Book Review: Denton - The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

The latest volume in Robert E. Denton's quadrienniel works on presidential campaigns is a solid and worthy contribution to the literature on this subject.  As in his previous books, Denton examines the 2016 campaign from a communication perspecitve.  He has assembled a top-notch team of scholars, and they offer many useful insights into the campaign.  The book gets off to a strong start with Craig Allen Smith's chapter on the surfacing period of the campaign (what I refer to as the pre-campaign period).  The groundwork for much of what transpires during primary contests is set before the first votes are cast and Smith does an excellent job of setting that out.  The chapter on political advertising, by Scott Dunn and John C. Tedesco, does a good job covering the general election ad campaign.  John Allen Hendricks and Dan Shill's well organized chapter on social media sets a marker for how things were done in this realm in 2016.  Deronda Baughman and Dennis D. Cali's chapter on "Trump as Troll" is a gem, providing great perspective into why Trump's  insults proved so effective.  Much attention has been given to the role of gender in the campaign; Susan Bordo argues that gender was the decisive factor in her book The Destruction of Hillary Clinton (Melville House, April 2017); Denton provides useful perspective in his chapter on the subject.

Several areas could perhaps be improved.  R.L. Holloway's chapter on the conventions focuses largely on summarizing what was said from the podium—which is useful—but the chapter might have included a bit more detail on the significant activity that went on in advance of both conventions (the rules committee for the Republicans and platform negotiations for the Democrats).  The chapter on campaign finance by Cayce Myers devotes too much attention to an overview of campaign finance laws and to the general election, and largely misses one of the more interesting aspects of the campaign, the various activities of the super PACs in the Republican primary campaign and the balance of activity between the official campaign committees and the super PACs. 

Subjects which might well have been examined a book such as this include an examination of the primary ad campaign and an analysis of the persuasion mail that flooded mailboxes of Iowa and New Hampshire voters during the primary campaign. 

These are minor complaints, however, and students and scholars will find much of value in this volume.

Eric M. Appleman
Democracy in Action
Aug. 17, 2017

                                                                                                                                              Photo: Democracy in Action (2013)
Robert E. Denton has added another solid work to his series on presidential campaigns.