Knowing the Territory: Pollsters, Population Change, Political Representation, and the Survival of U.S. House Incumbents
34 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2012 Last revised: 16 Sep 2012
Date Written: 2012
The 2010 midterm congressional elections resulted in the largest House seat change in 62 years, including the defeat of 54 incumbents. The end of a redistricting cycle is often a time when strategic politicians demur from challenging incumbents as they eye the start of the next cycle two year later. But it is a time when many districts’ populations have changed markedly from the start of the cycle while others have been stable. This variance allows for a test of two theories of political consultant use. Under the expertise-based theory of deliberative priming, candidates, especially incumbents, should invest in the services of pollsters to help gauge the electoral implications of population change. Under a party elite theory, candidates face an incentive to hire the polling firms closely tied to the party organization to affirm the party’s judgment of allied firms’ effectiveness. These theories are assessed empirically with district-level population change data drawn from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey as well as party and candidate expenditure data from the FEC that has been disaggregated into candidate spending for pollsters used by party congressional campaign committees (CCCs) and for those who had not been recent agents of the CCCs. Controlling for traditional indicators of House campaign competitiveness, incumbents depended in 2010 on the services of CCC-connected pollsters when their district populations had become destabilized but not on the unconnected kind. Greater spending on connected pollsters did not hurt incumbents’ vote share on election day to the extent that reliance on unconnected pollsters did. The study clarifies divisions within the political consulting industry and the extent and limits of parties’ support network of political consultants to help their candidates in choppy electoral waters.
Keywords: political consultants, pollsters, congressional campaign committees, House of Representatives, 2010
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