A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION year predictably brings a bumper crop of political books as publishers and authors try to captialize on the public's heightened interest in politics. Although there is some evidence that voter interest is rather high this year -- witness the high turnout in early caucuses and primaries -- the output of political books in 1980 is curiously thin. But we do have excellent selections from pundits, politicans and political scientist to help us follow the twists and turns of this year's campaigns.
A pundit's contribution is The Candidates -- 1980, but Aram Bakshian Jr. (Arlington House, $12.95). Bakshian, who drafted speeches for the Nixon-Ford White Houses, includes chapters on Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, Jerry Brown, Ronald Reagan, John Connally, George Bush, and Howard Baker, a few pages each on Jerry Ford and Alexander Haig, and a cursory glance at a number of others, including Bob Dole, Phil Crane, Jack Kemp, Harold Stassen -- and John Anderson (who receives three contemptuous pages). Bakshian is a talented, entertaining writer, and he has some political savvy, particularly when he writes about the political strengths and weaknesses of GOP contenders. But his book, published late in March, was woefully out of date the instant it appeared, since most of the candidates he treats seriously had dropped out by then.
The politician's book this year is How to Win Votes: The Politics of 1980, by veteran New York Democratic party man. Edward N. Costikyan (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $12.95). In many ways a sequel to Costikyan's Behind Closed Doors: Politics in the Public Interest, a mid-1960s paean to the "old politics" of the machines, How to Win Votes suggests ways candidates can take advantages of today's rules of the political game.
Costikyan is a skilled professional, and his suggestions for campaign techniques are interesting, logical and useful. His book has its limits, however. It is written from the viewpoint of a big city politician, who was born and bred in the political clubs that dominated New York for many decades. But that was not the experience of politicians in Minnesota, or Vermont, or Montana, or California. Political machines and party organizations as evoked by Costikyan were never the dominant political force across America -- only in selected areas. Thus, his contrast of the old with the new is only partly accurate.
He laments the changes that have occurred -- the decline of party and party organization in particular -- and suggests that our politics ar now determined by the large and growing group of nonvoters. Costikyan also has some problems with his notion of nonvoters. His central thesis -- that candidates must appeal to the nonvoters -- has an underlying premise that these are the most cynical and disaffected among us. He quotes a typical nonvoters as saying. "It never made any difference to me who got elected. They all said the same thing, and raised their pay and my taxes." But most research -- including a survey Costikyan commissioned for the book, which he discusses at the end -- says that nonvoters are actually no more alienated than the rest of us.
On the subject of the nonvoters, a new volume by two political scientists is of particular interest. In Who Votes?, by Raymond Wolfinger and Steven Rosenstone (Yale University, $15; paperback, $3.95) characteristics of voters and nonvoters are contrasted using the gold mine of data provided by Census Current Population Surveys taken in 1972 and 1974. The Census survey, with nearly 90,000 cases (compared to a typical polling sample of less than 2,000), permitted the authors to do a more sophisticated and detailed analysis of the nonvoters than anyone else has done. This is a slim book, written in no-nonsense prose and filled with interesting information. For example, farmers go to the polls far more consistently, given their levels of education and income, than almost any other group in American society -- while farm workers vote consistently less than any comparable group. Wolfinger and Rosenstone stress the role of education over such factors as income, occupation and race in determining whether people vote. They underscore the tremendous importance of registration barriers in blocking voting, and also emphasize the value to voting of community ties and marriage.
Election-watchers should take note of three other recent publications. Money in Congressional Elections, by Gary Jacobson (Yale, $15), is an excellent analysis of the role campaign contributions and expenditures play in congressional elections. This is not a book for a general audience; the reader uninitiated in statistical techniques will be bewildered by discussions of two-stage least-squares regression equations and exogenous variables. But Jacobson makes a persuasive and well-documented case that it is spending by challengers -- not incumbents -- which affects competition in congressional campaigns, and that a combination of low-quality candidates and their related campaign poverty has made most congressional seats ridiculously safe for imcumbents. Jacobson's argument suggests that the current Republican strategy of building up the farm system of GOP candidates is a sound one. If the Republicans in coming years can put together a core of politically experienced and well-financed candidates for Congress, they could make the Democrats miserable in the 1980s -- and maybe even produce a Republican majority for the first time in decades.
Money in Congressional Elections also offers a solid critique of various alternative plans for public financing of congressional elections. It seems clear that any plan drafted by Congress will include a low ceiling on expenditures, to the disadvantage of challengers and the advantage of incumbents. Jacobson leaves no doubt as to why the minority Republicans have adamantly opposed congressional public financing.
Presidential Elections, by Nelson W. Polsby and Aaron Wildavsky (Scribner's, $12.50) is the fifth edition of a college text. Instead of writing an all-inclusive overview of the presidential election process, Polsby and Wildavsky focus on the strategic environment surrounding the presidential campaign. They say that "the strategies of participants in a presidential election make sense once we understand the web of circumstances in which they operate." In this cogent, well-written book, the authors do sort out much of the complexity surrounding the party rules, polling, conventions and campaigns. The educated layman, perplexed about the delegate process, the candidates' strategies, the conventions' operations, the importance of debates and so on, will find Presidential Elections valuable for interpreting the confusion on the coming months.
To the politics maven, National Journal's election manual, appropirately called Monday Night Politics, (National Journal, 1730 M St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036, $7.95) is an invaluable tool for election watching. The old sports truism is right -- you can't tell the players without a scorecard, and this is a pretty good scorecard. Monday Night Politics has some timeliness problems (it was published last October), but its core is still intact and useful. The main value of Monday Night Politics is in its statistics -- tables and charts giving us a timetable for selection of presidential delegates, a profile of the American electorate, a history of voter turnout in primaries and general elections, an examination of who is running in congressional elections and for governor and state legilatures. The analysis, contributed by National Journal's talented reporters, is compact and accurate. This handbook is one to keep next to the television set throughout the long political season, and right up through Super Bowl Tuesday, November 4.