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New Study: Are voters influenced by campaign visits?

August 17, 2016

Despite their extensive national press coverage, campaign visits might not be worth presidential candidates’ time and resources. A new study out today finds that voters are largely unaware of and unresponsive to campaign visits. The study was published as part of a special issue of The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (a journal from SAGE Publishing) titled “Elections in America.”

“Of all the tools in a campaigns’ strategic arsenal, the campaign visit is distinguished by its unchanging nature,” wrote study author and campaign consultant Dr. Thomas Wood. “The observed pattern of visits within the swing states — where the most politically pivotal markets were not more frequently visited — suggests campaign consultants intend visits to affect the national media narrative rather than local coverage. Visits’ effects on voters themselves, however, are much more modest than consultants often claim.”

Wood looked at voter data to assess the impact of specific candidate visits during the 2012 presidential election. Comparing survey responses from 64,312 voters whose local TV channels aired the visits, did not air the visits, or did not air the visits but had access to non-local channels that did, Wood found:

  •  In areas visited by both Romney and Ryan, 36% to 45% of respondents were unaware of the visits.
  • In areas visited by either Romney or Ryan, 56% to 57% of respondents were unaware.
  • The visits’ impact did not spread to outside of the areas visited; awareness of the visits was similar for respondents who had not received local visits, even when they had access to local channels that aired the visits.
  • Visits increased Democrat and Republican support for their parties’ candidates by 2% to 3%, with this effect starting one day after the visit and ending by the third day after the visit.
  • While Independents were 5% more likely to vote for Romney after the visits and were the only group affected by visits for longer than two days, Wood concluded that such a modest response would only matter in marginal elections.

Wood also found that the relationship between candidate visits and local media coverage to be modest, with no more than three extra stories from a visit than what would occur from general campaign coverage.

“Taken together, these findings invite a thought experiment: if visits have only a moderate impact on voters but consume vast amounts of the candidates’ and their staff’s time, attention, and resources, why not neglect visits and instead

redouble candidates’ attention to fundraising?,” continued Wood. “New resources could then be spent on those activities that have been shown to more reliably influence voters—advertising, building out campaign infrastructure at the local level, and providing more resources for voter contact—and especially inspire turnout.”

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The article, “What The Heck Are We Doing in Ottumwa, Anyway? Presidential Candidate Visits and Their Political Consequence,” by Thomas Wood, published in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, is free to access for a limited time and can be read here.

This article is a part of the September 2016 special issue of The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, guest edited by Larry M. Bartels. The special issue is focused on party politics, campaigns, voting behavior, and electoral accountability.

The special issue, “Elections in America,” includes the following nine articles and findings:


“The Electoral Landscape of 2016”

Fundamental predictors of election outcomes, such as economic conditions and cycles of incumbency, did not clearly favor either party going into the 2016 election. However, the Democratic Party is likely to see an advantage due to a growing share of nonwhite voters. (Sides, Tesler, and Vavreck)


“The Obama Legacy and the Future of Partisan Conflict: Demographic Change and Generational Imprinting”

Forecasting future elections, the Democratic party will likely have an advantage due to their generational gains among young white voters and increasing demographic diversity, which combined to produce a three-to-two Democratic advantage among young voters. (Jacobson)


“Back to the Future? What the Politics

of the Late-Nineteenth Century Can

Tell Us About the 2016 Election”

America may see a new political era if issues related to economic populism eclipse current political conflicts around race and the size of government. (Azari and Hetherington)




“What The Heck Are We Doing in Ottumwa, Anyway? Presidential Candidate Visits and Their Political Consequence” 

Candidate visits only have modest effects on local media and do not reliably influence voters. (Wood)

“Ideologically Extreme Candidates in U.S. Presidential Elections, 1948–2012”


There’s little evidence that voters punish presidential candidates for ideological extremism. (Cohen, McGrath, Aronow, and Zaller)


“Failure to Converge: Presidential Candidates, Core Partisans, and the Missing Middle in American Electoral Politics”    

Presidential candidates are only minimally responsive to swing voters, and often take even more extreme positions than their partisan bases prefer. (Bartels)


“Ideological Factions in the Republican and Democratic Parties”

The cleavage between the Democratic party’s ideological wing (supportive of the party’s core principles) and its pragmatic wing (supportive of the compromises necessary to govern) is mild. The cleavage among Republicans, though, is much starker and provided an opening for Donald Trump. (Noel)


“Rise of the Trumpenvolk: Populism in the 2016 Election”

Compared to Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz, Trump built a broader populist coalition by appealing to three distinct groups: voters who distrust experts, anti-elitists, and strong nationalists. (Oliver and Rahn)

 “Polarization, Gridlock, and Presidential Campaign Politics in 2016”

The 2016 nomination campaigns have exposed deep fissures within as well as between the parties, but the result may simply be to renew and reinforce the partisan gridlock that gripped Washington through most of Barack Obama’s presidency. (Jacobson)


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Sara Miller McCune founded SAGE Publishing in 1965 to support the dissemination of usable knowledge and educate a global community. SAGE is a leading international provider of innovative, high-quality content publishing more than 950 journals and over 800 new books each year, spanning a wide range of subject areas. Our growing selection of library products includes archives, data, case studies and video. SAGE remains majority owned by our founder and after her lifetime will become owned by a charitable trust that secures the company’s continued independence. Principal offices are located in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC and Melbourne.

Since 1889, The American Academy of Political and Social Science has served as a forum for the free exchange of ideas among the well informed and intellectually curious. In this era of specialization, few scholarly periodicals cover the scope of societies and politics like The ANNALS. Each volume is guest edited by outstanding scholars and experts in the topics studied and presents more than 200 pages of timely, in-depth research on a significant topic of concern.

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