Struggling to set the campaign agenda: candidates, the media, and interest groups in elections



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Texas A&M University


Democracy is best described as a struggle over competing ideals and values. One of the most important places where this struggle takes place is in the electoral arena. My dissertation examines the struggle between candidates and their respective messages in this arena. Focusing on fourteen Senate races from 1998 and 2000, I examine, in depth, how the struggle over competing ideals takes place (or in some cases, does not take place) and whether some candidates are more successful than others at navigating their message through the political environment to voters. This study examines the impact of candidate skills and resources as well as state characteristics on the strategies candidates employ when emphasizing campaign issues. In addition, my dissertation focuses on the impact interest group advertising has on the candidates? campaign dialogue and analyzes media coverage in Senate races by comparing each candidate?s core message to the campaign information transmitted by the media to voters. The analysis presented here reveals that candidates employ both multi-dimensional and unidimensional strategies. State party competition appears to offer the most plausible explanation for the variation in strategy across the states. Competition, rather than encouraging a multi-dimensional campaign strategy, appears to promote convergence towards the median voter and a unidimensional strategy. Furthermore, this study suggests that candidates face a number of obstacles in trying to transmit their campaign message to voters. In addition to struggling against their opponent, candidates have to struggle against both interest groups and the media to get their message to the electorate. Just under one-half of the advertisements interest groups ran were successful at interjecting issues into the campaign debate. Furthermore, in over seventy percent of the Senate races included in this study, the media emphasized issues other than what the candidates were focusing on. While this may have the positive benefit of infusing more issues into the debate, it may also blur the lines of accountability?particularly if candidates have no intention of acting on issues emphasized exclusively by the media.