THE RISE OF POLITICAL CONSULTANTS: New Ways of Winning Elections by Larry J. Sabato


Email this review


A stodgy, somewhat insipid accounting of the kinds of political consultants, what they do, and how--structured like a textbook, and adequate for routine factual information. Thematically, Sabato (Government, Univ. of Virginia) has only banalities to put forth: consultants are ""businessmen rather than ideologues""; usually, they look for winning candidates--but, among the big names, personal compatibility is a factor too; the press makes too much of them (and knows too little about them); they don't ""make the difference between winning and losing""--but ""they can and do influence virtually every significant part of a campaign, and the campaign certainly makes some difference in the outcome of the election."" (Later we hear, along the same eye-blinking lines, that ""The United States is far more a video culture than a word culture, and television is a major cause."") The usable information comes in the sections devoted to polling, the media, and direct-mail campaigns--and not so much on the practitioners, again (pollsters, for instance, are also deemed overrated and indispensable), as on the techniques: multidimensional scaling and other advanced survey techniques; the contents of television spots and direct-mail packages. Here and there, Sabato's interviewing and other research turns up an interesting tidbit: in '76 Ford pollster Robert Teeter discovered Carter's weakness among Catholics, and advised Ford to concentrate on Louisiana; but Carter pollster Cadell spotted the weakness too, and he ""made certain"" that Carter compensated. There are instances of consultant ""misses and mistakes"" as well, most of them quite well known--and there are some dubious statements on Sabato's part (such as his reiteration of a finding that TV commercials ""have no effect on voters' images of presidential candidates,"" but ""they do have a substantial influence on the voters' perception of the candidates' issues and platforms""!). But most of this is just blah--less egregiously awful than Chagall (above), not nearly as sharp or illuminating as the journalists' campaign reports or even, for profiles of the top consultants, Sidney Blumenthal's The Permanent Campaign (1980).

Pub Date: Nov. 3rd, 1981
Publisher: Basic Books