefit the whole ticket and are free of the limitations on candidates. The Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act represents one attempt to restrict soft money spending, banning all soft money expenditures by the national party, but permitting soft money expenditures by state party organizations and tax-exempt issue advocacy groups, called 527’s. The new rules applied to the 2004 election cycle, but the effects of the new law remain uncertain.

Campaign strategies can be party-centered, issue-oriented, or image-oriented. Candidates use a mix of polls and focus groups to design their strategies. Most campaigns emphasize using the media in two ways: through news coverage and political advertising. Each of these approaches to the media seeks the same primary goal: candidate name recognition. News coverage is often limited to brief sound bites, so candidates rely heavily on advertising to develop their name recognition. Ads often contain a good deal of information, although the policy content may be deceptive or misleading. The Internet has created new opportunities for candidates to reach voters. The Internet allows candidates to communicate with activists on substantive issues, to arrange meetings and speeches, and, more importantly, to increase the number of volunteers and campaign donations. The presidential candidacy of Vermont Governor Howard Dean illustrated both the potential and the limits of the Internet as a campaign medium.

Explaining Voting Choice

Voting decisions are related to both long- and short-term factors. Among long-term factors, party identification is still the most important. Candidate attributes and policy positions are both important short-term factors. Although issues still do not play the most important role in voting choices, research suggests that there is now closer alignment between voters’ issue positions and their party identification. Given the importance of long-term factors in shaping voting choice, the influence of campaigns may be limited. American elections have become so professionalized that many aspects of our campaign styles are showing up in foreign countries.

Campaigns, Elections, and Parties

As candidates rely more on the media, American election campaigns have become highly personalized, swing states have received more attention, and party organizations have waned in importance.

Surprisingly, most voters are not voting for party platforms, but more for their party as a whole. This kind of voting behavior is more in keeping with the pluralist model of democracy. In other words, the two major parties are more concerned with winning than they are in resolving issues or problems.

>Read the chapter section on Election Laws in Challenge of Democracy and then read and study this the essential fact outline.

1. Primary Elections- political parties are very democratic. We have primaries , so that party members of each party vote for their favorite candidate for congress, the senate, and the presidency. The party winners are called nominees. Each party nominee will compete in the general election in order to win the office. We have 38 primary elections and 12 caucuses during the primary election cycle. The primaries are state elections conducted at different times from February to June. Each state determines when to conduct primary elections. As each candidate within each party enters primaries their objective is to win the popular vote in each state. If you receive 15% of the votes you are eligible to accrue delegates to the convention that is scheduled for the summer time. Each political party has a set of rules that determines how many delegates each state is assigned and how many total delegates throughout the primary process are needed to win the nomination. The primaries this year have been interrupted by the Corona Virus. To continue primaries the remaining states that have not conducted elections will probably have voting by mail as in person voting is too dangerous. The states and political parties have created a complex of election laws that translate votes by district into delegate votes. Most rules are based on proportional representation calculations. The problem with primaries and caucuses  is that the first state elections are in the majority white states in Iowa and New Hampshire, and the public and the press devote a considerable amount of time and publicity often times exaggerating the front runners popularity and chances of winning in subsequent primaries. The front runner receives an increase in campaign contributions and favorable publicity. During the 2020 primaries conducted in the first three states Bernie Sanders appeared to be the candidate to beat. His early election successes created enthusiasm for Sanders and his social movement across  the general democratic electorate. The point is that early state primaries are not indicative of how well the candidate is doing nationally. Another problem with the elongated primary process is that this election cycle over 4 to 5 months is expensive and time consuming. Candidates that don’t have a sufficient fund raising capacity often run out of money and can’t establish a grassroots presence in many states.

2. Primaries and party ideologies- In the primaries the democratic candidates must cater to party activists. The democratic candidates must address the needs and aspirations of the party progressives. Most democratic party members are Modern Liberals and progressives, the candidates have to reach out to these party members and focus on their concerns in policy areas such as health care, immigration, environmental reforms, carbon emissions, income inequality etc. However the majority of party members are moderates. You still have to cater to the progressives. Then in the final election after the primaries , candidates must focus on the entire electorate. We have previously commented on our Moderate Right political culture. So democratic nominees must recognize that they must modify their policy orientation to reach out to Moderates.

3.Presidential General Election-after each party elects a nominee for the presidency, each party candidate campaigns to convince the general electorate that they are the best candidate. Then the election takes place in November. Now we are up the electoral college. The constitutional founders didn’t want the president elected through a popular vote. Most of the founders in 1787 were highly suspicious of the democratic impulse. They wanted state legislative bodies to elect the president. See below a video of how this works.

The Electoral College- How it Works

4. Campaign Financing and Elections- The law that I want you to learn is the Federal Campaign Election Act of 1971 with 1974 amendments. This is the only act besides a few changes in 2002 that controls money in politicians. The act provides that campaigns will be regulated by the Federal Elections Commission. The law states that groups can only give to politicians 5000 dollars, individuals can give only 2800 dollars to each candidate. Their are limits to political parties contributions  also. So why is there so much money in circulation during campaigns?? The is because of SuperPacs. These organizations can spend as much as they want but the can’t give the money to candidates. They spend the money on advertising but can’t contribute to campaigns. These are known as independent expenditures. The supreme court in the Citizens United case ruled that spending money this way is free speech a first amendment right. So if someone says to you that we can remove money from politics, this is impossible now because giving money is defined in terms of freedom of expression. see the FECA at this website:  Federal Election Laws

5. Please keep in mind the differences between PACS and SUPERPACS- political action committees that represent candidates and interest groups are designed to give money to campaigns during and between elections . You need a pac to give and receive money, they are the accounting arm used in campaigns to account for all money received and spent. They must report to the FEC all transactions. SUPERPACS do not give money to campaigns , they spend it on advertising independent of politicians. The supreme court under Citizens United allows them to spend as much as they want but they can’t give money to politicians.


use the text, this lecture and links to answer these questions.

1. What is the purpose for conducting primaries?

2. Who controls how many delegates each state is allocated during the primaries?

3. What are the criticisms of the primary process?

4. Go to the link in the lecture that explains the electoral college. Summarize how the college works?

5. Explain using one of the online links on the Federal Election Campaign Act  the role the FEC plays? How much can individuals contribute to campaigns?  See the Federal Election Campaign Laws

6. The supreme court allows SuperPacs to spend unlimited amounts of money. What decision permits this practice? Can they give money to candidates?

7. Do you agree or disagree about how much money can be spent by the SUPERPACS?



You now know that the FECA LAW limits contributions made to campaigns given by individuals, groups, and lobbyist to any one candidate. Do you agree with these limits?

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