Did the presidential campaign matter to voters? No, says a URI prof

Romney's 47 percent comment. President Obama's deadly performance in the first debate. Hundreds of millions spent on ads. And none of it mattered. That's the conclusion of University of Rhode Island political science professor Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz in a new piece in Pacific Standard magazine.

We all know that most voters decide who to vote for well before the campaigns begin. In political science research, this is called the “minimal effects” thesis. Basically the vast majority of the voters vote how we would expect them to long before the election. The first study to investigate this phenomenon focused on voters during the 1940 election. Researchers found that only 8 percent of voters changed their preference over the course of the campaign. In 70 years, not much has changed.

The piece points to the upside of our increasingly polarized politics: party labels mean something, making it relatively easy for voters to pick their candidates at the outset of the election and stick with them.

The story also notes that most "independents" are not truly independent, tending heavily toward one party or the other.

Taken together, this research suggests the Romney campaign (and, perhaps, the Doherty campaign here in Rhode Island) was doomed from the get-go: its natural base shrinking in the face of demographic changes, and its opponent skilled in the only thing that really matters, getting its own base to the polls.

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