Skip to main content
Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI political science professor says presidential campaign didn’t matter; outcome would have been the same without it

Media Contact: Ericka Tavares, 401-874-2935

KINGSTON, R.I., - Nov. 19, 2012 - A University of Rhode Island assistant political science professor suggests in a magazine article that Obama and Romney could have called it quits after the conventions and not have campaigned and the election result would have been the same.

In an article published last week in the Pacific Standard, a magazine focused primarily on policy makers, Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz discusses the “minimal effects” thesis and explains, “the vast majority of the voters vote how we would expect them to long before the election.”

She cites the first study to investigate the minimal effects phenomenon, which focused on voters in the election of 1940.

“Researchers found that only 8 percent of voters changed their preferences over the course of the campaign,” said Pearson-Merkowitz, who has worked as a professional campaigner. “In 70 years, not much has changed.”

She reasons this trend has remained the same because political parties are pretty clear about their positions on issues and they remain consistent. Voters figure out what issue motivates them and which party is closest to their beliefs on the issue.

“Once they’ve done that, they can stop paying attention and still vote as if they had been,” said Pearson-Merkowitz, who taught a new course at URI this semester that gave her students the opportunity to study the Obama-Romney campaigns and conduct exit polls on Election Day.

In the three-page article, she goes on to discuss the 33 percent of voters who identify themselves as independents and how they rarely make their decisions candidate-by-candidate or election-by-election. She also covers how identifying yourself as an independent does not mean you consider yourself a moderate and she focuses on historical election forecasting.

In the end, she asks if the campaign actually mattered. Her answer is no. Pearson-Merkowitz is available for comment and a full version of her article can be viewed here: http://www.psmag.com/politics/the-presidential-campaigns-didnt-really-matter-heres-why-49383/