United States Elections Project

GOVT312: Political Parties and Campaigns

Available on this page

  • Class handouts 
  • Online class readings
  • Class assignments (TBA)
  • Dr. McDonald contact Information

Class Handouts

On-Line Class Readings

A DropBox folder contains class readings, except for a few that can be found online at the links below. Students will be invited to the Dropbox folder after the first class. Please notify the professor if you are unable to access the DropBox folder.

Week 1, Jan 22

Campaign Targeting Project (Due March 3)

Among the first things a campaign manager has to do is develop a plan to win the election. Big money donors, interest groups, and party officials will want to see this plan in order to be assured that the campaign has a plan for victory. This assignment covers two parts of the campaign plan: profiling the district and developing lists of precincts for persuasion targeting and Get Out the Vote (a.k.a GOTV).

There are two components to this assignment:

  1. Describe the district.
  2. Develop a persuasion targeting and GOTV plan for the campaign.

1. Describe the district

Provide a profile of the district. Where is it? Who lives in it? What are some of the major employers within the district or other sources of votes (for example, a major university). Some resources that are available from Redistricting Virginia that might help you address this are:

  1. A map of the district.
  2. The "normal" partisan vote within the district calculated by averaging statewide election results in the district.
  3. A demographic breakdown of the district. While some demographic data is on the Redistricting Virginia website, you may also want to consult Census Bureau statistics; links to district demographics are here

2. Develop a targeting and GOTV plan for the campaign

A targeting plan describes which precincts where you are going to find persuadable voters. It is in these localities that you will send the candidate and volunteers to go door to door to persuade people to vote for your candidate. A GOTV plan describes which precincts you are going to target your "Get Out the Vote" efforts on the weekend before the election. 

Election results and registration statistics for localities in the district are available from the VA State Board of Elections.

  1. First, calculate the number of votes that you need to win the election. To do this, you need to estimate the turnout rate for the registered voters in the 2014 election. Divide this number in half and add 1, that is the number of votes you need to win the election.
  2. Second, calculate the average, maximum, and minimum vote that your candidate's party can expect to win by looking at election results for the localities in your district. You'll want to look at statewide elections and elections for your specific district.
  3. Rank the localities in the following manner:
    1. Rank the localities by the variation (maximum minus minimum) that you observe across elections. Those with the highest variability are where you will target for persuasion.
    2. Rank the localities by the average or "normal" vote. Those with the highest normal vote for your party are those that you will target for GOTV.  

As you rank localities, consider voter turnout. A locality that votes 100% for your party but few voters regularly vote is not as good a locality to target resources into as a locality with 100% support and a large number of voters. Rank the precincts with regards to the vote that they are expected to deliver by multiplying the numbers you calculate in (3) by the expected turnout rate within the localities.

Paper Requirements

Write your paper as if it were a memo that you, as the campaign field director, will present to the campaign manager. You do not need to follow essay form. There is no page requirement for the paper. You will be graded on the content you provide and how well you present the information. Tip: simply copying information from webpages and not bothering to reformat it for readability is a poor way to present information.

Useful resources for this project

You should carefully read:

Joel Bradshaw. “Who Will Vote for You and Why: Designing Campaign Strategy and Message.” in Campaigns and Elections American Style (Westview Press, 2004).

Redistricting Game (Due April 2)

This is a simple assignment. You must successfully complete the Basic version of Mission 4: Voting Rights Act of the Redistricting Game. Print the confirmation page to demonstrate that you completed it. Write your name on the print out before you turn it in.

If you have problems printing for some reason, use Cntrl-Print Screen to capture an image of the page, paste the captured image into an e-mail, and e-mail it to me. Most e-mail programs will attach the image to the e-mail, but if that does not work, try pasting the image into a word processing document and sending that document as an attachment.

The game is available here:

I recommend that you play a couple of the lower level missions before attempting the Basic version of Mission 4: Voting Rights Act to get a feel for the interface and how to complete the multiple objectives.

Paper Assignment (Due April 28)

Describe the relationships that exist between members of Congress with respect to the people they represent and their legislative parties. To what degree are these relationships compatible and at odds with one another?

This paper is 4-5 pages long, double-spaced, standard margins, in Times New Roman 12 point font. Be sure to cite relevant class materials.

Professor McDonald Contact Info

Office Hours for Spring 2014: M 1-2pm/W 4-5pm or by appointment.
Office: Robinson A 234
Phone: 703-993-4191
email: mmcdon@gmu.edu