According to political scientists Peter Hart and Robert Erikson, the best-laid schemes can only end badly. In their paper and a 2009 book, “Solutions to American Elections,” they argue that it’s the way that political campaigns are run that matters.
There is a lot of disagreement over how to analyze the horse race theory, some observers saying Hart and Erikson have a point while more others say their analysis is based on faulty assumptions.
The paper says there’s nothing unusual about a long, slow primary season, so long as there is plenty of time for candidates such as Jeb Bush to build a campaign war chest. So long as a nominee like Santorum has few competitors, a candidate can spend his energy building a fund and putting together an operation so he has a fighting chance against a crowded field. (Bush has spent $1 million so far while Santorum has put $7 million.)
Another advantage to long primaries is that most campaigns have lots of cash, while the general election is more competitive, but Hart and Erikson say a prolonged primary season does not equal a bad campaign.
In fact, the authors say, “the theory seems sound at an individual candidate level, but it fails when examined in the aggregate. If there is too little money in the field, candidates will be spending too much of their time trying to buy time in the primary while not getting enough time to raise money for the general election.”
When we checked with Hart and Erikson in the late 2000s, they argued it wasn’t the horse race theory in its entirety. The most they agreed was that it’s better to see the election as a series of races, but not all races.
Hart, now a research professor at Rutgers School of Management, said his study wasn’t a critique of the horse race theory, it was just a look at the whole picture. He said it’s “kind of hard to analyze the whole election if it’s going to be three weeks.”
Erikson, also a professor at Rutgers, said he was interested in the question of whether Santorum’s campaign was too fast-paced.
“It was an interesting question in a certain way,” Erikson said. “We saw an argument that the general election campaign is less competitive. We were a bit surprised by that.”
But the fact that the horse race theory was right in the beginning is part of what’s so special about the election now.
“I think a lot of
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