The Mixed Effects of Candidate Visits on Campaign Donations in the 2020 Presidential Election

Published date01 May 2022
Date01 May 2022
Subject MatterArticles
2022, Vol. 50(3) 320 –325
American Politics Research
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X211041571
American presidential election campaigns rely on a variety
of approaches aimed at appealing to voters. While political
scientists are generally skeptical that campaign activities like
Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts, campaign ads, or other
types of outreach have real and lasting persuasive effects
(Gelman et al., 2016; Kalla & Broockman, 2018; Sides &
Vavreck, 2013), campaigns still hope such activities may
mobilize their voters, and—in the case of close races—have
a meaningful impact on the election results. One of the more
visible approaches campaigns use in this regard are candi-
date visits: appearances by candidates in specific geographic
areas. Notably, existing research has found inconsistent
effects for such visits. While some scholars (Hill et al., 2010;
Holbrook, 1994; Jones, 1998; King & Morehouse, 2004;
Shaw, 1999; Shaw & Gimpel, 2012; Vavreck et al., 2002;
Wood, 2016) find positive effects, others find mixed
(Heersink & Peterson, 2017; Herr, 2002; Holbrook, 2002;
Shaw, 2006) or null effects (Holbrook & McClurg, 2005). In
part, these different findings may be due to inconsistencies in
the unit of analysis—that is, whether scholars focus on
effects at the state, media market, or county level, or whether
they assess the effects of visits on poll numbers or election
results. And, it is possible that different candidates may have
more or less appeal on the stump (Heersink & Peterson,
However, an additional issue in measuring the effect cam-
paign visits have on voters is scholars’ reliance on aggregate
vote totals or approval ratings as the core metric used. To be
sure, campaigns would like to increase votes or support in
polls. But, as Heersink, Peterson and Peterson (forthcoming)
note, while most studies present their results as testing a uni-
directional effect, using aggregate vote or polling data might
conflate multiple simultaneous effects. That is, generally a
candidate’s visit is expected to either have a positive or no
effect on approval or vote totals.1 It is possible, though, that
candidate visits may mobilize those on the side of the visit-
ing candidates while also counter-mobilizing those voters
inclined toward the other party. That is, when a candidate
visits, we might expect them to galvanize supporters on
‘their’ side on the basis of voluntary political participation
(Verba et al., 1995) or other campaign activities related to
their visit. But recent scholarship has also shown the impor-
tance of negative partisanship in voters’ ability to navigate
American politics (Abramowitz & Webster, 2016, 2018).
That is, voters often rely on their antipathy towards the
APRXXX10.1177/1532673X211041571American Politics ResearchHeersink et al.
1Fordham University, New York, NY, USA
2University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
3North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA
Corresponding Author:
Boris Heersink, Department of Political Science, Fordham University,
Rose Hill Campus, 441 E. Fordham Road, New York, NY 10023-7414,
The Mixed Effects of Candidate Visits
on Campaign Donations in the 2020
Presidential Election
Boris Heersink1, Nicholas G. Napolio2,
and Jordan Carr Peterson3
Recent scholarship on the effect of candidate visits in presidential elections has found that appearances by candidates appear
to mobilize both supporters and opponents. Specifically, in the 2016 presidential election, donations to campaigns of the
visiting presidential candidates increased, but—in the case of Republican nominee Donald Trump—so did donations to his
opponent, Hillary Clinton. In this paper, we extend this research by assessing the effect of visits on campaign donations by
presidential and vice presidential candidates in the 2020 election. We find evidence that visits by Donald Trump and Kamala
Harris had strong mobilizing and counter-mobilizing effects, increasing donations to both campaigns. We find weak evidence
that visits by Joe Biden increased contributions to his campaign, but we do not find evidence that his visits had a counter-
mobilizing effect, and we find no evidence that visits by Mike Pence affected donations in either direction.
presidential elections, campaign visits, campaign donations

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