Political Consultants

October 4, 1996 • Volume 6, Issue 37
Are advisers and handlers harming democracy?
By Charles S. Clark

Introduction

That political animal known as the consultant has come a long way since the days when faceless advisers stood discreetly behind candidates and whispered folksy suggestions. Today, no campaign is fully written up without profiles of those media-savvy gurus who sometimes float above party loyalty. But consultants - who rose to influence along with television - get blamed for many of the political system's problems. Critics say the professionalization of politics encourages negative campaigning, escalates campaign costs, reduces debate on the issues to sound bites, corrupts the science of opinion polling and even reduces once-eager campaign volunteers to spectators. Consultants respond that responsibility for their decisions must be borne by the candidate, and that they are paid, first and foremost, to win.

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