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Some Dynamic Elements of Contests for the Presidency

  • Donald E. Stokes (a1)


Despite the measured pace of American elections, there have now been a number of presidential campaigns since the advent of survey studies of voting. However sparingly, political history slowly has added to the set of distinct configurations of men and events which comprise a contest for the Presidency. The set is still small, whatever the impression created by massed thousands of interviews or by the accompanying files of election returns. Yet it is now large enough to be pressed hard for evidence about the sources of electoral change.

A primary virtue of measurements extended over a series of elections is that they can throw light on the problem of change. So long as the earliest voting studies were confined to cross-sectional relationships, they could deal only very inadequately with changes superimposed on these relationships or with changes in the relationships themselves. In the case of Lazarsfeld's enormously influential Erie County study in 1940, the natural limitations of a single-election study were compounded by the investigators' misfortune in choosing a campaign whose dominant personality and principal issues differed little from those of preceding elections. I have often wondered whether the static social determinism of The People's Choice would have emerged from a campaign in which the tides of short-term change were more nearly at flood.

I shall examine here some sources of change which are richly evident in the presidential elections of the last two decades.



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1 Lazarsfeld, Paul P., Berelson, Bernard, and Gaudet, Hazel, The People's Choice (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1944). It is paradoxical that Lazarsfeld and his associates should have come to so static a view of party preference, since the desire to observe changes of preference was so central to their original intentions. Had they worked within the context of an election such as that of 1952 it is entirely unlikely that they could have ignored the presence of massive inter-election change, overlaid on the social bases of preference summarized in the Index of Political Predisposition.

2 For a report of the application of this model to the Eisenhower elections see Stokes, Donald E., Campbell, Angus, and Miller, Warren E., “Components of Electoral Decision,” this Review, 52 (06 1958), 367387.

3 The vertical coordinate of Figure 1, as well as of Figures 2 and 3, gives the value of the quantity

defined in the appendix. As explained there, this quantity may be interpreted either at the individual level as the average amount by which a given dimension has increased (or lessened, in the case of negative values) the probability of the individual's voting Republican or at the level of the whole electorate as the proportion of the total two-party vote by which a given dimension has increased (or lessened) the Republican share.

4 For direct additional evidence on this point see Converse, Philip E., Clausen, Aage R., and Miller, Warren E., “Electoral Myth and Reality: The 1964 Election,” this Review, 59 (06 1965), p. 332.

5 For evidence on the distribution of party identification in this period see The Concept of the ‘Normal Vote’,” in Campbell, A., Converse, P., Miller, W., and Stokes, D., Elections and the Political Order (New York, 1966), Ch. 1.

6 The individual and aggregate interpretations of the quantity represented by the vertical co-ordinate of Figure 4 are the same as before, but the quantity itself is the sum of the components measuring the increment or decrement to Republican strength due to personal attributes of the Republican and Democratic candidates.

7 Certainly evidence of it is plentiful enough in the Center's studies. See, for example, Campbell, Angus, Converse, Philip E., Miller, Warren E. and Stokes, Donald E., The American Voter (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1960), pp. 120145. An excellent general review of the achievement of cognitive congruence in political attitudes is given by Lane, Robert E. and Sears, David O. in their Public Opinion (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964). An interesting application of these concepts to attitude change may be found in Sullivan, Denis G., “Psychological Balance and Reactions to the Presidential Nominations in 1960,” in Jennings, M. Kent and Zeigler, L. Harmon, (eds.) The Electoral Process (Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1966), pp. 238264.

8 In order to standardize the metric used in these comparisons, I have divided each of these means by the sample standard deviation of attitude toward Kennedy. Because the sample contained only seven Weak Catholic Weak Republicans and only seven Weak Catholic Independents the means for these two groups have been adjusted to reduce the probable effect of sampling error.

9 The voter's attitude toward a given political object may be influenced by the presence of other objects in his perceptual field even when no question of order is involved in the formation of attitude. In such a case, however, it is more reasonable to think of these effects as belonging to the configuration of stimulus objects, rather than to the voter's response dispositions.

Some Dynamic Elements of Contests for the Presidency

  • Donald E. Stokes (a1)


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