CAMPAIGN GAFFES: AN ANALYSIS OF WHEN AND WHY THE MISTAKES OF POLITICIANS MATTER

Open Access
Author:
Abramowich, Thadeus Stewart Sandoe
Area of Honors:
Political Science
Degree:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Mark Major, Thesis Supervisor
  • Michael Berkman, Honors Advisor
Keywords:
  • Campaign
  • Gaffe
  • Election
  • Media
Abstract:
This research seeks to understand the nature of campaign gaffes and the way that they influence a politician’s chances of succeeding in his or her election races. Some politicians have come to be known for little more than the mistakes that they made on the campaign trail, while others are able to avoid consequences for high-profile gaffes that they commit. This thesis seeks to make clear why this incongruity exists. By considering changes in political prediction markets, as well as polls, and both the volume and quality of media coverage that the gaffes received, the impact that a gaffe makes on a given campaign can be better understood. The variety of election that the gaffe is committed in plays an important role in understanding the difference that it makes, as does the nature of the gaffe, so this study includes examinations of gaffes committed in presidential primaries, during the presidential general election (by a presidential candidate, vice presidential candidate, or third party candidate), and senatorial elections. Overall, gaffes can be particularly damaging to candidates who are less known to voters, as the additional coverage that they generate may help shape voters still malleable impressions of the candidate. Previous literature on the topic has tended to focus on the difference gaffes made in a single race, or on scandals, which while similar to gaffes, must be considered separately due to their increased degree of severity. Therefore, these findings seek to provide a more generalizable manner of considering gaffes, and to predict the likelihood that a gaffe will affect the outcome of a race.