Q: Daron, it sounds so far we’ve been talking about, mostly about the application of your analysis, campaign decisions about where to spend money on television advertising. Could we talk about campaign decisions about where George W. Bush, where Richard Cheney, where they’re going to actually show up to campaign?
SHAW: Right. The part — half of my research agenda after the ’00 and ’04 campaigns was about television advertising allocations, and the other half, the companion piece, was about candidate visits, and what they do, and how effective they are. It’s still the case that the media market, as it turns out, is the appropriate unit of analysis. You know, once again, the point of a presidential candidate’s visit, or a VP’s visit, is to drive local voters. And what you really want to accomplish with your visit — [00:40:00] because the number of people that you speak to at an event, whether it’s in an auditorium or, you know, an outdoor venue, is fairly limited, even for a president. But if you go there and you can drive local media coverage — and of course the media coverage is disseminated largely by television and newspapers, and therefore the media market becomes the appropriate unit of analysis when you’re trying to evaluate the effectiveness of the visit. So, there was a sense of overlap in my research, that whereas television was obvious, that television advertisements and their effectiveness ought to be measured at the media market level, it also occurred to me fairly early on that that was appropriate for candidate visits as well. Like, when you go to Austin, Texas, or if you go to Columbus, or Cleveland, that you’re trying to drive, you know, local news media coverage, you know, and get that message out, and to mobilize people who are favorable, to persuade those who are amenable, and with doing limited collateral damage with respect to mobilizing those who aren’t all that favorable towards you.[00:41:00] We began a running tally of where the President — where at that point, Governor Bush had been in 2000, and cobbling together polling information pre- and post. We did the same thing for the vice presidential candidate, Mr. Cheney, as well as Gore and Lieberman. You know, it was difficult because we weren’t going in with targeting polling, immediately before and immediately after, but we did have tracking polls across all of the battleground states. So we could isolate media markets in which the president — the presidential candidates had appeared, and then looked at their pre- and post- performance, and once you aggregate enough data, you can begin to make statements about, you know, where he sits before, and where he sits immediately after a visit.
And what we found was that, you know, the effects tended to be on the order of a point or two. They weren’t spectacular, but they were there. But what was interesting was that when a candidate went into a market, they would do a pretty good job of [00:42:00] mobilizing partisans. That is, Republicans would be significantly more supportive of Bush when he went to talk there, spoke there, but Democrats were less supportive, and more supportive of Gore in 2000. So you get a mobilization, and a counter-mobilization. In other words, you sort of alert all the partisans in the area that there’s a race on, and they take sides. So what would happen is that the number of undecideds in a market would go down considerably, and there would — if you were fortunate, and on the whole, both candidates were fortunate — there would be a slight net positive to your visit.
It also was the case — and this helped Gore later on — that Ralph Nader’s support, the Green Party candidate’s support, would really take a hit when Gore went into the market. In other words, liberals would flock to Gore and end their flirtation with Ralph Nader. Now, that was a little — [00:43:00] that wasn’t something I ever played up, because the data, you know, surrounding Ralph Nader’s support weren’t as robust. We didn’t have as many Nader supporters to track how they moved. But I was convinced that that was a consistent enough pattern that it was what happened. And I think after the election, it was pretty clear that Gore was able to kind of deflate Nader’s support when he actively engaged.
Q: And in ’04, specifically, did you feel like, looking back on it, that Bush and Cheney’s time was well-used in terms of having them appear in the places where they could do the most good?
SHAW: Yeah, this is something that was perhaps controversial at the time, but we had information suggesting that the vice president, in particular, and this honestly was true in 2000 as well, was a very polarizing figure. And that the counter-mobilization when Cheney went into certain markets was so great as to make the visit a wash, or even counterproductive. [00:44:00] That drove the decision in 2000 and especially in 2004 to concentrate the vice president’s visits in Republican markets. So again, the Panhandle in Florida, southern Ohio, the more rural parts of Nevada, or New Mexico, or those battleground states. In those places, there was sufficient numbers of Republicans that the vice president would mobilize those voters and, you know, the visit was productive. But it was a mistake, I thought, and I think the campaign thought, to send the vice president into Cleveland, or Miami, or places like that, where there was a real chance for counter-mobilization.
We also saw that a little bit with the president. At this point, you know, Bush had been, you know, the president who had responded to 9/11, who had sent troops into Afghanistan and Iraq, and he was a polarizing figure as well. And we knew that there was a large counter-mobilization that would happen when Bush went into a market like Cleveland, or Philadelphia, or Orlando. [00:45:00] And so his visits in those areas tended to be minimal, and they tended to be in particular parts of those markets. This actually caused a bit of a controversy in 2000. Bush spent — ended up having about three weeks where he did not appear in Ohio, and NPR, I remember, ran a story, and it got — maybe the Times drove an NPR story, or vice versa, suggesting that the campaign had written off Ohio, which wasn’t the case at all. But the campaign was acutely aware that a personal visit was a mixed bag.
In fact, one thing though that I think became evident to me, and it’s so obvious, but unless you’re in a campaign, you’re not — it’s not sitting — staring you in the face, is that visits aren’t simply meant to drive media and to drive voters. They’re also meant to loosen up fundraising and to drive volunteers. So, you know, in the parlance of political science, there are multiple dependent variables [00:46:00] associated with a candidate visit. And candidates — we found this was the case with all candidates in ’00 and in ’04 — volunteer sign-ups go up when the candidate goes to the market. So you get a lot of people to commit time and energy to doing block-walking and the sorts of things that a campaign needs. You get contributions to go up when a candidate makes a visit, and those are ancillary benefits. So even if the visit is a wash, it’s still the case that the campaign is going to commit that resource because there are these other things that it affects.
Q: One thing you say in the book is that the old stereotype of local news is basically, you know, fawning over a candidate who comes and campaigns, and give him all sorts of positive coverage. That’s no longer quite the case anymore.
SHAW: Yeah, I think — we found empirically — Bat Sparrow and I did a piece [00:47:00] back in the late nineties, and it really carried over to my understanding of the campaigns where we looked at the congruence of media coverage between local, regional, and then the more nationally-oriented newspapers, and we found that as a pure, sort of mechanical feature of local news coverage, that a lot of the local newspapers run Associated Press, or Reuters, or New York Times wire service stories. So if you’re grading their coverage, it’s quite consistent with the national biggies because they’re drawing on those stories. You know, they’re picking up wire reports.
But even beyond that, local reporters now have access to information, have access to sources that we associated with only the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the LA Times, or the Wall Street Journal. They’re good, and they bring a level of sophistication, and even skepticism to their coverage of politics that’s on par with that which we used to see at — only with the big shots in the seventies [00:48:00] and in the eighties. So, I’d found pretty early on that if you go to Paducah, Kentucky, or if you go to, you know, Montgomery, Alabama, or to Fresno, California, and you expect the local media to be thrilled with your presence, that doesn’t happen. They want to know, well, where are you on the water rights, and why haven’t you been out here before, and why are you trailing in the polls. And I guess maybe the exemplar of this was early on in 2000 — actually, it was back in fall of 1999 when George W. Bush did an interview with a New Hampshire reporter who hit him with the famous — the famous foreign leaders question. “Can you tell me the leader of South Korea, Pakistan, etc.?” And that sort of journalism — you know, you would never have expected that I think, 20 years ago, from a local media source, but now, it’s absolutely what you expect, and you’ve got to be very attentive and very careful to try to get these men and women on your side, because you just don’t get it by, [00:49:00] you know, virtue of gracing them with your presence in a local market.