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Eagleton Institute of Politics
Eagleton Institute of Politics


New Jersey Congressional Campaigns in 1998:"Not Bad but Not Enough"

This study compared the campaign activity against suggestions for better campaigns made at the Eagleton Campaign Forum held in February 1997and against standards for useful campaigns commonly discussed by the political science community.

The good news from the study is that, while active campaigns took place in only a third of the State's thirteen districts, these campaigns were generally free of negative qualities often associated with elections and focused on issues of interest to voters.

The bad news, however, is that about 60% of the people in the state were not exposed to campaign discussions, and generally voters had little access to candidates and information about them.

View the summary page from the study below. The full report is available here (in Adobe Acrobat format).

Report Summary

A study of the 1998 New Jersey congressional races by the Eagleton Institute of Politics finds that competitive campaigns were mainly issue-oriented, free of nasty attacks and reasonably well-covered by the media. However, such active campaigns took place in fewer than half of the state's 13 districts, 12 of which returned incumbents to Congress.

The good news is that campaign conduct in 1998 was generally free of the negative qualities often associated with election campaigns.

The bad news is that campaigning did not occur often enough to produce real "democratic discussion." In districts without competitive races, citizens had little or no opportunity to learn about the candidates or their positions on issues, either through campaigns or the media. These non-competitive districts include more than 60 percent of the state's voters.

Even in those districts where campaigns took place, voters were not treated to lively debates and easily accessible information. Only rarely did campaign activity provide the opportunity to see an incumbent defend a record or a challenger present the case for an alternative.

The premise of this study is that selecting our representatives is fundamental to maintaining a democratic society. Therefore, information and impressions received through campaigns are critical resources for citizens — in the voting booth and, more broadly, in influencing their understanding of government. The extent and the quality of campaigns are vitally important and deserve to be examined.

Carried out with the assistance of student teams from six academic institutions in New Jersey, the study attempts to capture the nature of the state's campaign experience when campaigns take place in districts, rather than through the more visible statewide activity of a gubernatorial or senate race. It was designed to evaluate how well the 1998 Congressional campaigns contributed to "democratic discussion" in New Jersey and how they measured up to suggestions for achieving better campaigns made at the 1997 Eagleton Campaign Forum, a gathering where state leaders addressed campaign conduct following the contentious 1996 Senate race.

The study showed that active campaigns incorporated the kinds of suggestions made at the Eagleton Campaign Forum, but all campaigns fell short to some degree of meeting the standards commonly discussed by the political science community and the good government advocates for campaigns considered useful to citizens.

The evaluation of the 1998 congressional campaigns suggests ways to improve future campaigns. They include:
  • continue support for the 1997 Eagleton Campaign Forum's suggestions that candidates, the media and the people take responsibility for campaigns.
  • promote debates; encourage ad watches; recognize helpful media efforts.
  • assist candidates to use the Internet in their campaigns.
  • address the nature, causes and consequences of non-competitive campaigns and related issues such as campaign financing, redistricting, and media access.