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"Campaigns Matter”: SPA Professors Publish New Edition of Campaigns and Elections American Style

The textbook, coproduced by academics and practitioners, examines the changing landscape of U.S. campaigns and elections.

Candice Nelson & James Thurber

SPA Professor Candice Nelson and Distinguished Professor Emeritus James Thurber have published the sixth edition of their textbook, Campaigns and Elections American Style: The Changing Landscape of Political Campaigns (Routledge).

Their collaboration has remained in place since the 1990s, when Thurber brought Nelson a unique pitch.

“He thought it would be interesting to bring together campaign practitioners and academics to talk about the same subject from different points of view,” said Nelson. “That's how the first edition came about. While the strategy has evolved across editions, this combination of campaign practitioners and academics remains. A couple of contributors are both: they have PhDs in political science but have also spent some time in the real world, as practitioners.”

Thurber served as lead editor of the first four editions and Nelson led the fifth and sixth. For this edition, the duo added a third editor, Dave Dulio (SPA, ’01), a distinguished professor at Oakland University. The editors recruited one contributor close to home. Ron Elving, an executive in residence in the SPA Department of Government, wrote the chapter on earned media. 

The new edition examines how the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 general election, and the 2022 midterm election transformed the process and reality of political campaigns, while looking ahead to 2024. The organization and content have also evolved, as the editors look to examine campaign finance (with a retrospective look at the impact of Citizens United), campaign planning and management, primaries, social media, big data, and changes in field and voting rules and policies.

“This is a very interesting time in American elections,” said Nelson. “We know [far in advance] who will be the Democrat and Republican nominees, so that [emphasizes] the impact of campaigns . . . We wanted something that covered the spectrum of how campaigns and elections have evolved and changed in response to what's happened in the political world.”

“Considering the 2022 mid-term election and the upcoming 2024 presidential election, this up-to-date edition of Campaigns and Elections American Style is essential to anyone wanting to know more about more about the recent developments in campaign strategies and tactics as well as the future of our democracy,” added Thurber.

The book was aimed at two primary audiences: instructors teaching courses on campaigns and elections and campaign operatives interested in the process and its evolution.

“If you're thinking about running for office, the chapter on campaign management would be helpful,” Nelson explained. “If you’re wondering how to run a field campaign, there's a chapter on that. For scholars and instructors, there's a chapter on survey research.”

Campaigns and Elections American Style makes an explicit effort to balance contributor points of view and ideologies; with “a unique and careful mix of Democrat and Republican, academic and practitioner, and male and female campaign perspectives, this volume scrutinizes national and local-level campaigns,” reads the book’s synopsis. 

“At one point, when we were deciding on the cover, the publisher tried to suggest that it should have something to do with January 6,” said Nelson. “And we said no. This book is not about January 6. There are references in there to January 6, but this book is much broader in scope.”

The overall theme of the book is that, yes, campaigns matter.

“It's always been true,” said Nelson. “There is a literature in political science that maintains that elections are decided by how voters view the president or how they view the economy. That's not really the case. What matters is a campaign's message, its strategy, and how it evolves the strategy and message depending on what happens over the next year.”

As evidence, Nelson shared the reality of shifting Republican frontrunners throughout the 2024 presidential campaign. Early frontrunners with messy campaigns are struggling, while those with weaker starts who made smarter decisions on messaging and campaign logistics are doing relatively well.

“We think we know who the nominees are going to be,” added Nelson. “We think we know how the 2024 election and the presidential election is going to play out, but that could change. We got 23 months. And that's why campaigns do matter.”

“Campaigns matter: they are the foundation of our elections and our democracy,” said Thurber.  “With the current attacks on the integrity of our elections, this book will help the reader understand the central elements of candidate campaigns and make judgements about the health and future of our democracy.”

Of pride to the editors is the project’s original distinction: the paired perspectives of academics and practitioners.

“The book balances academic knowledge with applied wisdom in a non-partisan, objective manner from some of the best campaign professionals in American politics,” said Thurber. “It brings together the wisdom of top-notch campaign professionals and well-known academics.”