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Communication Consultants in Political Campaigns: Ballot Box Warriors.

Communication Consultants in Political Campaigns: Ballot Box Warriors. Robert V. Friedenberg, Westport, Connecticut and London: Praeger, 1997. 221 pp. ISBN 0-275-95206-1.

This book examines the myriad of services performed by political consultants for candidates, political parties, and organizations that are interested in influencing electoral behavior and outcomes. The core of the book is composed of chapters devoted to consultants who design and conduct public opinion polls; who provide direction and expertise in shaping campaign speeches, debates, and messages; who contact voters over the telephone and through direct mail and the distribution of video cassettes; who specialize in using the radio and newspapers as vehicles to deliver campaign pitches; and who understand how to utilize television, including cable systems, to make an electoral difference. Each of these chapters follows a menu approach, providing instructive tips and guidelines about the best means to obtain the biggest electoral bang for each buck paid to consultants by clients.

The concluding chapter discusses the future of the consultancy business noting its inevitable growth, especially in the areas of issue advocacy and increased geographic specialization. It is also contended that consultants will likely use more negative attacks in campaigns, take fuller advantage of the Internet, and increase the level of discord, tension, and stress along several fronts including among their own clients (by, for instance, bruising their customers' egos over issues such as who is more important to the campaign--the candidate or the consultant?). All of these events will transpire unless the federal government, riding the crest of a wave of public discontent with the modus operandi of the current electoral system, intervenes and imposes limitations on campaign financing which would, in turn, restrict some of the activities now undertaken by political consultants. The prospect of increased government regulation, however, is largely discounted by the author.

Readers looking for a descriptive canvass of the activities of political consultants will find this book a perfectly suitable source. It presents interesting case studies and examples of the work of a variety of different types of political consultants. The material is fresh and the historical illustrations are well selected. It is, however, unfortunate that visual displays of some of the examples discussed were not included in the book given the fact that a picture or graph often tells a more revealing story than the written text ever can.

For readers wanting something else, this book may disappoint. For instance, it is very much undernourished historically and theoretically. Although an attempt is made in Chapter 1 to encase the place of political consultants in a historical wrapper, this effort is rather minimalist, presenting some useful examples but lacking the in-depth, primary source historical research that would be necessary to do this subject justice. Regrettably, to accommodate the history that is covered required stretching the operational definition of the concept `political consultant' so thin as to render it almost meaningless. Virtually no attempt is made to examine the role and impact of political consultancy through any theoretical prism. This, too, is unfortunate considering the importance of this topic along a variety of theoretical lines at the large scale macro-level (for instance, as it relates to democratic theory), at the more narrow-gauge macro-level (for instance, as it relates to theories of political parties and voting behavior), and at the micro-level (for instance, as it relates to psychological theories about attitudes and cognition).

Many claims are made throughout the manuscript to underscore the importance of political consultants to campaigns, clearly suggesting that their work dramatically shapes voting behavior and results. Yet, this book is devoid of much evidence that systematically and comprehensively tests this hypothesis. The only original database utilized comes from interviews with 40 political consultants. Although the interviews are interesting, it is hardly surprising that these people uniformly hold that paid consultancy work is critical to waging an effective and successful electoral campaign. Since very little objective and comprehensive evidence is presented to bolster this point, the author, and by way of complicity, the publisher, gives, in effect, the appearance of promoting consultants. Indicative of this type of proselytizing, the book notes (on page 43) that one way candidates might be able to circumvent the high-cost of conducting surveys is by opting for `a less expensive poll, perhaps done by volunteers drawn from a local university.' Quickly, however, the author argues that `such substitutes are just that, substitutions for the services of a good political polling firm'--meaning a pricey professional political consultancy organization.

In short, this book is a useful guide to the services that political consultants provide in the electoral arena. However, it falls short on delivering a comprehensive, systematic, empirically-based, theoretically-driven, scholarly analysis of an ever-expanding mainstay of the electoral landscape.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

James W. Lamare is the Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, The University of Texas-Pan American.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Lamare, James W.
Publication:International Journal of Public Opinion Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 1998
Words:803
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