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As described above, modern campaign consulting has changed from a field that consisted mostly of general strategists to one dominated by specialists.

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However, consultants have begun to offer other services to their clients as well. In contrast to the first party managers who only offered candidates strategic advice and earlier specialist consultants who only contributed their specific service, candidates now receive a greater overall product.


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This is a relatively recent movement among consultants in the industry and their relationship with their clients. A top Democratic media consultant describes one of his colleagues and a realization that colleague had near the end of his career: He is. Modern professionalized campaigns are not so compartmentalized whereby the information gathered by the opposition research consultant is simply given to the media consultant to put it into a television spot. And media consultants do not simply take the data gathered by the pollster and decide when and where to run their advertisements.

Rather, all the consultants work together as a team to take the different pieces of information that have been gathered polling data, opposition research, candidate research, issue research, the district or state voting history, etc. The full-service media firm, on the other hand, consults with the pollster even before the public opinion data is collected to ensure that the correct questions are asked.

Stanley Kelley has proven to be quite prophetic in his early predictions about the future of the industry, saying that he envisioned an evolution of consultants from strictly technical vendors to advisors who help shape policy decisions — If the candidate is off course with his or her fund-raising goals, or gets off message, for instance, one of the consultants is likely to be on the phone to let the candidate know just how important it is that they get back on track.

The candidate-consultant relationship brings up two important issues and questions. First, what drives consultants to have such intimate relationships with their clients? However, we know rather little about why consultants get into the business, aside from simple assertions about their motivations. The second important question that stems from the consultantcandidate relationship focuses on the decision making in campaigns.

Who is in charge? During the party-centered electoral order, candidates took a backseat to party bosses in developing the strategy for the campaign.

The U.S. Has a Long History of Election Meddling - The Atlantic

However, as parties began to lose their control over elections, candidates did not step in to take their place Menefee-Libey The question remains: to what extent did candidates turn their campaigns over to professional campaign consultants? It is clear that when consultants enter a campaign they have a great deal of influence. But how much influence do consultants have in setting campaign strategy compared to the candidate, especially given that many times they are transplanted into a congressional district or other location from their office in Washington, D.

How much control over their campaigns do candidates have today? How much should they have? These are important questions given that campaigns are ultimately about representative government, the candidate, and their beliefs about government and policy. The link between consultants and voters has been around since the birth of the industry; however, their relationships with the media and interest groups are a different story.

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Only recently has the media started to pay closer attention to consultants and what they do, and only since the late s have interest groups really come on the Consultants Enter the Electioneering Mix 35 scene of modern electioneering in the form of issue advocacy, soft money spending, and independent expenditures. Each of these participants in the electoral process plays an important role in modern democratic elections, yet each relates to consultants differently.

The consultant-voter relationship is important because of the way voters receive their political information today. However, when campaigns shifted from partycentered to candidate-centered affairs, the relationship between candidates and voters changed on at least two levels.


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First, voters became closer to candidates in that candidates began to take their cases directly to the electorate candidates and their messages were not tied to the party. Second, however, the replacement of retail politics and face-to-face campaigning with mass media—based campaigns had the opposite effect.

In other words, whereas candidates used to communicate directly with voters, today candidates communicate with voters through consultants. The potential implications for this are important as the most recognizable forms of this type of communication are likely those that come over the airwaves and through the mail. In modern elections, consultants shape the images of candidates that voters will receive. The media consultant and the direct mail consultant create and mold the sounds and images that will help voters identify candidates and their campaigns.

Effects such as agenda setting, priming, and framing can significantly affect how people evaluate and judge candidates Iyengar and Kinder ; Zaller This seems to give consultants, and media consultants in particular, great power.

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The advertisements that they create set the 36 For Better or Worse? Therefore, how consultants approach communication with voters is crucial to the quality of campaigns. In recent election cycles, the tone of these communications has become increasingly negative. As effective as it may be,27 negative advertising is highly criticized by commentators and citizens for being dirty and misleading.

These critiques have lead to assertions that negative advertisements are bad for democracy and bad for elections. Consultants are therefore found guilty by association. Other consultants also have relationships with voters; however, they are not as easily seen. The data collected allows campaigns to target their messages in a specific way to specific groups. The geographic element allows campaigns to target certain areas of the district or state that may have a high concentration of supporters.

With the rise of cable television, campaigns can precisely focus a message to a geographic group of potential voters that have been found to be either highly persuadable or that have been a reliable source of votes in the past Bradshaw Some scholarly research, however, has accused consultants of using these techniques, combined with a blitz of negative ads, to decrease the turnout in a particular area by citing evidence that negative ads lead to decreased voter turnout Ansolabehere and Iyengar The fact that consultants have these types of relationships with the electorate has raised the eyebrows of many scholars, journalists, and pundits.

Charges of manipulation of the electorate and doing almost anything to win a campaign indict political consultants, charging that they are bad for democracy. However, critics are quick to avoid evidence that negative ads may, in fact, be beneficial in that they can lead to voters who remember more information from a campaign as well as an activated electorate. This legislation spurred PACs in two ways. In addition to contributing directly to candidates, PACs can also spend money on behalf of candidates and carry out 38 For Better or Worse? For example, PACs can provide candidates with polling data, issue research, fund-raising strategies, and strategic advice Herrnson However, the most noticeable, and likely the most important, and surely the most controversial service interest groups can provide are their advertising campaigns.

When interest groups want to mount a campaign to communicate their message, conduct a poll, or do a mailing, to whom do they turn? Much like candidates, interest groups look to political consultants to provide them with the technological and strategic expertise they need to effectively mount a campaign. Moreover, the consultants who create the television spots or direct mail pieces for interest groups are from the same pool as those who create spots and mailings for candidates.

Interest-group clients can create big business for campaign consultants. This does not mean media in the sense of paid-media advertising or the fact that federal campaigns are largely conducted on television.

For Better or Worse: How Political Consultants are Changing Elections in the United States

Rather, media refers to the reporters who cover elections and the relationships consultants have built with them. In his view, reporters and campaign consultants need each other to further their own causes and agendas. This view describes the consultant-reporter relationship as one that is almost as intimate as the consultant-candidate relationship. This may have been the case during the late s and early s. However, in recent years, a more adversarial relationship has developed.


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With these watchdog reporting techniques, reporters began to make enemies in campaigns. As a result, both the Bush and Dukakis campaigns were identified as having factual errors in some of their campaign television spots. The result is not a cozy relationship, but one that is full of suspicion and doubt on both sides.

Today, journalists are continually on the lookout for less-than-truthful statements or images that appear in campaign commercials. Just as consultants worry about their business, newspapers worry about selling newspapers, and television stations worry about ratings.

News about a campaign that has doctored a photograph of a candidate or that has been caught in a lie is good business for media outlets. Instead, it puts the media on the offensive and consultants especially media consultants on the defensive. One would imagine that because journalists are watching for missteps taken by campaigns in their advertisements, consultants are more careful about the research and content that goes into the campaign communications that are disemminated. This hypothesis has even been stated by consultants themselves.

When modern consultants entered the electoral arena a different dynamic in electioneering was created. Today, parties, candidates, voters, interest groups, and journalists all have relationships with campaign consultants. Some of these relationships are more obvious than others, but all are important in modern election contests. This suggests a friendlier relationship between the two. Consultants have also been accused of manipulating voters and causing voter cynicism through their use of negative advertising.

However, the strategies and tactics used by consultants during campaigns are more subtle and may not be as damaging as their critics would have us believe. The consultant-PAC relationship may be the most mysterious because of the behind-the-scenes nature of some PAC involvement in elections. In the following chapters these relationships are more closely examined through the eyes of the consultants themselves.

Every political campaign has its public and private sides. We see its public aspects in speeches, rallies, and televised appeals.