Hitler’s rise to power amidst an unprecedented propaganda campaign initiated scholarly interest in campaign effects. To the surprise of many, empirical studies often found minimal effects. The predominant focus of early work was on U.S. elections, though. Nazi propaganda as the archetypal and, in many ways, most likely case for strong effects has rarely been studied. We collect extensive data about Hitler’s speeches and gauge their impact on voter support at five national elections preceding the dictatorship. We use a semi-parametric difference-in-differences approach to estimate effects in the face of potential confounding due to the deliberate scheduling of events. Our findings suggest that Hitler’s speeches, while rationally targeted, had a negligible impact on the Nazis’ electoral fortunes. Only the 1932 presidential runoff, an election preceded by an extraordinarily short, intense, and one-sided campaign, yielded positive effects. This study questions the importance of charismatic leaders for the success of populist movements.
Ok, but we can still assert with absolute certainty that if Clinton made a few more appearances in 2000 Gore would have won!
Again, the political science evidence doesn’t prove that campaigns don’t matter at all. But 1)it does strongly suggest that they matter a lot less than people think, and 2)even to the extent they matter we don’t really know very much about what’s effective and what isn’t, and the extraordinary amount of confidence pundits tend to put in unfalsifiable, circular counterfactuals is unwarranted.