Just how effective are presidential campaigns and how much do they affect the electorate’s decision? Franklin & Marshall sophomore Nadezhda Ivanova is researching the answer in real time.
Ivanova was intrigued when Stephen Medvic approached her with an opportunity to help code media coverage of the 2008, 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns.
“Apart from the fact that it is an incredibly valuable experience to conduct research as an undergraduate student, I was interested in examining the effects campaigns have on elections in the United States,” said Ivanova, who is studying remotely in her hometown of Sofia, Bulgaria.
Once a week from July until Election Day, Medvic contacted campaign and election scholars to ask which of the two major party candidates had run the better campaign that week.
To collect unbiased data, Ivanova spent much of her summer reading through all New York Times front-page articles (more than 400) related to the presidential elections of the three cycles to determine the tone of each article – positive, negative, or neutral – for each candidate.
“It's a little difficult to pick up on tone since reporters try hard to be as objective as possible,” said Medvic, the Honorable and Mrs. John C. Kunkel Professor of Government. “She and I were able to calibrate our coding quite easily and, at that point, Nadezhda really ran with it. She has a knack for empirical research.”
The analysis stage of the project will happen later this year; the pair will form a conclusion based on the data from Ivanova’s media analysis and Medvic’s election expert results.
“If the results of the survey could be shown to be a valid measure of campaign effectiveness, the measure would have not only historical importance, but could be used to determine how much of an effect campaigns have on election outcomes,” Medvic said.
Preliminary statistics revealed an interesting aspect of the past three presidential election cycles: In each of them, the Republican nominee received more media coverage.
“It was an intriguing finding because, as we know, in those three cycles, a Democratic candidate won twice and a Republican candidate won once,” Ivanova said. “The collected data also showed that President Trump had much more negative coverage than his rival; that piece of data makes sense because President Trump is considered a much more controversial candidate.”
For Ivanova, an advocacy officer on the International Student Advisory Board, vice-chair of Weis College House government, and representative on the Student Code of Conduct Committee, the research opportunity solidified her passion for government.
“I knew from the very beginning of my studies at F&M that I wanted to major in government because I am passionate about learning about how states operate, interact with one another, and how the decisions they make affect their citizens and their neighbors,” Ivanova said.
She added, “The research experience definitely opened my eyes to recurring trends during elections, and also exposed me to nuances in U.S. politics that might not be as evident in a classroom setting.”