Unit 5 Overview: Political Participation

36 min readnovember 4, 2021

Robby May

Robby May

AP US Government 👩🏾‍⚖️

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Unit 5 Overview: Political Participation 🔗 ✅

In addition to the constitutionally established institutions of government, (the executive 👔💼, legislative 📜, and judicial branches ⚖) the American political system also consists of an organized group of linkage institutions 🔗that allow ordinary, unelected American citizens opportunities to interact and connect with government officials. There are four primary linkage institutions—political parties 🎉, interest groups 💼💲, the media 📰, and elections ✅.

Political Parties 🎉

Although political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution 📜, and many of the Framers warned against forming them, the first parties were birthed shortly after the ratification of the Constitution and are a central part of the modern political system in the United States. Unlike other developed countries that use multi-party systems, the US utilizes a two-party system, where internal barriers 🧱 prevent 3rd parties 🥉 from gaining enough support to win elections. The Democratic and Republican parties 🟦 🟥 dominate the current two-party system in the US, but both have undergone significant changes since their creation in the nineteenth century due to critical elections and voter realignment. While third parties rarely pose significant challenges to major party candidates, they play a pivotal role in advancing issues that would otherwise be ignored by the other parties—and in some cases third party candidates have affected the outcome of presidential elections.

Interest Groups 💼💲

Like political parties, interest groups are formed to influence government policymakers, but they don’t directly recruit 👀 and run campaigns as parties do. While political parties represent millions of Americans by forming a platform stating its beliefs on a wide range of issues, interest groups tend to have a more narrow focus, especially single-issue groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) 🔫 and the American Association of Retired Persons 👴👵. The primary goal of political parties is to win elections and control the government, while the main purpose of interest groups is to influence party candidates once they win office. Although interest groups are not mentioned in the Constitution 📜, the Framers were well aware of the potential damage they could cause if left unregulated (📽️ Watch: AP Gov - Explaining Federalist #10).

The Media 📰 📻 📺 💻

The mass media in the context of American politics consists of broadcast and cable TV news, AM talk radio, news websites, social media platforms 📱, and various forms of print media. Similar to political parties and interest groups, the media links 🔗 people to the government by setting the public policy agenda—attempting to influence viewers 👀, readers 📰📚, and listeners 👂💬 by deciding what to report on and what to ignore. One recent development is the increasing significance of consumer-driven media 💲 in which news organizations (especially those that primarily operate online) produce stories that cater to viewers’ ideological preferences—whether the information is substantive or not. Unlike parties and groups, the Constitution 📜 lays out specific protections for a free press 🗽📰 within the 1st Amendment.   

Elections ✅ 

Many people view voting in elections as the most important of all the linkage institutions. Elections provide Americans with the most direct opportunity to shape the system in which they’re governed by. While voting rights ✊🏾 have expanded throughout American history, at the birth of the republic many groups were denied suffrage—most notably persons of color 👥 and women 👩 Over time, Congress and the Courts have expanded voting rights to historically marginalized groups, and nearly all Americans have the opportunity to vote in modern elections. Despite these expansions of suffrage, voter turnout in the United States continues to lag behind other developed countries, especially among younger voters. The modern electoral landscape now involves the increased use of professional consultants 👔💼💲, massive campaign spending 💰, and the integration of the Internet and social media throughout all phases of the campaign process.  

5.1: Voting Rights and Models of Voting Behavior

Voting Rights Protections

Per the Constitution, the individual states have the power to determine qualifications for voting and managing elections. Unfortunately, this left many Americans—especially women, Black Americans, and immigrants—out of the political process. Many southern states took advantage of these powers to deliberately prevent former slaves from voting by passing laws that kept them from the polls. Literacy tests, poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and white primaries were all used to limit the political power of black Americans by restricting them from voting. Over time, suffrage was granted to nearly all Americans through the passage of laws and various Constitutional amendments.
Suffrage Amendments
15th (1870)
Voting rights for black American men
17th (1913)
Popular elections (not state lawmakers) to choose Senators 
19th (1920)
Voting rights for women
23rd (1961)
Residents of Washington, DC can vote
24th (1964)
Outlawed poll taxes as voting requirement
26th (1971)
Voting rights for 18-year-olds
In 1965, the Voting Rights Act ✊🏾 further expanded political power to groups that had historically been excluded from the political process. The law targeted states (mostly in the South) that had established unfair policies that previously disenfranchised Black voters. Specifically, the law eliminated racist literacy tests and allowed the federal government to closely monitor states that continued to have low voter turnout among underrepresented groups. 

Models of Voting Behavior

Political scientists have developed models in an attempt to better understand voting behaviors. Rational-choice voting occurs when a voter supports a candidate who they believe will benefit their personal interests. Young adults supporting progressive candidates who argue in favor of free college tuition is a great example of rational-choice voting. 
Retrospective voting involves voters analyzing the track records of candidates in determining their vote. Incumbent presidents seeking reelection during an economic downturn would likely lose support from these types of voters. 
Prospective voting is future-oriented, as voters base their decisions on promises made by candidates during the election cycle. In the 2020 presidential election, Democratic candidate Joe Biden consistently communicated that he would have a detailed plan to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, and was elected in part due to these promises. 
Party-line voting is utilized by a large number of voters. Party-line voters will typically vote for candidates from their preferred party—usually Democrat 🟦 or Republican 🟥—whether they’ve researched candidate positions and ideologies or not. Many party-line voters will engage in straight-ticket voting during general elections, voting for candidates at various levels of government solely based on their party identification.

5.2: Voter Turnout

A wide variety of factors come into play in determining whether an eligible voter will participate on election day in the United States. Family upbringing and political ideology are some of the most important factors influencing voting behavior. A voter's political efficacy—whether or not they think their vote matters—can strongly influence citizens in an election year. A person’s culture and how politically informed they are may also contribute to whether or not they vote.   

National Versus State-Controlled Elections

When the Constitution was ratified, many states feared the possibility of an all-powerful central government controlling elections at the federal, state, and local levels. To address these fears, the Framers granted the states a significant amount of power 💪 in determining election laws within their boundaries. States determine the time and locations of most elections, develop their own ballots and registration requirements, and draw ✍ district lines for congressional elections. Despite these powers, the federal government still plays a significant role in elections throughout the country, most notably in the creation and enforcement of constitutional amendments and civil rights legislation that relate to voting and elections. The federal government also develops and enforces campaign finance 💲💵 rules.

Voter Registration Laws and Procedures

Although the states have significant control over elections, the federal government has enacted legislation that influences different stages of the election process. One of the most well known election laws is the National Voter Registration Act 🚙, commonly known as the “motor-voter law.” The law was passed in 1993 in an effort to increase participation in federal elections by making it easier for citizens to register to vote. The act requires states to allow its residents to register at various bureaucratic agencies within the state—usually at departments of motor vehicles. 

Midterm vs. Presidential Elections

The type of the election is super important in determining the degree of voter turnout. While turnout in American elections is typically lower compared to other developed countries, far more voters show up at the polls for presidential elections compared to midterm elections—the House and Senate elections that occur in the middle of a president’s term. There are many reasons why Americans don’t turn out to vote on election day. Some find it difficult to take time off of work 👷, others have children 👶 and can’t find childcare, still others simply believe that their vote doesn’t matter—a concept known as low political efficacy. For example, many voters in states dominated by the Democratic Party 🟦—such as California—are less motivated to participate in major elections since their party’s preferred candidate is highly unlikely to win statewide elections. 

Factors Influencing Voter Choice

In addition to state and federal legislation and different types of elections, there are other factors that determine the degree of voter turnout in state and federal elections. One of the most significant is party identification and ideological orientation. Americans that are strongly tied to a major political party or consider themselves closely aligned to progressive or conservative views often vote in higher numbers. 

Candidate Characteristics 

Elections have increasingly become more candidate-centered and less reliant on political parties. Candidates, instead of relying solely on their own party, hire professional consultants to craft a favorable image, campaign slogan, and overall vision for the election cycle. Some voters are highly responsive to these factors, and may decide to turn out to vote if they feel strongly about the characteristics of a candidate as presented during the campaign.

Contemporary Political Issues

The current political issues of the day often will have a strong influence on voter turnout. The 2020 presidential election had historically high turnout rates in part because voters were concerned about controversial issues from the past year—most notably racial tensions related to acts of police brutality and the hardships brought about as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Religion, Gender, Race & Ethnicity

The gender gap is the difference in political views between men 👨 and women 👩 In recent decades, women have turned out to vote in slightly higher numbers compared to men. Women tend to support the Democratic Party 🟦 because many of their views align with the party’s platform—especially their opposition to the death penalty and support for social welfare programs 💸 that aid lower income individuals and families. Men tend to support the Republican Party 🟥 due to their more harsh views on criminal punishment and conservative fiscal policy.
Age matters when understanding voting turnout. The lowest voter turnout is among voters between the ages of 18-30, while the highest turnout is among older voters. Older voters—especially senior citizens 👴—vote in higher numbers because they’re usually better informed and have more to lose (investments, property, social security and Medicare payments) compared to younger voters.
Black, Hispanic, and Asian voters usually express stronger support for Democratic 🟦 candidates, while white voters tend to vote in higher numbers for Republican 🟥 candidates. Protestant evangelicals ⛪—especially whites located in the South and Midwest—strongly support Republican 🟥 candidates because of their anti-abortion views, support for prayer in public schools, and opposition to evolutionary theory. Catholics have historically supported the Democratic Party 🟦 but more recently the gap between the two parties has diminished, with increased support for the Republican Party 🟥 in some election years.
📽️ Watch: AP Gov - Voting & Voting Behavior

5.3: Political Parties

Linkage Institutions

Political parties are one of the four primary types of linkage institutions 🔗—vehicles that connect people with the government by allowing them to communicate their preferences to policymaking institutions. The other major linkage institutions in the American political system are interest groups, elections, and the media 📰. Each of the institutions serve an important role in helping shape public opinion and policy.

Functions of Political Parties 🥳

Mobilization and Education of Voters

An ongoing goal of political parties is to attract more members to the party so as to strengthen the chance that their preferred candidates will get elected in future elections. Party workers and volunteers actively recruit new members by making phone calls 📱, sending emails and automated text messages, and even go door-to-door to persuade potential voters. In the past decade, parties have increasingly utilized social media to broaden their coalitions, purchasing online ad space and creating official party accounts to connect with current and potential members. In the weeks leading up to an election, parties send large numbers of supporters into local neighborhoods 🏡 to connect directly with voters by handing out brochures, answering questions about their preferred candidates, and to spread the overall vision 👀 of the party.

Party Platforms

Political parties in the United States develop party platforms in an effort to represent the views of the millions of voters who identify with a party. The platforms are written every four years and are essentially a megalist of the party’s beliefs and goals for the next presidential term. Major themes within the Republican Party 🟥 platform include heavy investments in national defense, lower taxes, and fewer restrictions on businesses, while the Democratic Party 🟦 platform reflects a desire to actively use the government to solve pressing issues—including but not limited to minority rights, environmental restrictions, and increased regulations on businesses. The platforms are communicated at each party’s national conventions 🎉 and are important for party leaders in their attempt to hold their preferred candidate accountable.

Candidate Recruitment & Campaign Management

Parties are always on the lookout for potential candidates at all levels of government—federal (president, Congress), state (governors, state senators and assemblymen and women), and local (mayors, school board, city council). Party leaders actively recruit people who are informed, personable, and electable. Once candidates are recruited, party leaders help manage campaigns by holding events, fundraising 🤑, and attempting to engage and excite voters for the upcoming election to increase turnout. 
Party leaders are in a tricky position during the nomination phase of an election, since multiple candidates from the same party are all vying for the same position. Acting more as a traffic cop 👮, parties help facilitate the process by sponsoring debates between candidates and offering general support. Once a nominee is declared, party leaders and rank and file members typically rally around the candidate during the general election. Common practices during the general election phase include: planning and holding rallies and fundraisers; making phone calls 📱, sending emails, and social media posts; distributing campaign SWAG—bumper stickers 🚙, pins, yard signs, and buttons; and purchasing TV 📺, radio, and internet  ads—either supporting their candidate or attacking 😠 their opponent.
📽️ Watch: AP Gov - Political Parties Crash Course

5.4: How & Why Political Parties Change & Adapt

Candidate-Centered Campaigns

Since the 1960s, the role of political parties during campaigns has changed as a result of more candidate-centered campaigns. As TV 📺 became commonplace in American households, candidates were able to speak directly to potential voters instead of relying on their party to communicate for them. In modern elections, candidates are increasingly utilizing social media 💻 and the Internet to “speak” directly to the people. Former President Trump became well known for his daily use of Twitter 📱 as a means of communicating with Americans both during his campaign and while in office. Ultimately, parties have been weakened 😩 by these developments because candidates are less dependent on their support.

Appealing to Coalitions

Parties are constantly working toward adding more groups within the party while maintaining their core supporters. One way they accomplish this is by writing their platforms in a more inclusive manner. At the national convention 🎉, both parties intentionally choose speakers that don’t fit the stereotypical profile of their party. For example, one of the featured speakers at the 2020 Republican 🟥 National Convention was Richard Grenell, a gay conservative who formerly served as an ambassador and Cabinet official. The party was trying to appeal to a demographic group (gay men/LGBTQ) that typically supports the Democratic Party 🟦—even though the Republican 🟥 platform formally opposes same-sex unions.    

Changes Influence Party Structure

Changes in voter alignment has forced major parties to redefine themselves throughout history. Party realignment occurs when a large number of voters 🗳 switch their allegiances form one party to another, usually following a critical election—one that reveals major long-term changes in party loyalty. Perhaps the most famous example is the 1932 election of Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) following the Great Depression 😞. FDR’s New Deal Coalition was made up of a variety of groups that had previously supported the Republican Party 🟥—blue-collar workers, ethnic minorities ✊🏾, farmers 🌽, white southerners, low-income individuals and families, immigrants, and academic elites 🤓. Especially significant was the strong support FDR received from black voters—a group that continues to heavily support the Democratic Party to this day.
More recently, the United States has experienced a period of divided government in which one party controls Congress and the other controls the presidency. More than ever, voters have engaged in party dealignment, splitting their support off and on between the parties and increasingly identifying as political “independents.” 

Changes in Communication & Data Management Technology

With the skyrocketed use of smartphones 📱, social media, and the Internet, parties have adapted the methods they use to reach voters. Parties and candidates invest heavily in data-management software 💻 and equipment to learn about voters and they use this data to create highly targeted campaign messages 📺. As potential voters scroll through their social media feeds during an election, they’re more likely than ever to see images and ads of candidates that relate to their personality, preferences, and local community.

5.5: Third-Party Politics 🥉

The United States is rooted in a two-party political system that strongly limits the potential electoral success of third parties. Although third parties 🥉 often play a significant role in the election process, they rarely experience success on a large scale, especially in federal elections. Despite their limited success in winning elections, third parties sometimes are able to significantly influence policy and election outcomes.

Winner-Take-All 💯 Voting Districts

Most elections in the United States, including elections for single-member district seats in the House of Representatives, are determined by a winner-take-all 💯 system. This means that candidates who win a plurality (the most votes—with or without a majority) of the votes are rewarded with full representation within a congressional district. In the example in the chart below, the Democratic Party 🟦 candidate wins the election—and 100% representation in the district—with less than a majority of the vote. The Republican 🟥 and third party 🥉 candidates, despite receiving a significant share of the votes, miss out on serving within the district because of the winner-take-all 💯 format. This format discourages third party 🥉 candidates from seeking office in most major elections.  
Sample Congressional Election Results
Candidate A 
Candidate B 
Candidate C 
(Third Party🥉)

Winner-Take-All 💯 Voting & The Electoral College 🏫

The winner-take-all 💯system is also used as part of the Electoral College 🏫 for determining the winning candidate in presidential elections. Each state has a set number of electors, and all but two states (Maine and Nebraska) award electors using the winner-take-all system—candidates that win a plurality of a state’s popular vote are awarded all of that state’s electoral votes. This discourages third party candidates 🥉 from running for the presidency because they have virtually no chance of winning a state’s popular vote. This reality also discourages many voters from voting for third party  candidates because they believe they’re essentially “throwing away” 🗑 their votes to an inevitably losing candidate.

Incorporation of Third-Party 🥉 Agendas

A non-structural barrier impeding the potential success of third parties 🥉 is the incorporation of third party agendas by the Democratic 🟦 and Republican 🟥 parties. In an effort to attract independent and third party voters, the major parties will often include major third party agenda items into their platforms. Although this practice makes it even more difficult for third party candidates to win elections, it can lead to significant social changes. If the Democratic 🟦 and Republican 🟥 parties ignore third party agendas for a prolonged period of time, they run the risk of third parties continuing to gain in popularity, posing electoral risks in future elections.
📽️ Watch: AP Gov - Third Parties in the United States

5.6: Interest Groups Influencing Policy Making

Purpose of Interest Groups

Many of our founding fathers —especially James Madison—were concerned about the potential threat of “factions” within the government. They feared 😨 that some groups would act in their own self-interest and pose a threat to the newly formed democracy. We now refer to these factions as interest groups, and like political parties, they play an important role as a linkage institution 🔗 by connecting people to the government. Many Americans hold negative views of contemporary interest groups due to concerns of bribery 💰, misuse of funds 💸, and other unethical behaviors 🙈, but the First Amendment clearly supports the formation and actions of these modern-day factions. 

Benefits & Drawbacks of Interest Groups

Interest groups are found at all levels of government and thus present a myriad of opportunities to influence politicians, school board members, judges, and any other public policymakers. Interest groups compete with each other to influence these policymakers, which tends to increase overall participation within the government. Interest groups, regardless of how broad or narrow their focus, are created with the intent to make a difference in society.
One concern with interest groups is the fact that they exist to benefit the desires of their members, not the general public. With so many competing groups pursuing different goals, it is often the groups with the most power and resources that experience the most success. 
Another challenge some groups experience is the free-rider problem 🛋—when non-members benefit from the efforts of an interest group. For example, if the National Rifle Association (NRA 🔫)—one of the largest and most powerful interest groups in the United States—successfully persuades Congress to pass legislation expanding gun rights, all gun owners will benefit from the law, even if they aren’t dues-paying members of the NRA. The free-rider problem is especially challenging for smaller groups who have limited money and resources. 

Iron Triangles ⟁ & Issue Networks

Iron triangles are the mutually beneficial policymaking relationships between bureaucratic agencies, congressional committees, and interest groups. Iron triangles are often referred to as “subgovernments” because much of the policymaking process occurs within these arrangements. For example, the National Education Association (NEA) 📚—the largest teachers union in the United States—may engage in an iron triangle by donating campaign funds 💲 to members of the House Committee on Education in return for the advancement of favorable education policy in Congress. The NEA can benefit the Department of Education (a cabinet-level bureaucratic agency) by lobbying Congress to increase their department’s budget, in exchange for fewer federal regulations imposed on public schools.
Issue Networks are similar, shorter-term arrangements that involve multiple interest groups coming together to work toward a common policy goal. These groups may also receive input from mass media outlets 📺, non-profit think tanks 🧠, local government officials, and academics from prestigious universities 🤓    

Exerting Influence

Interest groups employ many different strategies to influence policymakers, most notably through direct lobbying. This strategy involves lobbyists making direct contact with lawmakers in an effort to persuade them into passing favorable legislation for the interest group they represent. Lobbyists can do all of the following to exert influence on behalf of an interest group:
  • Expert testimony in congressional committees
  • Helping members of Congress draft and write bills 📝
  • Threaten lawsuits 📃 for reluctant members of Congress
  • Providing expert information on relevant issues
  • Filing amicus briefs 💼 for federal court cases
  • Creating ads 📺📻📰 that support or attack politicians
  • Making campaign contributions 💰💲💸
  • One-on-one meetings with members of Congress 👔💼📆 
📽️ Watch: AP Gov - Interest Groups & Lobbying

5.7: Groups Influencing Policy Outcomes

Political Actors & Influencing Public Policy 📜

Single-Issue Groups ⓵

The purpose of single-issue groups , as the name suggests, is to focus time, energy, and resources in a narrowly-defined area of concern. The most powerful single-issue group in the United States is the National Rifle Association (NRA) 🔫 The NRA consists of over 5 million members and focuses its efforts on limiting government policies that restrict gun rights. The NRA leverages its vast resources 💲 to recruit new members, purchase political ads 📺📻💻, and fund lobbying efforts.
Another powerful single-issue group is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) 👴👵 AARP has the largest membership of any interest group in the United States, and since its members (50+ years and older) vote in higher numbers than any other subgroup, politicians tend to pay close attention 👀👂 to the group.  
📽️ Watch: AP Gov - Why is the NRA so Powerful?   

Social Movements ✊🏾✊📢🗽

Several post-World War II social movements led to significant public policy outcomes favoring groups that had historically been pushed to the side or ignored by the government. 

Civil Rights ✊🏾✊📢🗽

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in the early twentieth century to pursue greater racial equality and social justice for black Americans. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s caused membership to increase exponentially and led to the creation of other like-minded groups such as the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The efforts of these groups culminated with the passage of two historic laws—the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 🗳—both of which paved the way for better treatment of black Americans and set the stage for other marginalized groups to fight for greater equality in the coming decades.

Women’s Rights 👩✊🏾✊📢🗽

The 19th Amendment granted voting rights to white women 👩 in 1920, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that women’s rights groups formed to work towards greater gender equality in the United States. An increasing number of women were elected to various public offices 🙋💼📜 in the mid-20th century, which eventually led to the passage of public policies that increased the rights of women. Influenced by several recently-formed women’s rights groups—the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL)—Congress passed Title IX in 1972, resulting in greater gender equality in the funding of high school and college sports programs 🏀🏈🎾🏊🏃🎽🏆. Women’s rights groups won a decisive victory in 1973 with the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, which overturned state laws that outlawed abortion.   

Environmental Rights 🚯

The 1960s was a decade of incredible growth for a variety of environmentally-conscious groups. The Sierra Club 🌳 and Audubon Society 🐦 experienced a massive increase in membership as more Americans grew more aware of the potential long-term effects of excessive chemical use in factories 🏭 and farms 🌽🐓🐖🐄, the unsustainable use of fossil fuels ⛽ as energy sources, and other practices that threatened ecosystems. The increased awareness generated by these groups led to the passage of the Clean Water and Clean Air Act in 1963 and 1964, and the creation of a federal regulatory agency—the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 🌅🌎—dedicated to better protecting the environment.  

Consumer Rights 👪

When the United States first industrialized, there were few laws and regulations in place to maintain safety for workers and the products they produced in factories 🏭  A greater awareness of consumer safety emerged in the 1960s centered on the themes of product safety and information. Ralph Nader became the poster-child for consumer safety with his attacks on the auto industry 🚙 throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In Unsafe at Any Speed, Nader brought greater attention to the auto industry’s reluctance to place more emphasis on safety features in the cars and trucks they manufactured. 
Another recent example of the government taking action to increase consumer safety is the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in 2011. Influenced by the severe economic downturn in 2008-2009, the purpose of the CFPB is to regulate debt and collection practices 💳💸, oversee mortgage lending 🏡 (the primary cause of the 2008-2009 crisis), and investigate complaints filed against banks and other financial institutions 🏦.    

5.8: Electing a President

Path to the Presidency 🏃🏁🏆🎫🎉🏨🗽✈🚗🗳

The presidential election process in the United States is a long and complex one, requiring candidates to begin campaign preparations years before the November election day. Potential candidates will often tease Americans before officially declaring their candidacy, making TV 📺 appearances, visiting important swing states, and gauging public opinion through a variety of polls. This step of the election process is sometimes referred to as the invisible primary since potential candidates are essentially competing with other possible candidates from the same party 🟦 🟥

Incumbency Advantage

Most sitting presidents decide to run 🏃 for a second term, which provides numerous advantages compared to other presidential hopefuls. Incumbents are better positioned than most challengers because they have strong name recognition—most Americans are well aware of who the president is due to daily news reporting 📰, press conferences 📺, social media posts 📱, and other mass media exposure. Incumbents have four years of policymaking experience they can reference during the campaign, which can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on current public opinion of the president’s policies. Another important advantage is the president’s use of the “bully pulpit” 💪📢—the ability to speak out on any issue in an effort to sway public opinion. Other advantages include the massive network of campaign donors and staff members already established to help raise money 💰💲💸 and spread the campaign message to potential voters.  
📽️ Watch: AP Gov - Incumbency Advantage

Primaries & Caucuses 🗳✅

In order to compete for the presidency in the November election, candidates from both parties 🟦 🟥 must first earn the nomination of their respective party through a series of primaries and caucuses. When voters participate in primaries and caucuses, they’re essentially voting 🗳 for delegates to formally nominate their preferred candidate at the party’s national convention. Candidates compete fiercely in these contests in order to gain the required number of delegate votes to secure the party nomination.

Types of Primaries 🗳✅

Most states hold primaries (statewide elections using secret ballots) to award delegates for presidential nominees. Closed primaries require voters to declare their party affiliation in advance of the election, while open primaries give voters the freedom to make this decision on the day of the primary. Either way, voters only receive one party’s ballot on election day—different compared to the general election ballot that lists the candidates from all parties.

Caucuses 💭👍👎💬

A small number of states continue to use the caucus system to award their delegates. This process involves party members 🟦 🟥 meeting in various locations in their local communities to discuss 💬 and argue 😬 over their preferred candidates, culminating in a vote at the end of the night. Turnout for caucuses is much lower compared to primaries because they require more time (2+ hours) ⏳ and many voters are uncomfortable 😕 with the public nature of the discussion and voting procedures.
The first caucus and primary are held in January of the election year, in Iowa 🌽 (caucus) and New Hampshire ⛄ (primary). Although there are relatively few delegates up for grabs in these early contests, presidential hopefuls spend large amounts of time ⌚ and money 💲 preparing for them. Experiencing success early in the nomination process allows candidates to declare themselves as “frontrunners,” 🏃🏁 and better positions them to receive important endorsements and contributions from donors. Candidates that fare poorly early on usually lose support from donors—nobody wants to waste money on a likely electoral loser 👎—and eventually drop out of the race 💀.

Party Conventions 🎉

Once all the primaries and caucuses are completed, each state sends their slate of delegates to their party’s national convention late in the summer 🌞 Rules for delegates vary by state—some are “pledged delegates,” while others operate with more freedom 🗽 at the convention. Some states award their delegates proportionally (multiple candidates can win a portion of the delegates), and others use a winner-take-all format 💯 Since the parties control this process, rules for delegates change every four years. One significant change in the Democratic Party 🟦 has been the creation of superdelegates—unelected delegates (usually influential party members/leaders) who can support any candidate, regardless of the outcome of the statewide primaries and caucuses. 

General Election 🟦 🟥

The general election begins immediately after the national conventions, pitting the Democratic and Republican Party candidates against each other. From late summer to election day in early November, candidates participate in a series of debates 📺, make frequent trips 🚗✈🚁 to “swing states,” hold rallies and make TV appearances, and constantly analyze polling data.

The Electoral College 🤓 ✅

The presidential election ends with electors in each state meeting to cast the formal vote for president and vice president several weeks after election day. Each state is allocated the same number of electoral votes as it has members of Congress. There are a total of 538 electoral votes among the 50 states and Washington, DC, and the winning candidate is required to win a majority of these votes (270) to become president. In the rare event that no candidate receives a majority, the election is determined in the House of Representatives, with each state casting one vote. All but two states (Maine and Nebraska) award their delegates using the winner-take-all system 💯—candidates that receive a plurality (the most votes) are awarded all of that state’s electoral votes.

Pro’s 👍 & Con’s 👎 of the Electoral College

One of the biggest criticisms of the Electoral College is that a candidate can win the presidency (by earning 270 electoral votes) without securing a majority of the popular votes throughout the country—this has happened multiple times, including Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Many Americans view the system as unfair and would prefer replacing it with a nationwide popular vote—this, however, would require a constitutional amendment since the Electoral College is mandated in the Constitution. Take a look at the chart below for a summary of other pro’s and con’s of the Electoral College:
Pro’s 👍
Con’s 👎
Allows smaller states with low population to remain relevant in the selection of the president.
Smaller states are overrepresented (per capita) since all states are allocated at least 3 electoral votes, regardless of population size.
Forces candidates to campaign in both small and large states to obtain electoral votes—not just the large ones.
Winner-take-all feature discourages voters and prevents capable third party candidates from running.
States determine the election if candidates fail to earn 270 electoral votes
States do not have to follow the results of the popular vote if the election is determined in the House and Senate

5.9: Congressional Elections 🟦 🟥

The processes for congressional elections are similar in some ways to presidential elections, but there are several distinct differences. Elections for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives 🏡 take place every two years, while the Senate is considered a “continuous body” because only one-third of its seats are up for reelection every two years. Midterm elections occur in the middle of a presidential term, and receive far less media 📺 📻 📰 attention and lower voter turnout. 

Incumbency Advantage 💪

Incumbency advantage is even more advantageous in House and Senate elections compared to presidential elections. Similar to presidential incumbents, congressional incumbents enjoy greater name recognition than most challengers as a result of communicating with constituents via email 💻, social media 📲, and TV appearances 📺. Incumbents can reference their record on drafting, supporting, and voting on popular legislation 📜 during their term. One of the most significant advantages is the ability to raise larger quantities of money for campaign costs 💰 💲 💸 Political Action Committees (PACs)—groups that advocate for various interests/issues—provide far more financial support to incumbents because they are far more likely to win reelection (approximately 90% in the House and 60% in the Senate) than lose to a lesser known challenger.

Safe Seats 🪑 

Similar to presidential elections, candidates for House and Senate elections must secure their party’s nomination through a series of primaries and caucuses before competing in the general election. In some states, “safe seats” have become common due to highly partisan redrawing ✏ of legislative districts, also known as gerrymandering. Safe seats (or safe districts) are viewed as unhealthy to the democratic process because candidates in these districts tend to become less responsive to constituents from the opposing party 🟦 🟥, since they have an overwhelming amount of support from their own party. As gerrymandering has increased, the overall number of safe seats skyrocketed 🚀, allowing for more ideological extremists to become elected and remain in power.

5.10: Modern Campaigns

Professional Consultants 👔 💼

Modern political campaigns are far less reliant on political parties and are increasingly candidate-centered. A key component of this trend is the hiring of professional political consultants to do much of the work 👷 that once was reserved for party leaders. Candidates that are serious about winning an election typically hire a campaign manager to oversee the actions of the other consultants. The chart below includes some of the common positions in most modern campaigns:
Professional Consultant 👔💼
What They Do
Communications Director 📢
Plans and oversees all of a campaign's messaging and communications staff.
Press Secretary 📰📺
Works alongside the communications director, writing press releases, talking points, coordinating with reporters.
Fundraiser 💰💲
Plans and oversees fundraising events and all monetary donations, researches and recruits potential donors.
Advertising Agent 📰📺📻
Conducts research and develops an advertising strategy that targets favorable voting blocs. 
Field Organizer ✅📞
Works with volunteers to develop and execute get-out-the-vote (GOTV) campaigns via phone calls, door-to-door visits, social media posts, and other forms of grassroots lobbying. 
Pollster 📋📞
Conducts and analyzes poll data during the campaign to modify a candidate's strategy when necessary.
Social Media Consultant 📱💻
Works with communications director to develop and manage a campaign’s digital campaign strategy and facilitate online grassroots mobilization and fundraising.

Fundraising 💰💲

Modern campaigns are extremely expensive and require candidates to raise money from a variety of sources. All serious candidates begin raising funds years in advance, and hiring a team of experts to coordinate the fundraising arm of the campaign. Since modern campaigns (especially the presidential campaign) span over two or more years 📅, a regular flow of cash is essential for success. Candidates raise money by contacting wealthy donors, planning campaign events/dinners 🍸🍴 with high entrance fees, sending mass emails 📧 to rank and file party members asking for cash, and by accepting donations from political action committees (PACs). The Internet has revolutionized modern campaign financing by allowing candidates to affordably collect small and large donations from thousands of supporters. The graph below shows where money would typically be spent in a modern congressional election:

Impact of Social Media 💻📱📶

Modern campaigns now leverage social media to reach more voters than ever before. Candidates hire consultants to research and develop the most advanced software available for gathering online data from potential voters. Campaign consultants use the online data to purchase advertising space on platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to deliver highly targeted ads that play on people's emotions 😀 😡 😲 and attempt to persuade them to support their candidate. Most campaigns employ online marketing experts that analyze the online profiles of potential supporters to develop image-based ads that appeal to their personal interests. 

5.11: Campaign Finance 💰💲💵💸

Campaign Finance Legislation 📜 & Court Decisions ⚖

Modern political campaigns are more expensive than ever, as candidates at all levels of government need money for everything from cheaply manufactured campaign apparel to costly TV 📺 and Internet 📶 advertisements. At the heart of campaign finance is the debate over the role of money in political and free speech 📢 💬 Since the 1970s, a recurring theme has presented itself in federal elections: Congress and the Courts’ efforts to regulate money in elections has been countered with repeated loopholes around campaign finance legislation and court decisions.  
In the 1971s, Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), and amended the law in 1974 with more specific limitations on individual and political action committee (PACs) donations. The 1974 law created the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to implement the law. In Buckley v. Valeo (1975), the Supreme Court upheld most of the FECA regulations, but also ruled that Congress can’t limit a candidate’s donations to his or her own campaign. In the Buckley decision, the Court basically agreed with Congress with the idea that unlimited monetary donations in elections do more harm than good.
Despite Congress’ and the Court’s best efforts to regulate excessive campaign donations, many politicians and interest groups immediately found ways to get around the regulations. Hard money 💲 (funds given directly to a candidate) was regulated by the 1970s legislation and court rulings, however soft money 💲 (donations to political parties and/or interest groups) was not. Soft money became the vehicle for skyrocketing campaign spending in elections throughout the last quarter of the 20th century.

Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002 📜

In response to excessive soft money spending in the 1980s and 1990s, Congress passed the BCRA (aka McCain-Feingold) in 2002, which banned unlimited soft money contributions 💲 to political parties. As a compromise for the soft money ban, the law increased hard money donation limits to $2,000 for individuals and $5,000 for PACs. The BCRA also restricted PACs from funding political advertisements 📺 📻 📰 💻 within 60 days of the general election and 30 days of a primary, while requiring candidates to state, “I’m [candidate’s name] and I approve this message” to prevent confusion as to who or what organization was funding an ad. 

Citizens United v. FEC (2010) ⚖💰

In 2010 the Supreme Court struck down portions of the BCRA after a lawsuit was filed against the FEC for preventing (via the BCRA) the airing of Hillary: The Movie—a film intended to damage Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency in 2008. According to the BCRA, the film was considered “electioneering communications,” and therefore couldn’t be aired within 60 days of the election. In Citizens United, the Court argued that the BCRA violated the free speech rights 📢 💬 of corporations 🏢 🏭, labor unions 👷 👮, and other organizations laid out in the First Amendment of the Constitution. In the majority opinion, the Court ruled that these organizations could spend unlimited amounts of money 💲💲💲 on advertisements and other electioneering communications to promote or attack a candidate at any point during an election, as long as the ads were not coordinated with any candidate 🙈 🙉 🙊 These contributions were considered “independent expenditures” since the money was spent by outside groups, rather than money donated into the bank accounts 🏦💸 of the candidates.  

Types of Political Action Committees (PACs)

There are several types of PACs that play an integral role in federal, state, and local elections. Most PACs can accept donations from the general public 👨 👩 👲 👳 👴 👵, and then donate funds directly into the accounts of their preferred candidates (up to $5,000 per candidate). The Citizens United ruling led to the creation of Super PACs—political action committees that can legally collect unlimited donations to use on electioneering communications 📺 📻 💻 as long as the group remains independent from the candidates.
Communication technologies have evolved throughout American political history, revolutionizing the way Americans obtain political news. Radio (in the 1920s) and TV (1950s) broadcasts were the norm throughout much of the 20th century, providing viewers and listeners with a few options to receive daily political news through a limited number of networks. In the 1980s and 1990s, cable news networks such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News were introduced and provided cable subscribers with 24-hour, around the clock 🔄 ⌚ news reporting. This marked a shift away from broadcasting to narrowcasting—programs that targeted 🎯 specific types of ideological viewers, rather than appealing to a larger, more politically diverse audience. Although cable news has become more common, the original Big Three broadcasting networks (CBS, NBC, ABC) still attract millions of viewers each night.
📽️ Watch: AP Gov - Campaign Finance & Slide Deck

5.12: The Media 📰

The media is considered a blessing and a curse for politicians and other policymakers at all levels of government because they can sway public opinion (in favor and in opposition of government officials) and affect the policymaking process in a variety of ways. Some political scientists refer to the media as the “Fourth Branch of Government” because of its ability to set the policy agenda as they deem what’s worthy (and what’s not) to be reported on.

Media as a Linkage Institution 🔗

The United States government provides for a free press 📰 🗽 through the First Amendment of the Constitution 📜 Similar to political parties, interest groups, and elections, the media is considered a linkage institution because of the daily reporting provided to American citizens. Through TV news 📺 , print and digital newspapers 📰 💻 and magazines, and a plethora of social media platforms 📲, Americans are linked to their government more than ever.

Investigative Reporting

The greed 💰💲 and corruption of the industrial age 🏭 in the United States led to the birth of a new form of journalism in the early 1900s known as investigative reporting 👀 🔎 Progressive journalists became known as “muckrakers” for their efforts in publishing editorials, articles, photo journals, and books that exposed unregulated industrial abuses. This form of journalism continues to thrive in our modern media landscape, and can be credited with exposing political fraud and scandals throughout the 20th century (e.g. Watergate).

New Communication Technologies 📻 📺 💻

Communication technologies have evolved throughout American political history, revolutionizing the way Americans obtain political news. Radio (in the 1920s) and TV (1950s) broadcasts were the norm throughout much of the 20th century, providing viewers and listeners with a few options to receive daily political news through a limited number of networks. In the 1980s and 1990s, cable news networks such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News were introduced and provided cable subscribers with 24-hour, around the clock 🔄 ⌚ news reporting. This marked a shift away from broadcasting to narrowcasting—programs that targeted 🎯 specific types of ideological viewers, rather than appealing to a larger, more politically diverse audience. Although cable news has become more common, the original Big Three broadcasting networks (CBS, NBC, ABC) still attract millions of viewers each night.

Social Media & the Role of the Internet 📶 💻 📱

An increasing number of Americans are using the Internet as their primary source of political news. Internet news has transformed in recent decades as traditional news organizations have either died out 💀 or adjusted to the new Internet media landscape. Many online news sources were “born on the web 👶,” and have increased in popularity by hiring talented journalists from traditional news companies. Starting with Facebook in the early 2000s, social media platforms have become the primary means of obtaining political news for many Americans, especially teenagers and college-age individuals. This reality has forced traditional news companies to integrate social media platforms into their business plans in order to remain relevant in the new digital age.

Horse-Race Journalism 🐎🏃🏁

Public opinion polls are essential for candidates during an election, and they are equally important for media outlets in communicating who’s winning an election—even months before election day. In this context, the media is acting as a scorekeeper—constantly updating Americans about who’s winning an election based on daily opinion poll data. Although this form of reporting provides interesting storylines for media organizations on a daily basis (people love to know who’s winning 💯), it fails to provide meaningful information about the candidates and what they believe in.     
📽️ Watch: AP Gov - Horse Race Journalism

5.13: Changing Media 📰 📻 📺 💻

As the media has increasingly transitioned from traditional methods of delivering political news (radio, broadcast and cable TV programs) to more Internet-based platforms, Americans now have access to a seemingly unlimited amount of political news. Despite this, many political scientists believe these new developments may be doing more harm than good. 

Media Ownership 👔 🏦 & Bias

An increased demand for news reporting tailored to individual political ideologies has stimulated the growth of news organizations that provide viewers with daily news and commentary that align with their personal political belief system. Beginning with CNN in the 1980s, followed by Fox News in the mid-1990s, and more recently with online platforms such as the Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, and the Daily Wire, Americans now have multiple options when seeking ideologically-targeted 🎯 news.
One recent concern with these developments in TV and Internet news has been the increasing level of bias evident in the reporting of the news 📰. Eager to attract as many advertisers 💲 as possible, these companies have increasingly revealed their biases and in many cases have placed more emphasis on appealing to viewers’ emotions 😂 😠 😨 via sensationalistic reporting and commenting on the news, rather than in-depth, substantive news.
📽️ Watch: AP Gov - Media Ownership and Bias & Slide Deck

Consumer-Driven Media 💵 & Technology 💻

With the changing media landscape, more Americans are demonstrating confirmation bias—seeking out and interpreting information in a way that confirms what they already believe. This reality is played out on social media platforms on a daily basis, as Facebook “friends” and Twitter followers post links to articles 📰 , videos 📹 , memes 😂 , and other sources that serve to reinforce their own belief system. In this way, social media has placed extreme pressure on media organizations when determining what to report on and how to report it. This has caused an increase in consumer-driven media that focuses on attracting as many readers/viewers/listeners as possible, even at the expense of quality reporting of the news.

Credibility Concerns 😟

Despite having access to more political news than at any other point in American history, many Americans are often misinformed due to irresponsible media consumption. The sharing of political news online via social media platforms 📱 has increased interactions between like-minded Americans 👌 👍 , but hasn’t necessarily led to a more informed citizenry. Americans far too often consume political news without determining the credibility of the source. Many political scientists fear 😱 that this consumer-driven media landscape will only get worse—potentially leading to a dangerously misinformed electorate—and that the only solution is to exercise more discretion when consuming political news. 
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