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Copyright (c) 2010 Buffalo Law Review
Buffalo Law Review

BOOK REVIEW: Election Campaigns and Democracy

A Review of James A. Gardner, What Are Campaigns For? The Role of Persuasion in Electoral Law and Politics

December, 2010

Buffalo Law Review

58 Buffalo L. Rev. 1175


Richard Briffault+


What are election campaigns for? Not much, according to Professor James A. Gardner--or, at least, not nearly as much as the critics of American election campaigns would have us believe. In his new book, What Are Campaigns For? The Role of Persuasion in Electoral Law and Politics, 1 Professor Gardner contends that instead of serving as settings for extended discussion or in-depth reflection concerning political beliefs, the ideal election campaign does little more than make it more likely that the voter will cast a ballot consistent with the beliefs that he or she held before the start of the campaign. Nor, to turn to the subtitle of Professor Gardner's book, is there much role for persuasion in electoral politics. "Voters are not persuaded during a campaign to embrace, or even in most cases to contemplate, ideas that are unfamiliar or that challenge their existing beliefs." 2 Instead of a forum for debate and persuasion, a campaign is really just an exercise in, to use his words, "tabulation," that is, "counting heads." 3

This may sound like a grim description of elections, and the set-up for a jeremiad bemoaning the sorry state of American democracy. But Professor Gardner's elegant analysis of the theory and practice of election campaigns is far from that. His point, and it is an important one, is not to criticize election campaigns but to diminish the centrality of campaigns for democracy by situating campaigns within the broader continuum of ...
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