Category Archives: United States of America

Joel K. Goldstein – The U.S. Vice Presidency and Presidential Power

This is a guest post by Joel K. Goldstein, Vincent C. Immel Professor of Law at Saint Louis University School of Law

The American vice presidency has had a complicated relationship with the concept of presidential power.  The complication traces both to the dynamic nature of the vice presidency over time and its multi-faceted relationship to presidential power in virtually any period.  The second office has changed dramatically in recent decades, especially during the last 40 years, as I recount in my new book, The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden (Kansas, 2016)Yet even that very positive development has not removed intricacies inherent in the relationship of the second office to presidential power.

The vice presidency was created for instrumental reasons related to filling the presidency so it could exercise its constitutional power.  Fearing that parochial attachments would obstruct the election of a national president after George Washington, the framers gave each elector two votes for president with the constraint that no more than one vote could be cast for someone from the elector’s state.  The existence of the vice presidency would, the farmers hoped, discourage strategic voting by attaching a consequence to the second votes.  The office was an expedient to allow selection of a president, a prerequisite to the exercise of presidential power.  But the design failed to anticipate the development of national political parties which disrupted the framers’ plan.  Accordingly, the original electoral system lasted for only 15 years until the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution installed the current arrangement by which electors vote separately for the two offices.

During that first decade and one-half and long beyond, the vice presidency was given two formal duties which reflected an anomalous relationship to presidential power.  The vice president’s ongoing duty was to preside over the Senate and to break tie votes in that body.  As such, the vice president, as president of the Senate, was a legislative officer and accordingly part of the system of separation of powers and checks and balances that the framers thought would prevent the concentration and abuse of power, presidential and otherwise.  Yet the vice president was also made the first presidential successor who would discharge the “powers and duties” of the presidency in case the president died, resigned, was removed or was disabled.  Whereas the vice president’s ongoing duty made him adverse to presidential power, his contingent role made him heir to those very powers.  The former provided little power, the latter, all the executive power the Constitution conferred, a reality captured by the insight of the first vice president, John Adams, who said, “I am vice president.  In this I am nothing.  But I may be everything.”

The reality Adams described essentially lasted through the first 35 vice presidents, through and including the tenure of Alben Barkley (1949-1953).  With few exceptions, vice presidents spent most of their professional time performing their duty to preside over the Senate.  Seven of the 35 succeeded to the presidency following the death of their predecessor (two later vice presidents succeeded presidents who did not complete their terms due to death or resignation) and became “everything”; but while vice president, they and the others were closer to nothing, at least with respect to their relationship to presidential power.

The growth of presidential power associated with the New Deal and World War II changed the vice presidency, a development I described in my first book on the office, The Modern American Vice Presidency: The Transformation of a Political Institution (Princeton, 1982).  That growth allowed presidential nominees to select their running mates beginning in the 1940s, thereby associating the two officers politically.  It made the qualifications and preparation of the first successor more material especially given the advent of the nuclear age and the Cold War.  The president was expected to respond to more domestic and international issues.  These developments drew the vice president into the executive branch beginning especially with the vice presidency of Richard M. Nixon.  Nixon and his next five successors, through and including Nelson A. Rockefeller (1974-1977), headed executive branch commissions, engaged in foreign travel and performed other political chores for the administrations.

Although these vice presidents moved from the legislative to the executive branch, as vice presidents they remained somewhat peripheral to presidential power.  When President Dwight D. Eisenhower was asked at an August, 1960 press conference to name an idea Nixon had contributed to the administration, he famously responded, “If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don’t remember,” a devastating answer for Nixon whose presidential campaign messaging was predicated on the superior experience he had gained at Eisenhower’s side.  More than a decade and one-half later, Rockefeller disparaged the second office as “simply standby equipment,” a description that suggested that it remained “nothing” or lose to it absent a succession.

Three institutional barriers kept these vice presidents from getting too close to presidential power even as they entered the executive branch.  Presidents hesitated to give vice presidents significant duties since the vice president was the one subordinate the president could not remove until the term ended.  The vice president’s successor function role inhibited close relations between the two as presidents suspected the motives and loyalty of someone whose ambitions would be realized by their own demise.  Finally, presidents lacked a vision for how to make the vice president significant.

The vice presidency made its most significant institutional advance during the vice presidency of Walter F. Mondale (1977-1981) as the office moved to the center of the presidency.  It did so, in part, because Mondale was able to circumvent or remove the barriers that had kept earlier vice presidents separate from presidential power.  In essence, Mondale proposed, and President Jimmy Carter embraced, a new vision of the vice president as a close presidential adviser and trouble-shooter who would have no ongoing portfolio.  Carter, who was disposed to elevating the office, gave Mondale the resources to make success possible—regular and extensive access to Carter in private and group sessions, access to the information Carter received, staff support and involvement of Mondale’s staff in White House operations, and visible presidential support for Mondale, through word and deed.  Carter gave Mondale a prize West Wing office symbolizing his importance and facilitating his involvement.  This new vision and accompanying resources gave Mondale an ongoing role as part of Carter’s inner circle and as someone who could handle presidential level missions, at home and abroad.

The presence of a significant, ongoing role allowed Mondale to circumvent the barrier the contingent, successor role had presented.  The new vision presented Mondale as part of the effort to make the Carter administration succeed, not as someone standing by to succeed the president.  Avoidance of portfolios coupled with Mondale’s investment in Carter’s success and their mutual trust made the vice president’s possession of a fixed term a less imposing barrier.

The Mondale vice presidency succeeded even as Carter’s presidency was rejected in the 1980 election.  It created a workable model for vice presidential contributions, what I have called the White House vice presidency, and expectations of vice-presidential involvement.  Carter’s and Mondale’s successors, beginning with Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, adopted the Mondale model and this new institutional vision and its associated resources have now lasted for the last 40 years across six administrations, three from each major political party.  To be sure, vice-presidential influence has varied and different vice presidents have emphasized different aspects of the job.  And some have abandoned Mondale’s aversion to portfolios and have assumed some specific portfolios generally involving interdepartmental matters.  Yet all have served as general presidential advisers and trouble-shooters with access and information.

This new institution makes the vice presidency a much more consequential office than it has been for most of American history.   Yet it continues the office’s ambivalent relationship to presidential power even as it introduces entirely new considerations into the analysis.  In an important sense, the White House vice presidency expands presidential capacity by helping presidents deal with an increasingly challenging international and domestic arena.  The president needs help, not simply from staff assistants, but from high-level, politically attuned officers who can provide politically sensitive advice and handle assignments that need attention at the most senior levels.  By empowering the vice president, the president creates a surrogate who can pinch hit for him in discharging highly significant matters.

The advising role of the White House vice presidency reflects the complicated relationship of the office to presidential power.  The presence of the vice president as a senior presidential adviser, as the “last person in the room” in Joe Biden’s formulation, contributes to the exercise of presidential power by giving the president the counsel of a senior politician who largely shares his perspective and interests.  That role also, in a sense, creates an additional informal check of sorts on presidential power.  It can be used as a means to make certain the president has a full range of advice before making decisions as Mondale, George H.W. Bush and Biden among others did.  It also can introduce someone in the inner circle who can tell the president things they do not want to hear and which others may shy away from saying.  Here the vice president’s fixed term and stature provides some security that some others may not feel.  Of course, vice presidents remain dependent on presidents but presidents now also rely on their first subordinate, to help achieve their political and governmental objectives.

The development of the White House vice presidency has benefitted vice presidents by relieving them from the drudgery and many of the associated frustrations of their office.  Yet its greatest contribution has been enhancing the capacity of the presidency to respond to the demands it faces in a wise and effective manner.

William Crotty – The U.S. Vice Presidential Candidates Debate: Democrat Kaine vs. Republican Pence

This is a guest post by William Crotty , the Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Chair in Public Life , Department of Political Science , Northeastern University

The 2016 presidential race has been a nasty and bitter contest dominated by the two major party nominees. The vice-presidential race between two nationally unknown figures was considered inconsequential with no likely impact on the vote. The contestants were Mike Pence, a former congressman and governor of Indiana, a by-the-book, small government, anti-regulation, no tax conservative from a conservative state. Pence, an evangelical, claims Christianity dominated his life, more important than family or party, in that order.  Hillary Clinton chose Tim Kaine, a former governor of Virginia and presently a U.S. Senator. Kaine’s state was considered to be in play in the election. Ideologically Kaine was a centrist/conservative. He appeared to be an amiable candidate, who had been a finalist for the vice presidential nomination in 2008 before Barack Obama close Joe Biden. Clearly he appeared attractive to major candidates while at the same time remaining obscure to the voting public. Kaine was an ardent and observant Catholic. Both candidates emphasized their faith.

In the Bill Clinton conception of governor (he pioneered the tactic) Kaine announced he was pro-life but emphasized that as governor he had executed a man sentenced by the courts, his point being that whatever his own beliefs he followed the law. He was anti-abortion and in the Senate in the run up to the debate had voted against a provision that would make Medicare more readily available to more people (the “public option”). He did not fit the profile of a Democratic party candidate but he was experienced and had done well in his home state.

The two-hour debate took place on October 4th. Both candidates were well prepared, a contrast with Trump in particular and his lack of preparation for debates. They later were held out (especially Pence) as a model Trump should follow in the two presidential debates to come. Kaine was unusually aggressive in presenting the Democratic party’s positions on issues and insisting that Pence present Trump’s views and/or defend his party nominee’s stands, a difficult position for Pence to be in. Both candidates interrupted the other although Kaine did it far more regularly than Pence. His comments were along the line of he’s not answering the question, he changed the subject, what he says is not true, that’s not accurate, and so on.

While Kaine seemed revved up, Pence’s responses were slow and measured and his overall approach cool and, to an extent, detached. His approach was, as Kaine repeatedly pointed out, to not answer questions, to deflect and change the subject, to repeatedly declare Kaine’s charges as “false,” “false,” “false” and to turn attention to attacks on Hillary Clinton whenever possible. The difference and what appeared to impress the television commentators following the debate was that he (again) did it in a cooler, unemotional, and restrained manner. This was opposed to Kaine’s seventy-two interruptions while Pence was speaking (no such figure is available as to the times Pence interrupted Kaine but it was considerably less).

After the debate, the instant television analysis was that Pence had done well and had won the debate. Further, a number commenting on his gentlemanly manner of response (as contrast with Kaine’s intensity) immediately pronounced him the frontrunner for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination. The lesson would seem to be that a politician who looks unruffled on television while effectively stonewalling an opponent, constantly denying what had taken place in the campaign or in this case what Trump said or did and lying (“not true”, “false,”) qualifies as the perfect future presidential candidate. His skills would be those required in a president and in line with those who have held the office. This perspective by much of the nation’s newsmakers begins to suggest why voters think the system is corrupt and rigged and why change is needed.

The saving grace (short-term) in all of this is that outside of the two parties’ core supporters, few voters are likely to take the v.p. debate seriously or to read or listen to what the observers have to say. The debate was even less likely to change any votes.

In truth, not all media commentators accepted what was the early responses of the television analysts. Frank Bruni, a New York Times reporter, writing on the paper’s op-ed page, had a different take. Bruni wrote:

It’s hard to think of a vice-presidential candidate in modern history who has gone so far against his supposed nature and his proclaimed values in the service of his running mate. I guess that’s fitting, because it’s hard to think of a presidential candidate in modern history who has behaved in a fashion as heedless, vulgar and vicious as Trump has. Any politician sharing the ticket with him would be in for a soul-lacerating ride. Pence … isn’t just any politician. He’s one who wears his religiousness with particular pride, and is fond of introducing himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” In 1991, after losing a race for the United States Congress in which he harshly attacked his opponent, he published an essay, “Confessions of a Negative Campaigner,” in which he invoked Jesus and mentioned sin as he swore off such ugliness in the future. …. Never has he [Pence] taken Trump to task or taken a stand for “basic human decency.” He seems to have reversed the order of those three adjectives in his identity. “Republican now comes first and “Christian” last.1

Bruni’s reaction was in the minority although as the post-debate week evaluations went on as to the candidates’ performance they became more balanced and less adulatory of Pence. Trump however did congratulate himself for choosing Pence as his running mate.

Other than that, attention returned to the main arena and the upcoming second presidential debate. Republicans in the Congress and at the state level, never enthusiastic about Trump and fearful of his effect on their races, indicated that another disastrous performance as in the first presidential debate and they would be cutting ties with their party’s nominee.

The debates as a whole were proving to be important to critical, even potentially decisive, to the election and its outcome.


  1. Frank Bruni, “Pence’s Ugly Assignment,” New York Times, October 5, 2016, p. A21.

Heather Hodges, Julian Gottlieb, Lisa Argyle, Skylar Covich, E.G. Garay – In November, US voters’ assessment of the candidates will depend on the economy

This is a guest post by Heather Hodges, Julian Gottlieb, Lisa Argyle, Skylar Covich, and E.G. Gary. It is based on their recent article in Electoral Studies.

In the upcoming months, voters will hear the policy plans presented by presidential candidates. Perhaps more importantly, they will hear attacks on the character of past Presidents and current presidential candidates (see the New York Times compilation and Prof. Martin Wattenberg’s post in Presidential Power). Presidential candidates seek to convince voters that their opponent does not have the administrative competence or moral character to enact an economic plan or to lead the nation in other policy areas. Candidate Trump’s branding of Secretary Clinton as ‘Crooked Hillary’ is a glaring example of this technique.

An extension of this strategy is to link the incumbent party’s presidential nominee to the economic failings of the current administration, which is evident in the way President Obama’s record has been evaluated thus far. A recent Politico article notes President Obama’s mixed economic record. GDP growth has been slow so far this year, which usually benefits the challenging party in a presidential election, but the New York Times points out that the numbers are not as grim as in 1980 or 2008. The unemployment rate is now at pre-recession levels before President Obama took office, but labor force participation has also fallen and wage growth has been slow.

Donald Trump has a unique opportunity to link Hillary Clinton to previous Democratic presidents, given her prominent role in health care policy reform as FLOTUS in her husband’s administration and her service as Secretary of State in the Obama administration, where she embraced his administration’s foreign policy agenda and many aspects of his domestic policy agenda as well. To exploit his GOP base’s disdain for last two Democratic presidents, in his nomination acceptance speech Trump placed blame squarely on the Obama administration for the sluggish recovery.

Although we cannot directly speak to how voters will assess President Obama’s performance in office and the impact this may have on the two current candidates, our research suggests that fluctuations in personal and national economic conditions affect voters’ assessments of presidential character, which in turn influences their evaluations of policy performance, not just in the case of economic policy, but across the policy spectrum.

Our research, recently published in Electoral Studies, looked at whether or not the actual performance of the economy, as well as voters’ subjective evaluation of the economy, affect assessments of the president’s character. We argued that “good” economic outcomes would be linked to positive assessments of the president’s character, regardless of whether the trait has an obvious connection to economic leadership.  For example, a president of dubious character who presided over a growing, healthy economy might receive positive evaluations of their moral character or leadership abilities.

From 1984 on voters have been asked how well various traits, such as moral and intelligent, describe the president. We paired these assessments with economic indicators (ex. the Consumer Price Index, Gross Domestic Product, Barro’s Misery Index, and subjective retrospective and prospective economic circumstances) to see how national and personal economic conditions affect these evaluations.

Character Trait Evaluations from 1984 – 2008


Using both objective economic indicators and subjective evaluations of economic performance, we demonstrate that voters’ stated presidential character traits are correlated with the state of the economy.  Presidents are often held accountable for the state of the economy, but voters do not evaluate presidents’ capability as economic managers and their personal characteristics as separate inputs into an overall evaluation of presidential approval. Instead, how well the economy is doing several months before the election has a direct impact on how voters view the personal traits of incumbent presidents.

Change in Evaluations as National Economy Improves


Change in Evaluations as Personal Economic Conditions Improve


As shown in the above figures, voters are more likely to give positive evaluations and less likely to have negative evaluations of presidential traits as the economy improves. This is the case whether the national or one’s personal economic conditions are improving.

Also, as you can see, the relationship between economic performance and presidential character exists across the partisan spectrum. Although the effect is strongest among members of the president’s party, even opposing partisans give higher ratings of the incumbent president’s character traits when the economy is growing.

The economy has long been shown to be a powerful predictor of economic elections.  One mechanism by which this voting cue functions is through the attribution of positive personal traits to presidents who oversee economic growth.

In this election, the character and trustworthiness of both major party presidential candidates have been called into question by voters of all stripes. Although Candidate Trump continues to hammer on the economy as a major concern, the most recent jobs report was positive, boasting a low unemployment rate, and while it is not out of the question, the economy is unlikely to spiral downward in the next few months (as emphasized on FiveThirtyEight). Also, President Obama enjoys relatively strong approval ratings for a lame duck president and confidence in his command of the economy is also stable after a slow, but steady recovery during his tenure in office. This presents an opportunity for Secretary Clinton, as she can potentially overcome perceived ‘character deficits’ by promoting her strong working relationship w/ President Obama & confidently campaigning on her effort to extend President Obama’s economic gains in a way that John McCain could not rely on President Bush’s record during the 2008 campaign. Yet, this strategy only works in so far as President Obama’s economy holds or improves between now and November. If the economy weakens objectively, or subjectively in the eyes of voters, look for Candidate Trump to double down on character attacks against Secretary Clinton and her complicity in the Obama Administration’s economic mishaps.

Martin P. Wattenberg – Will Trump vs. Clinton See a Resurgence in the Relevance of Presidential Candidate Personality?

This is a guest post by Martin P. Wattenberg, Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine

As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character give him power.”  Because the presidency is a uniquely personal and powerful office, character matters enormously in terms of governing.  Recognizing how factors like integrity, competence, reliability, and leadership skills have made a difference in past presidencies, American voters naturally take such factors into account when they cast their ballots.

In the 2016 campaign, it is clear that both of the major party nominees will be extensively discussing personal attributes.  Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to Hillary Clinton as “crooked Hillary” and charged that she is a weak leader.  He offers his business experience as a major reason for voting for him, saying that if he can make billions of dollars he can certainly manage the nation’s economic affairs.  For her part, Clinton argues that Trump is temperamentally unsuited to be president and too politically inexperienced to be given the reins of power.  In contrast, she has offered her vast experience in government and knowledge of the issues as major justifications for voting for her.

Yet to be seen is just how much voters will really focus on personality matters when they cast their ballots in the fall of 2016.  My research finds that in recent elections the electorate’s focus on candidate attributes has substantially declined.  The analyses were based on a set of open-ended questions asking respondents what they liked and disliked about the major candidates, which have been asked in every American National Election Study from 1952 to 2012.

A great advantage of open-ended questions is that people can say whatever is on their mind, without prompting from survey designers.  Hence, it is revealing that the majority of respondents have consistently said something about the candidate’s personal attributes.  But the trend has definitely been downward, as displayed in the figure below.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 20.40.37

An examination of the data from 2008 and 2012 reveals that young people were substantially less likely than older people to focus on candidate personality.  Having grown up in a much more polarized political environment in which policies are more clearly sorted according to party affiliation, young voters have come to focus more on policies than candidate character.  Assuming this generational change continues, we can expect that the saliency of personal attributes in voters’ evaluations of candidates will probably continue to decline in the future.

In this more polarized era, there is reason to expect that personality evaluations will be more diametrically opposed than ever before.  In the past, it was pretty common for respondents to say that they liked both candidates in terms of their personal characteristics.  But as people have come to hold more black and white views of the candidates, personal character is no longer likely to be judged objectively without regard to political bias. The correlation between personality evaluations of the Democratic and Republican candidates’ provides a simple measure of polarization, with a more negative correlation indicating greater polarization.  The figure below shows that candidate personality evaluations have been more polarized than ever during the last three presidential elections.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 20.41.26

One major reason why candidate character evaluations are now more polarized is that they have become more likely to be seen through the perceptual screen of partisanship.  Indeed, recent elections have seen a much tighter relationship between partisanship and evaluations of candidate character.

With fewer people mentioning personal attributes and with those who do so filtering their comments through the perceptual screen of partisanship, the independent impact of candidates’ personal qualities on voting behavior has declined over time.  My final figure shows that the partial correlation between voting decisions and candidate attribute ratings has clearly lessened in recent presidential elections, with the 2012 election representing the lowest figure ever in the time series.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 20.42.27

Although these results point to a generally lessened role for personality evaluations in the decisions of American voters, they do not necessarily mean that candidate character will never again be crucial to the outcome of presidential elections.  Any future presidential candidate who sees an opening to take advantage of a perceived edge on some personal attribute will no doubt seize on it and voters are bound to pay at least some attention.  With Donald Trump’s outsized personality it is certainly conceivable that personality factors will play a larger role in 2016 than they have in the past several elections.  However, as candidate character evaluations have become so polarized and filtered through partisanship, it seems unlikely that personality factors will be as important to the outcome as was the case in the 1960s and 1970s.

US – The General Election: Let the Games Begin

Now that all of the primary voting has ended, what comes next in this unconventional and unpredictable presidential campaign? While the casual political observer might expect a lull in campaign activity for several weeks as both Republicans and Democrats prepare for their nominating conventions, this may simply be the calm before the inevitable storm. The general election has already begun, and the next four months leading up to Election Day promise to be like no political campaign American voters have ever seen.

Conventional wisdom has provided little guidance during this campaign, though this time period in the political calendar is usually reserved for convention preparation, staffing and organizational issues, building a ground game in swing states, fundraising, vetting potential running mates, and transitioning to a general election narrative designed to attract independent voters. And while all of that is certainly happening in the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump campaigns, the news media is perhaps the most important participant right now. Journalists, and particularly their editors, are the gatekeepers who decide what stories to cover and what stories to ignore, and they also set the narrative about each candidate. However, the stories do not always provide the narrative that the candidate wants.

For example, Clinton wants to be seen as the seasoned, experienced politician who can provide a steady hand for American leadership in turbulent political times. Yet, one of the more popular story lines about Clinton has been the continuing FBI investigation into her use of a private email server while Secretary of State, as well as the possible conflict of interest involving donations to the Clinton Foundation. This storyline feeds into another narrative of how a majority of voters in poll after poll find Clinton untrustworthy.

On the GOP side, Trump wants to be seen as the populist, anti-establishment answer to all that is wrong with Washington. He is also trying to establish himself as the leader of the Republican Party. Yet, the news media continue to report on party disunity, high-profile Republicans who refuse to endorse Trump (like conservative columnist George Will) or have endorsed Clinton (like former George W. Bush treasury secretary Henry Paulsen, and former George H.W. Bush national security advisor Brent Scowcroft), and whether procedural rules at the Republican convention can still stop Trump.

In addition, the media tend to frame political news, especially that coming from the campaign trail, as a game or sporting match. This “horse race” coverage about who is winning v. losing (regarding fundraising, endorsements, the latest poll numbers, etc.) provides an “us v. them” mentality that seems to feed directly into the current hyper-partisan political environment. I call this trend the “ESPN Effect,” as news coverage, especially on television, can often remind the viewer of watching coverage of the “big game” on ESPN’s flagship show, SportsCenter.[1]

For example, there have already been numerous stories predicting possible running mates, which is often framed as “Who will win the Veepstakes?” And then there are the polls, which provide so much data and so many numbers yet seem to lack substantive information. National polls may make for a good headline (“Clinton has extended her lead” or “Can Trump close the gap?”), but Americans do not elect their president nationally through popular vote. Polls in swing states (like Ohio or Pennsylvania) can tell us something, but even then, they only offer a snapshot over a few days with an election that is still more than four months away. And, for any poll to be statistically significant, the random sample has to be large enough (around 1,000 respondents) and it has to be among “likely” as opposed to simply “registered” voters. This is not always the case, yet the results get reported is if they are nonetheless valid. Regardless, polls this far out cannot predict voter selection and/or turnout.

Stories like these about the candidates also compete with numerous breaking stories throughout each news cycle, and there have been several significant stories of late. Each story also gets reported through an analytical lens that asks, “What does all of this mean for the presidential election?” The mass shooting in Orlando, the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom, and Democrats staging a sit-in over gun control legislation in the House of Representatives are just a few examples. Other recent political stories include Bernie Sanders’ presumed support for, yet non-endorsement of, Clinton, and Marco Rubio’s change of heart about running for reelection for his Senate seat in Florida (so that he can help block bad decisions by a President Clinton or President Trump). Add to that the latest comments from President Barack Obama or Speaker of the House Paul Ryan about the presidential campaign, and voters will find more information about the players and their strategy (how to win the White House) than substance (what happens when the “big game” is over and the new president tries to govern).

Given the media’s tendency to frame the presidential campaign as a zero-sum game that mirrors some of the biggest sports rivalries in American culture (like Lakers v. Celtics, or Yankees v. Red Sox), the strength of movements like #NeverTrump, #NeverHillary, or “Bernie or Bust” is not surprising, especially in the combative environment of social media. Nor is the record-breaking unpopularity of both major party presumed nominees. Voters looking to side with Team Clinton or Team Trump can easily find reason to cheer meaningless data points along the way if their candidate has a good day in the latest poll, fundraising numbers, or dominates news coverage with a pithy comment. On the other hand, voters looking for substantive analysis about important policy positions need to be savvy media consumers who can look beyond the day-to-day horse race coverage.

Perhaps the least surprising (though rarely reported) storyline to date has been the interest in third party candidates. Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein are at 8 and 5 percent, respectively, in the latest RealClearPolitics average of polls.[2] Those numbers are perhaps one of the only meaningful data points that deserve attention from not only the news media, but the Democratic and Republican parties as well. It is too early to predict how either Johnson or Stein may influence the final Electoral College result in November, but it does suggest that a four-way race to the White House may be, to use sports terminology, “The Fight of the Century.”[3]


[1] This research is in the early stages. I presented a paper with my colleague, Dr. Brian Calfano, University of Cincinnati, at the 2015 Western Political Science Association annual meeting titled “The ESPN Effect: Building Efficacy via Competition.”

[2] See national polls results at:

[3] The championship boxing match between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, on March 8, 1971, at Madison Square Garden in New York, has been labeled “The Fight of the Century” by sports writers and historians. It was the first time that two undefeated boxers fought for the heavyweight title.

James D. Boys – Hillary Clinton: Slouching towards success?

This is a guest post by James D. Boys from Richmond University, London

After a lifetime in politics, Hillary Clinton finds herself at the threshold of greatness. The White House is tantalisingly close, yet the American people remain uncertain what to make of her. The 2016 campaign will either result in Hillary Clinton becoming the first female president of the United States, or it will undoubtedly mark the end of her political career. Though she is far ahead in the delegate count, she has yet to secure the Democratic Party’s nomination, despite the smallest, weakest field of challengers the Party may have ever known. Until she secures the nomination, she cannot turn her energies to defeating her Republican opponent in the general election. To date, the 2016 primary season has demonstrated Hillary Clinton’s continuing struggle to overcome a series of formidable obstacles that have long-plagued her time in public life.

Her steadfast determination to appear tough and resilient has ensured that she remains an enigma, removed from the lives of the American electorate. Little, it seems, has been as important to Hillary Clinton as portraying a sense of control, either real or imagined throughout the course of her life. All things considered, this is perhaps not surprising. Raised by a cold and distant father, and married to the world’s most famous unfaithful husband, it is little wonder that Hillary Clinton appears to have created a seemingly perfect public persona that few can penetrate. In an era in which the American electorate has routinely demonstrated a propensity to elect presidents they would choose to share a beer with, however, her struggle to project personal warmth is a serious impediment to her election.

A fundamental challenge also exists in regard to Hillary Clinton’s liberal credentials. For many in her party, the New Democrat policies that she and her husband adopted in the 1990s was as unpopular as the New Labour project was with socialists in the UK; it felt like a betrayal of the party principles in a (successful) bid to gain power. Having been out of power for 12 years in 1992, the Democratic Party was inclined to accept such an approach. In 2016, having been in power for the last 8 years, this is no longer the case and explains, in part, why many members of the Democratic Party hanker after a candidate further to the left of the political spectrum. The self-described socialist senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, who no one expected to be any serious threat to Hillary Clinton, has defeated her in key battleground states and has repeatedly drawn tens of thousands to rallies across the country as he advocates an approach very different from that being offered by the Clinton campaign. Although he is now mathematically incapable of winning the nomination, his remarkable efforts have drawn Hillary Clinton to the left of the political spectrum in order to gain her party’s nomination, which will force her to reposition herself once again for the general election in the autumn.

Once she secures the Democratic Party’s nomination, can she win the presidency? A key determining factor will be Hillary Clinton’s continuing capacity to adapt and change. In 2008 she was determined to run on the basis of being the best-qualified candidate and was adamant that gender play no part in her campaign.  ‘I am not running as a woman,’ she told supporters at the Iowa State Fair in July 2007, ‘I am running because I believe I am the best-qualified and experienced person.’ This was perfectly encapsulated in her campaign advert that asked who Americans wanted to answer an emergency call at 3am. In seeking to pass the commander-in-chief test, however, Hillary Clinton appeared to be content to jettison her femininity and unique appeal to 51% of Americans. It was clear that her campaign took far too long to recognise that it had missed an opportunity to make Hillary Clinton’s candidacy about more than her, and to position it as an historic chance to break the gender lock on the Oval Office. Hillary Clinton appears far more content to utilise the gender issue if it will help secure victory in 2016, insisting that whatever her age, she would be ‘the youngest woman president in the history of the United Sates.’

Hillary Clinton has successfully maximised the financial opportunities that have accompanied her celebrity and political power in the United States. However, her highly publicised lecture fees and book royalties have elevated her income and personal net worth into the stratosphere, beyond the wildest imagination of most Americans. Her wealth is compounded by the amount of time she has spent in the public arena. When Bill Clinton first appeared on the national stage in 1992 he was relatively unknown and could introduce himself to the American public, to whom he was a virtual blank canvas. In the subsequent quarter century, however, the Clintons have rarely been out of the American eye, complicating efforts to present a ‘new’ Hillary Clinton to voters in 2016. Indeed, Hillary Clinton has been omnipresent since 1992, through 8 years of her husband’s administration, 8 years in the Senate, a presidential campaign in 2008 and 4 high profile years as Secretary of State. First time voters in 2016 will have never known an American political landscape that didn’t include Hillary Clinton in one role or another, as she has become part of the establishment. Such a situation presents a challenge to her campaign, eager to portray her as a progressive candidate for change.

If elected in November 2016, Hillary would be 69 when she takes the oath of office in January 2017, making her America’s second oldest president; only Ronald Reagan will have been older. The Baby Boomer generation that Hillary Clinton represents is now retiring as the Millennial Generation comes to the fore. The fact that Bernie Sanders has managed to tap into the frustrations of the youth vote is an indication of Hillary Clinton’s status as a member of the establishment, rather than of a reform movement. The experience that she has gained since she last ran has actually proven to be a handicap for her as she seeks to project a readiness to lead, with a vitality that connects her to a youthful demographic. It is a circle she has thus far failed to square.

For all of the talk about personality, politics and policy, however, the presidential election is all about electoral mathematics. All considerations must be geared towards securing the 270 Electoral College votes that will secure the White House. Any electoral calculations, therefore, must address the state-by-state approach that the United States adopts on Election Day, for there is no national poll, but rather 50 individual polls that will provide a victor. The popular vote would be nice, but it is the Electoral College that will decide the election, as Al Gore discovered in 2000.

The Republicans have only won the popular vote in a presidential election once since 1988, ensuring that the Democrats have secured the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 elections and won 5 of the last 7 presidential contests. The national demographics appear to point to a Democratic victory irrespective of the party candidate, however, with Hillary Clinton’s unique appeal, such a result appears all the more likely. The route to electoral victory will need to ensure that Hillary Clinton retains the overwhelming ethnic minority support that secured Barack Obama’s two terms in the White House and build upon the large female vote that she secured in the 2008 primaries, but which Obama failed to secure in 2012. Such a combination of Latinos, African Americans and women, as well as the usual percentage of white men who would be expected to vote Democrat, should be sufficient to capture the White House in 2016 and propel Hillary Clinton into the history books as the first female president of the United States.

Dr James D. Boys is an Associate Professor of International Political Studies at Richmond University, London and is the author of Clinton’s Grand Strategy (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015) and Hillary Rising (Biteback, 2016). He maintains a website at and tweets at @jamesdboys

US – Can Donald Trump Win the Presidency?

I count myself among the legions of political scientists, pundits, and other so-called experts that got it wrong about Donald Trump’s candidacy for the Republican nomination. When he first announced that he was running for president last June, especially in such a crowded field of Republican contenders, I thought that when serious campaigning got underway, the Trump candidacy would fade. Like so many others, I also thought that each subsequent gaffe would surely end his candidacy. Despite the overwhelming media attention, I was skeptical that Trump could turn the hypothetical support he enjoyed in poll after poll throughout the fall into real support from voters. But after losing the Iowa Caucuses to Ted Cruz, Trump did just that with victories in New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, and many subsequent states along the way to becoming the presumptive Republican nominee.

In defense of my profession, while political scientists like analyzing numbers, the credibility of polling in recent years has taken a beating. There are now more polls than ever before, but fewer reliable ones. Reliance on cell phones has made polling more difficult, more time consuming, and much more expensive, to achieve a true random sample through random digit dialing. The Federal Communications Commission forbids automatic dialing of cell phones, and as a result, response rates have fallen dramatically. National polls are also meaningless, despite the continual media coverage, since Americans do not elect presidents nor nominate presidential candidates nationally. Many of the state polls last fall that placed Trump and Ben Carson at the top of the GOP race had small sample sizes (around 400, as opposed to the more reliable sample size of 1,000) and would include “registered” or “lean Republican” voters as opposed to “likely” voters. The latter provides the most valid sample, though last fall was still too early to have an accurate read on who was likely to vote. Several polling organizations have gotten big political stories wrong of late, including the extent of the Republican victory in the 2014 midterm elections, recent elections in both Great Britain and Israel, as well as Gallup’s prediction on Election Day 2012 that had Mitt Romney winning the popular vote over Barack Obama 49-48 percent (while Obama won the actual popular vote 51-47 percent).

Presidency scholars like myself also like to rely on historical precedents when analyzing potential election outcomes. Dwight Eisenhower was the last political outsider to be elected president, though while he had never held nor ran for a political office, being a five-star general who served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II gave him tremendous credibility with voters in 1952. And while several “outsider” candidates have sought the presidency since then, the most notable success belongs to Texas businessman H. Ross Perot, whose independent campaign in 1992 garnered him 19 percent of the popular vote (though zero Electoral College votes).

To say that Trump has re-written many of the rules of presidential campaigns this past year would be an understatement. And now that Trump has proven so many of us wrong with his success in becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, the question is whether Trump can extend his winning streak to capture the White House in November. I recently told students in my Media and Politics course that I am officially out of the prediction business, but I offer this perspective as a political scientist on how Trump can win, and why many who say that Hillary Clinton (if she is, indeed, the Democratic nominee) will easily win in November might be wrong.

First, one of the most important tasks for Trump (or any nominee) is to unify the party before, during, and after the national convention. Despite the #NeverTrump movement, Trump’s bombastic style of campaigning, or the sometimes brutal way in which Trump went after his political opponents, one important fact remains—by early May, it was the Republican Party that had wrapped up its nomination contest. The Democrats, it seems, won’t have a final answer until June 7th, when California, New Jersey, and a handful of smaller states vote. One year ago, no one would have predicted this outcome, as Clinton was supposed to easily defeat Sanders and any other competitor for the Democratic nomination, and the large Republican field was supposed to battle it out until the last contest or even into the convention. Instead, Trump and the Republican Party have already shifted to focus on the general election, while Sanders keeps his slim hopes alive by continuing to beat Clinton in primary contests (like his win last week in Oregon, or the virtual tie in Kentucky due to the proportional allocation of delegates).

Second, as the momentum and enthusiasm for the Sanders campaign continues, so too does the overlap on key issues important to both Sanders and Trump supporters. Assuming Clinton will eventually win the Democratic nomination, the question remains, what will Sanders supporters do? Clinton has not generated enthusiasm among progressives, and Sanders’ anti-establishment message often hits the same points as Trump’s message: Creating better paying jobs, getting big money out of politics, ending corporate welfare and crony capitalism, and ending unfair trade deals. Whether Trump can co-opt any of this support remains to be seen, though the dissatisfaction with the Democratic establishment among Sanders supporters is palpable, as witnessed last Tuesday during a large Sanders rally in Southern California when the mere mention of the Democratic Party set off a loud round of boos from the crowd.

Third, Trump has promised to put new states in play this fall, shaking up the traditional red-blue divide of the Electoral College. Again, time will tell if that can happen. The so-called Rust Belt states will loom large, including Ohio and Pennsylvania. While Pennsylvania has not gone Republican since 1988, Nate Silver just last week identified it as the “tipping point state,” which means he predicts it to be “the state that provides the presidential winner his or her 270th electoral vote when all the states are rank-ordered by his or her highest to lowest margin of victory.” (See the article here: Much has already been made about Trump’s support among white, working-class men, and higher turnout among this demographic can help to offset the expected gender gap that Trump will face with women.

Finally, the most prominent theme of this campaign to date has been voter anger against the Washington establishment and political insiders. It is still too early to tell whether or not Trump can continue to turn that anger into votes come November. Yet, one of Clinton’s greatest weaknesses as a candidate is her Washington insider status as the former First Lady, U.S. Senator from New York, and Secretary of State. The narrative of electing the first woman president is often lost among any number of more interesting story lines that have emerged from this campaign. While Trump wants to “Make American Great Again!” and Clinton wants voters to proclaim “I’m With Her,” perhaps the best slogan to describe the presidential race in 2016 is simply, “Anything Can Happen.”

Mark Bennister – Hillary Clinton: Managing the Rhetorical Double-Bind

This is a guest post by Dr Mark Bannister, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Canterbury Christ Church University

Hillary Clinton is in a unique position, having occupied four of the most important and symbolic public offices in American politics. This is not the end of course as she may yet hold a fifth role, that of President. As she enters the campaign ‘home straight’ analyses of her readiness for the highest office are plentiful. A critical skill for any political leader is the ability to communicate to a variety of audiences. Rhetoric and oratory represent the means by which a politician can persuade, navigate and often manipulate the relationship between the rulers and the ruled. In a new book on Democratic Orators from JFK to Barack Obama Aristotelian modes of ethos (appeal based on character), pathos (emotion) and logos (logic) are used to examine the rhetoric of Democratic Party politics since the 1960s. My contribution to the volume evaluates the oratory of Hillary Clinton, drawing on her prolific public speeches in her political career up to the launch of her second presidential bid.

Women and oratory

Women have not figured strongly in the history of political oratory. Men were not only the ones in Western society  most likely to be in the jobs that gave  occasion for  speeches; they were, with very rare exceptions, also the ones educated to give them, and the ones whose speeches were most likely to be written down. Not only constrained by educational opportunities, women (as feminist scholars stress) have to contend with power structures that have historically limited women’s voices from being heard at all.

Women therefore suffer from a gendered double bind in the use of rhetoric in political speeches: talk tough – conforming to leadership norms – and risk sounding too masculine, use feminine emotion – conforming to gendered notions – and risk sounding weak. This is all part of the multiple dichotomies and contradictions associated with Hillary Clinton, within a context of difference and dominance. Women in leadership positions, or aspiring to lead, are required to conform to male expectations often magnified by the demands of wartime leadership or institutional. Hillary Clinton did seek to manage this gendered Catch 22 by initially drawing on masculine rhetoric as a ‘fighter’, whilst using indirect methods to display emotional appeal.

Hillary as public speaker

Clinton has generally not been lauded for her oratorical skill; her success in public office has not been due to any sharp and succinct rhetorical techniques. Her style, was initially prosaic and tended toward lengthy and complex responses to questions; an understandable approach given her legal training. This caused some difficulty for Clinton as journalists constantly searched for tools to misrepresent her: the 1992 “cookies and tea” comment is the most infamous example of reporters excavating a juicy sound bite from and circulating it regardless of the fact it misrepresented the statement as a whole. The extrapolation of this seemingly innocuous quote, taken out of context and used to make ‘Hillary an issue’ alerted her to potential rhetorical pitfalls based on gender.

Yet, it is perhaps due to the oratorical bind, through which we consume oratory via only a masculine paradigm, which means her oratory appears more prosaic, less effusive and uninspiring. There have been flashes in a career – ‘women’s rights are human rights’ (1995) and in her 2008 concession speech in Washington – when the confluence of the occasion and the words was most evident. Gendered analysis of her speeches has seen her occupancy of positions of power, responsibility and influence open her up to charges that equivalent male politicians would never face.

Adapting to the situation

Hillary Clinton has been a prolific public speaker in a variety of roles – from delivering the first student commencement speech at Wellesley College in 1969 to defending her actions over Benghazi in Congress in 2013. She was – and still is – a powerful orator, able to generate appeals based on logos and her connection with social issues to establish appeal based on ethos. Less evident was her pathos though she deployed classic rhetorical techniques which were more evident over time to project her image and policy. Much of her rhetorical success has been based on the ability to adapt her oratory to the position she held and the situation, helped in no small measure by her close coterie of advisors. She was comfortable on the international stage pushing the universal human rights agenda as First Lady and later as State Secretary. She could engage in the combative arena of partisan party politics as a Senator and then as a genuine presidential candidate. Perhaps her greatness rhetorical success was to continually face down her critics and many detractors, usually with dignity and poise. Adopting in particular ‘conflict’ and ‘journey’ metaphors she projected her ‘authentic self’ through her rhetoric – often using proxies – bound up as she was in a constant struggle to prove others wrong and take on new challenges to ‘keep going’..

Transcending the double-bind?

Utilising rhetorical techniques to manage the ‘double bind’ proved problematic. Still bounded by a male dominated arena, Clinton has been channelled by context, environment and advisers into deploying tough, largely uncompromising language. Rather than transcending the double-bind, she has been linguistically caught up in it, not least when presenting the case for military action and over emphasising her ‘experience’ (as with the backfiring ‘3am phone call ad’). Her pathos and femininity only appeared to shine through once she was freed from playing the tough role assigned to her and expressed a more expansive and inspiring form of rhetoric in her concession speech in 2008 ’the glass ceiling now has 18million cracks in it’. Up to then she had eschewed such fripperies keen to stress experience (ethos) over vision (pathos). Depending on the outcome of the current presidential campaign, we will see if her rhetoric can make the transition into the highest leadership role, breaking new ground again.

Democratic Orators from JFK to Barack Obama (2016) edited by Crines, A.S., Moon, D.S., Lehrman, R., Thody, P. is published by Palgrave

Campaign 2016: Delegate Counts and Contested Conventions

News about the 2016 presidential race in recent weeks has seemed to focus on one topic more than any other—delegates to the national conventions. While the news media and voters often get caught up in the excitement of a candidate winning a primary in a particular state, the reality is that it is the number of delegates secured, and not the number of states won, that determines each party’s nominee. To complicate matters, Democrats and Republicans have different sets of rules to determine delegate allocations in each state.

All Democratic contests are proportional based on voting results, though the party also relies on “super delegates,” which are party elites (for example, current members of Congress, party officials, etc.) that make up 15 percent of the total delegates. They are unpledged, meaning they support the candidate of their choice at the convention. On the Republican side, some contests are winner-take-all, while others are proportional or winner-take-most (based on how each candidate performs at the congressional district level). However, in order to secure either party nomination, a candidate must receive the support of a simple majority of the delegates at the convention. If this does not occur on the first ballot, then successive ballots occur until a candidate reaches a majority.

Why all the attention to the delegate selection process this campaign cycle? For decades, neither political party has experienced a “contested” convention, which simply means that no candidate has secured a simple majority of pledged delegates prior to the convention, and the outcome is not certain to be determined on the first ballot. Republicans last experienced this in 1976, when President Gerald Ford did not yet have a majority of delegates due to the strong challenge from former California Governor Ronald Reagan in the primaries. For Democrats, their convention in 1968 represented great uncertainty. While Vice President Hubert Humphrey had the most pledged delegates at the end of the primary process, he had not competed in any state primaries, instead earning his support through state caucuses whose delegates were determined by party leaders.  Senators Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy has been competing for delegates in the primary contests, but following Kennedy’s assassination in June after winning the California primary, his delegates remained uncommitted going in to the convention. Both Ford and Humphrey would earn their party’s nomination, but both would lose in the general election.

Where does the current delegate count stand? For the Democrats, after her win last Tuesday in the New York primary, it is increasingly likely that Hillary Clinton will secure a majority of pledged delegates prior to the end of the Democratic primary process in June (the last contest is the District of Columbia on June 14). Clinton currently has a pledged delegate lead of 1446 to 1200 for Bernie Sanders. However, that lead is extended greatly when super delegates are also counted. To date, Clinton has secured 502 super delegates to Sanders’ 38. That means that Clinton only needs 435 remaining delegates to reach a majority of 2383 delegates. Sanders has stated that he has no intention of leaving the race, and his supporters have voiced numerous complaints about the use of super delegates as undemocratic. It should also be noted that the FBI investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State is still pending, and the timing and outcome could play a role (though this is impossible to predict with any certainty).

For Republicans, the chance of a contested convention still looms over the race. While Donald Trump won New York, and nearly all of its delegates, the total number of pledged delegates for all other Republican candidates is still slightly higher than Trump’s total. To date, Trump has 844 delegates, Ted Cruz has 543, and John Kasich has 148. However, before exiting the race in March, Marco Rubio had also earned 171 pledged delegates. Trump is the only candidate who has a realistic chance of securing the majority of 1237 delegates prior to the convention, but while several states this week look promising for Trump (like Pennsylvania and Connecticut), other states into May and early June look promising for Cruz (such as Nebraska, Montana, and possibly Indiana). The big prize of California on June 7, which is winner-take-most, could be the deciding factor, though it is a closed primary for Republicans and that has tended to favor Cruz.

Most experts agree that without a majority of delegates heading into the Republican Convention, Trump might not be able to secure the nomination on the first ballot. This is due to his lack of ties to party leaders as well as the fact that the Cruz campaign has been much better at securing their preferred delegates to be the actual people who attend the convention. Many delegates become unpledged after the first ballot (this depends on state rules; some states require a third or later ballot for delegates to be released from their pledged candidate), which would then give Cruz, Kasich, or even a candidate who has not been running for president to convince a majority of the delegates on the convention floor that they represent the party’s best chance of winning in November. Trump has called the process “rigged,” and while that message certainly resonates with his supporters (many of whom appreciate his status as a political outsider), the nomination cannot be secured without a simple majority of votes on the convention floor.

To understand the current dynamics of the presidential campaign, it is important to remember that despite criticisms from some campaigns and their supporters about voters being disenfranchised through delegate allocations, the nominating process for political parties was never intended to be a shining example of democracy. Instead, it reflects the preferences of the party itself, and while the rank-and-file voters are a part of that equation, so too are party officials and other elites (commonly, and often pejoratively, called “the establishment” in this campaign cycle). And, despite the fact that the news media and political pundits love to predict the outcome of elections well before voters (or in this case, delegates) get their say, the 2016 campaign has already proved that anything can happen.

(The New York Times provides an excellent summary of the entire delegate count for all candidates at

Craig Allen Smith – The Surfacing Stage of the 2016 American Presidential Campaign: A Status Report

This is a guest post by Craig Allen Smith, Professor Emeritus of Communication at North Carolina State University. It summaries his book, Presidential Campaign Communication, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Polity, 2015.

Portions of this research were reported at the annual conference of the Central States Communication Associaton in Grand Rapids, Michigan (April 15-16, 2016).

American presidential campaign communication is a series of rhetorical transactions among three sets of participants: Citizens, Campaigners, and Reporters. Their trialogue unfolds in four functional stages — Surfacing, Nominating, Consolidating, and Electing — during which participants trade words and symbolic actions for attention, campaign resources, and votes (Smith, 2015). The purpose of this report is to assess the Surfacing stage of the 2016 campaign preparatory to the Nominating stage.

2016 Surfacing: November 2012-February 1, 2016

Surfacing crystallizes the campaign as participants rhetorically constitute its rules, issue publics, news habits, and candidacies. For 2016 these included the primary, caucus, and convention schedules; the parties’ delegate allocation rules, and the rules and  schedules for televised debates.  Additionally, several states enacted photo ID laws to prevent “voter fraud” that complicated voting by minorities.

Issue Surfacing

The Surfacing trialogue produced two competing rhetorical agendas as Democrats and Republicans debated different issues. Both Newsweek (Mosendz, 2016) and The New York Times (Keller & Yourish, 2016) posted visualizations of the parties’ different issue spheres. Democrats argued about income inequality, Wall Street’s influence, education, criminal justice, race, women’s right, energy, and the environment. Republicans argued about excessive government, the Constitution, the legacy of Ronald Reagan, religious liberty, gay marriage, immigration, military power, Israel, North Korea, and China. Additionally, the Republican candidates exchanged (frequently undignified) personal attacks whereas the Democrats contested policies. Reporters rarely raised the same issues with the two parties’ candidates, thus exacerbating the polarization between the partisan communities.

Gallup (2016) tracks Citizens’ perception of the “most important problem” facing the US, and we can consider as “issue publics” the clusters of Citizens around each problem. Sustained campaign communication should theoretically (a) narrow the range of problems deemed “most important” and (b) grow the publics most worried about a handful of problems.

Comparing Gallup’s February polls from 2015 and 2016 confirms neither expectation. Although ten issues still accounted for 80% of Americans’ concerns, that was a 7% decline. Surfacing increased only four issue publics. “Immigrants and aliens” now worry 10% (up from 6%) and “national security” worries 7% (up from 4%), yet both remain small clusters. The economy in general and unemployment/jobs still worry the most people (17% and 10%, respectively), but each increased an insignificant 1%. Moreover, Surfacing rendered the other six issues less worrisome.  “Dissatisfaction with Government” (13%), health care (6%), and ethical, moral, and family decline (2%) each declined 4%; terrorism (7%), education (5%), and poverty (3%) languish in single digits. In short, Surfacing barely affected the American issue landscape.

Media Surfacing

During Surfacing Citizens decide where to find the campaign information they want.  The Pew Research Center (Gottfried et al., 2016) reported 91% of respondents learning about the campaign in the week studied; half from five or more sources. Cable news networks were most prominent (24%) and considered the most helpful (41%), especially for people over age 30.  Social media ranked ranked first among those under-30 (35%), second overall (14%), but rapidly disappear as respondents’ age.  Some 13% learned from news websites or apps while still fewer learned from radio (11%) or traditional television networks (10%). Only 5% learned from print newspapers and just 3% used websites, apps, or emails from candidates, campaigns, or issue-based groups. The late-night comedy shows so prominent in 2012 informed only 3%. Sources requiring  information seeking — candidate and interest group sites, print media, and even books — were used by just 8% of respondents.

Candidate Surfacing: The Five Indices

Candidates’ Surfacing can be measured with five indices: fundraising, endorsements, media coverage, national polls, and success in Iowa’s caucuses (Smith, 2015).


Campaigners trade words for dollars to finance their campaigns. Some pursue wealthy donors while a few court small donations, and their audience choices constrain their potential messages. According to the Federal Election Commission (2016) the most effective fundraisers were Democrats Hillary Clinton (76 million US$) and Bernie Sanders (41), and Republicans Ben Carson (31), Ted Cruz (26), and Jeb Bush (24). Importantly, several mega-donors (including the Koch brothers) have withheld their hundreds of millions until the Republican nominee is decided.


Because the parties nominate, many elected officials endorse presidential candidates. Following Cohen, Karol, Noell & Zaller (2008), Bycoffe (2016) developed an “Endorsement Primary” by awarding one point for each congressional endorsement, five points for senatorial endorsements, and ten points for each state governor’s endorsement.  Hillary Clinton finished the Surfacing period with 463 endorsement points; Jeb Bush led Republicans with 51 and Marco Rubio had 43. Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz were essentially shut out. Clearly, Republican endorsements were being held in abeyance.

Media Coverage

Candidates need media coverage to reach Citizens, and television remains the leading source of information (Gottfried, Barthel, Shearer, & Mitchell, 2016). Google’s Gdelt (2016) searchable 2016 Television News Tracker database shows that Donald Trump led all candidates with 213,000 mentions (43% of Republican coverage). Clinton’s 143,000 mentions provided 74% of Democrats’ coverage. Jeb Bush ranked third (80,000) and Sanders fourth (42,000). Trump attracted a great deal of coverage by saying outlandish, provocative things, and much of Clinton’s coverage was unfavorable or investigative. Nonetheless, media coverage of them left the other candidates struggling to reach Citizens.

National Polls

National opinion polls are a familiar index of name recognition and general popularity but their utility is limited because the US holds neither a national primary election nor a popular vote for president. With so many crude estimates, the three-poll rolling average developed by Real Clear Politics (2016) is helpful. At Surfacing’s end Clinton polled 52% to 37% for Sanders among likely Democratic voters. Among likely Republican voters Trump polled 35%, Cruz 20%, and Rubio 20%. Because Americans are 29% Democrats, 26% Republicans, and thus 45% unaffiliated; and because 30% of Americans do not vote even in presidential elections, the poll data tempt us to candidate  support.

Iowa Precinct Caucuses

Surfacing culminated in the February 1 Iowa precinct caucuses.  Nomination depends on party convention delegates of which Iowa provides but 1% (and awards them in state conventions after all primaries have been held). But success in Iowa reflects each campaign’s ability to strategically mobilize resources. It is mainly symbolic, but symbolic events shape news narratives.

The Des Moines Register (2016) reported that Iowa Republicans who attended their local caucuses voted 27.6% for Cruz, 24.3% for Trump, and 23.1% for Rubio. Democrats who caucus for candidate preference groups and elect delegates to their county conventions; Clinton won 667 to 663 for Sanders.

The Candidate Surfacing Sweepstakes

For Campaigners, Surfacing is a scramble toward the top. We can best assess it by aggregating their rankings on the five indices (Smith, 2015).

Table 1 shows that Clinton ran the Surfacing table, trailed by Sanders. The Surfacing contest that had already discourage Jim Webb and Lincoln Chaffee claimed O’Malley on caucus night, leaving Clinton and Sanders to advance to the Nominating Stage.




TV coverage


National polls




Total Ranks
Clinton 1 1 1 1 1 5
Sanders 2 2 2 2 2 10
O’Malley 3 3 3 3 3 3

Table 1: Democrats’ Surfacing

Republican Surfacing was more complicated, as shown in Table 2. Surfacing difficulties ended the campaigns of George Pataki, Bobby Jindal, Lindsay Graham, and Scott Walker before Iowa; they were quickly joined by Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Carly Fiorina. Marco Rubio ranked well on all five measures; Cruz received modest endorsements and coverage and Bush performed well except, problematically, for national polls and Iowa voters.  Trump led in coverage, national polls, and Iowans but received no endorsements and few dollars from others, whereas Ben Carson surfaced well except for endorsements. John Kasich finished only eighth in Surfacing but chose to persist nonetheless.




TV coverage


National polls




Total Ranks
Cruz 2 6 5 2 1 16
Rubio 4 2 4 3 3 16
Bush 3 1 2 5 6 17
Trump 7 11 1 1 2 22
Carson 1 10 3 4 4 22
Paul 5 7 7 7.5 5 31.5
Christie 9 3.5 6 6 9.5 34
Kasich 8 5 9 7.5 7.5 37
Fiorina 6 8 8 10 7.5 39.5
Huckabee 10 3.5 10 9 9.5 42
Santorum 11 9 11 11 11 53

Table 2: Republicans’ Surfacing


The Surfacing stage of the 2016 American presidential campaign brought mixed results. Inevitably, the challenges of Surfacing eliminated many candidates and winnowed the field of competitors for the prima elections of the Nominating stage.  Atypically, endorsements by Republican officials proved toxic and fundraising paled in comparison to the generation of free coverage in news and social media.

Moreover, the campaign trialogue crystallized neither the issue agenda nor Citizens’ information habits. Citizens appeared to get most of their information from casual exposure to niche news and social media, investing little effort in the pursuit of print news, campaign or interest-based web sites. Possibly for that reason their perceptions of the most important issues at stake changed very little. The paucity of widely shared information about shared concerns underscored the fragmentation of the citizenry and encouraged relative success by candidates who sang the songs popular with a variety of small clusters of citizens.   In these ways the Surfacing stage rhetorically constituted the environment in which the nominations would be contested.

Reference List

Bycoffe, A. (2016, February 1). The endorsement primary. Retrieved from

Cohen, M, Karol, D, Noel, H, & Zaller, J. (2008). The party decides: Presidential nominations before and after reform. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Des Moines Register. (2016, February 2). Take a deeper look at Iowa caucus results. Retrieved from

Federal Election Commission. (2016). 2016 Presidential campaign finance. (Graphic display of candidate finance reports). Retrieved from

Gallup. (2016). Most important problem. Retrieved from

GDELT. (2016, February 1). Presidential campaign 2016: Candidate television tracker. Retrieved from

Gottfried, J., Barthel, M., Shearer, E., & Mitchell, A. (2016, February 4). The 2016 presidential campaign – A news event that’s hard to miss. Pew Research Center: Journalism & Media. Retrieved from

Keller, J. & Yourish, K. (2016, March 10). Which issues each party debates, or ignores. Retrieved from

Mosendz, P. (2016. January 14). Chart: How Republican presidential debate topics compare with the Democratic debate. Retrieved  from

Real Clear Politics. (2016, February 1). Polls.  Retrieved from

Smith, C. A. (2015). Presidential campaign communication (2nd ed.) Cambridge: Polity.