Whoever emerges as the victor of the presidential race on Nov. 8, they’ve survived a slew of other candidates, as well as the competing rallies and political stunts that accompanied them. But the effects of hosting those rallies and concerts is disputed.
Ohio State watched as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, among others, held campaign events in Ohio with determined, but ill-fated, efforts to secure their respective party’s nominations.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump visited Columbus for rallies in the past 30 days, each bringing in crowds of thousands. In November alone, Donald Trump Jr. and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin visited Ohio on Trump’s behalf. President Barack Obama visited Capital University on Clinton’s behalf on Nov. 1, and A-list celebrities Beyoncé and Jay Z held a concert for Clinton in Cleveland on Friday.
Tom Wood, a political science professor, questioned the actual effectiveness that those events have on swaying voters.
“In terms of affecting the actual outcome of an election, gosh, where the visit actually is in today’s media environment, it is really hard to say that there’s any effect on local political circumstance,” said Wood, who focuses on elections and vote choice.
Krupa Upadhyay, a third-year in psychology and international studies, disagreed to some extent.
“I started out as a huge Bernie Sanders fan, but the more I listened to Hillary speak (live), I became more of a fan of her as candidate,” she said.
Most rally attendees, however, have already made their decision, Wood said.
“Who is undecided at this point?” he asked. “The campaigns have now been going on in some form or the other for the last two years. We are assailed at every moment — on our phones, on TV, on electronic devices — by competing political considerations. Parties have never been further apart. Partisanship is almost the most influential identity people have. It competes with race and social class.”
Though the ability of rallies to sway attendees to change their vote is likely small, rallies can affect the political process in other ways, Wood said.
Wood said rallies from both sides of the political aisle can inspire voters to join canvassing efforts, perhaps by knocking on doors or making phone calls on behalf of their party’s candidate.
Upadhyay said she is a real-world example of that, having joined canvassing efforts for Clinton following the Democratic nominee’s Oct. 10 visit to OSU’s South Oval.
“When I saw (Clinton) speak at Ohio State, I was (moved by) the way she talked about her experiences and the issues in this election cycle,” Upadhyay said. “Listening to her speak solidified (my vote) and actually made me want to campaign for her, instead of just wanting to vote for her.”
Stephen Perri, a fourth-year in finance and a Trump supporter, said there was a distinct motivation he felt to support Trump after attending rallies held by GOP nominee and his oldest son. He said he felt Trump’s ideas were more raw and uncut when seeing them in person.
“It’s the same type of information (communicated at rallies), but without bias and with added excitement to actually hear it live, in person,” Perri said.
He too expressed confidence in his vote prior to attending a Trump-sponsored event.
“I have always voted Republican and I really think Trump was a good fit, regardless. But after hearing his son speak, it gave me a lot more confidence in my vote for Donald Trump,” he said. “Trump sometimes can say the wrong things and kind of deter people (from wanting to vote for him), but his son is a very good speaker and he said all the things his dad planned to do, but said it in a little more politically correct way.”
And while Trump has both hosted small, private events and also bragged about the size of some of his public events, Wood said the size of rallies is not always indicative of success at the polls.
“From the perspective of making a TV event in a ballroom or on the Ohio State lawn, the events will get approximately equal (media) coverage. Maybe as long as the TV cameras are there, it doesn’t matter the size of the audience,” Wood said.
Though Clinton’s OSU visit in October attracted 18,500 attendees, according to Secret Service numbers — her largest rally at the time, and a much larger crowd than Trump’s Ohio events — political forecasting from FiveThirtyEight, as of Monday night, predicts a 2 percent margin of victory for Trump in Ohio come Election night.
“Even a candidate that is sure to lose a national popular vote can inspire 20, 30, 40,000 people to go to a rally in a large metropolitan area, like Columbus,” Wood said. “So it’s sort of this thing in a campaign to say, ‘Point to the amount of people coming to my rally as an indication,’ but that just really reflects how big the United States is and how many people want to be involved in the political process.”
One thing that is affected by rallies is the electorate’s familiarity with visits, Wood said. Voters should be able to remember what politicians have recently been to their area. But voters have better recall of candidates within their respective parties.
“Partisanship is a bigger predictor of who you think has visited your market recently,” Wood said. “Republicans tend to think Republican candidates have (visited recently), Democrats tend to think Democratic candidates have visited. The actual behavior of the candidates — whether they have visited or not — is less influential.”
Just as Upadhyay communicated increased excitement for casting her vote after attending the rallies of Democrats Elizabeth Warren, President Barack Obama and Clinton, Perri also said he found fervor in observing Trump and Trump Jr. up close.
“To see the passion to come from the entire campaign — and not just Trump, but his son and everyone else there as well — seeing that passion really helped to inspire me even though my vote was pretty much already decided,” Perri said.
Tuesday night, the nation will see which candidate’s efforts, and which rallies, will have been successful and which were in vain.
For more on this election, check out Lantern TV’s special, “Race to the Presidency,” here: