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2008 Presidential Contenders: Where They Stand, What They’re (Not) Saying, and How They’re Framing the Issues
Unformatted Document Text:  among their traditional constituents, but clearly the groups that can be most galvanized by abortion are Liberals and Social Conservatives. On the question of stricter enforcement of immigration laws, the electorate mirrors the candidates. Except for Liberals, who are neutral, Moderate Liberals, Social Conservatives, and, most of all, Conservatives are strongly in favor of greater enforcement of immigration laws. While the issue is important for all four groups, it is the Conservative and Moderate Liberal, followed closely by the Social Conservatives that might be most persuaded by a strong stance on this issue. This graph suggests, that except for liberals, who are more or less neutral, there is little cost for politicians to take strong stands advocating stricter enforcement of US immigration laws, as they do. Summary Research has shown that increases in political knowledge are likely to increase political participation. Many young people claim that they do not vote because they do not possess enough information on the candidates. The VoteHelp website closes these knowledge gaps through a process of rating and ranking issues and then matching voters to candidates. Do candidates match up to respondents in terms of issue importance? Do candidates better articulate high salience issues? Candidates have clearer positions on issues of primary importance, and they do seem most sensitive to those issues which are more important to the electorate. Candidates have taken clear, relatively articulate stands on the top two issues of primary importance to voters, the decision to enter the Iraq war and whether to provide universal health care. This suggests that they are in touch with the electorate’s ranking of issue importance. However, the third ranked issue, a moral/rights issue, abortion, proved more challenging for candidates. Because they aware of the deep divisions in the electorate, the three leading contenders (Clinton, Obama and McCain) sought to avoid the issue of abortion. They said even less about nonsalient issues such as agriculture policy. Abortion polarizes candidates and important segments of the electorate, most particularly Liberals and Social Conservatives, two of the four clusters we identified among VoteHelp website users. A much safer issue for candidates, based on our analysis of the four clusters is tougher enforcement of existing immigration laws. Indeed, the candidates have all taken tough positions on immigration. The pool of 12 presidential candidates in the race in October 2007 was more diverse in terms of their issue positions than the four candidates remaining in March 2008. The six Republican candidates showed more variance in their issue positions than the Democratic candidates, especially on important issues. Conservatives, including Giuliani, Huckabee, and Paul at times took radically different positions from the Republican pack. Further, for the four issues that were deemed most important by users, the issue positions of Social Conservatives and Conservatives diverged more than that those between Liberals and Moderate Liberals. This suggests that conservative voters are less homogenous than liberal voters. For instance, Social Conservatives surprisingly agree with Liberals and Moderate Liberals on desirability of universal health care. 22

Authors: Soule, Suzanne., Nairne, Jennifer. and Iyer, Ravi.
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among their traditional constituents, but clearly the groups that can be most galvanized by
abortion are Liberals and Social Conservatives.
On the question of stricter enforcement of immigration laws, the electorate mirrors the
candidates. Except for Liberals, who are neutral, Moderate Liberals, Social Conservatives, and,
most of all, Conservatives are strongly in favor of greater enforcement of immigration laws.
While the issue is important for all four groups, it is the Conservative and Moderate Liberal,
followed closely by the Social Conservatives that might be most persuaded by a strong stance on
this issue. This graph suggests, that except for liberals, who are more or less neutral, there is little
cost for politicians to take strong stands advocating stricter enforcement of US immigration laws,
as they do.
Summary
Research has shown that increases in political knowledge are likely to increase political
participation. Many young people claim that they do not vote because they do not possess
enough information on the candidates. The VoteHelp website closes these knowledge gaps
through a process of rating and ranking issues and then matching voters to candidates.
Do candidates match up to respondents in terms of issue importance? Do candidates better
articulate high salience issues? Candidates have clearer positions on issues of primary
importance, and they do seem most sensitive to those issues which are more important to the
electorate. Candidates have taken clear, relatively articulate stands on the top two issues of
primary importance to voters, the decision to enter the Iraq war and whether to provide universal
health care. This suggests that they are in touch with the electorate’s ranking of issue importance.
However, the third ranked issue, a moral/rights issue, abortion, proved more challenging for
candidates. Because they aware of the deep divisions in the electorate, the three leading
contenders (Clinton, Obama and McCain) sought to avoid the issue of abortion. They said even
less about nonsalient issues such as agriculture policy. Abortion polarizes candidates and
important segments of the electorate, most particularly Liberals and Social Conservatives, two of
the four clusters we identified among VoteHelp website users. A much safer issue for candidates,
based on our analysis of the four clusters is tougher enforcement of existing immigration laws.
Indeed, the candidates have all taken tough positions on immigration.
The pool of 12 presidential candidates in the race in October 2007 was more diverse in terms of
their issue positions than the four candidates remaining in March 2008. The six Republican
candidates showed more variance in their issue positions than the Democratic candidates,
especially on important issues. Conservatives, including Giuliani, Huckabee, and Paul at times
took radically different positions from the Republican pack. Further, for the four issues that were
deemed most important by users, the issue positions of Social Conservatives and Conservatives
diverged more than that those between Liberals and Moderate Liberals. This suggests that
conservative voters are less homogenous than liberal voters. For instance, Social Conservatives
surprisingly agree with Liberals and Moderate Liberals on desirability of universal health care.
22


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