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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:  The key issues include: immigration policy, the Iraq war, national security, civil liberties, drilling for oil, global warming, corporate regulation, agricultural subsides, taxation, the minimum wage, free trade, social security, health care, education, the death penalty, decriminalization of marijuana, homosexual rights, abortion, stem cell research, and gun ownership. iii Given that our purpose was to give the electorate an opportunity to quickly size up presidential candidates to assist them in making an informed decision based on issue positions, we reluctantly omitted questions on partisanship and other variables known to affect both vote choice or the acquisition of new information (Lupia et al., 2007). Basic site traffic shows that, for instance, between February 15 and March 16, 2008, 20,407 people visited VoteHelp, 58% from direct traffic, 26% from Referring Sites, and 16% from Search Engines. During this same period, on average people spent nearly six minutes on the site and looked at all three pages. Over three-quarters of visitors were based in the United States, but visitors came from over 71 countries. Viewership also spiked noticeably before primaries. All told, over 200,000 people visited VoteHelp from 21 October 2007 to March 2008, and over 100,000 completed the calculator questionnaire. Visitors are unlikely to represent the entire population. For instance, a 2006 Pew study found that 70% of American adults use the internet at least occasionally (Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2006). This same study found similar use across genders, but sharp differences between young and older cohorts: 83% of those 18-29 use the internet, 82% of those 30-49, 70% of those 50-64, with only 33% of Americans older than 65 reported using the internet. There is also a tilt toward White, Non-Hispanics, 72% of whom report using the internet, in contrast to only 58% of Black, Non-Hispanics. The study also found that 93% of those who earn over $75,000 annually report internet use while fewer than 49% of those earning less than $30,000 per year use the net. The income gap in internet use parallels the education gap: 36% of Americans with less than high school, 59% of those high school graduates, 84% of respondents with some college and 91% of college plus respondents use the internet. To summarize, the sub-population cruising the “net” tends to be wealthier, better educated, younger and “whiter.” Campaign Issues in 2008: Which Issues Are Candidates Addressing? Politicians benefit from owning some issues while ignoring others. During debates, politicians are incentivized to talk past one another (Jerit 2008). Each candidate tries to frame the issue to his or her advantage, using language, common touchstones, and other devices designed to engage or repel certain groups. The issues and issue frames in this election support these expectations. In addition, on certain issues, the war in Iraq, for instance, politicians are engaging each other. In this election cycle, we have identified candidate engagement in the following issues: the Iraq war, terrorism/foreign policy, immigration, health care, and to a lesser extent, global warming, government spending, taxation, global trade, and moral values (i.e., gay rights, abortion, gun control). The questions we ask on VoteHelp span a total of 27 issues that candidates are addressing this election cycle. We had to eliminate a few questions because candidates’ positions couldn’t be found or because the positions were so broad that politicians were talking past each other in generalities. The 27 questions in our questionnaire are all worded in the affirmative in an attempt to reduce bias. See Appendix A for each candidates’ issue scores by question. In the 4

Authors: Soule, Suzanne., Nairne, Jennifer. and Iyer, Ravi.
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The key issues include: immigration policy, the Iraq war, national security, civil liberties, drilling
for oil, global warming, corporate regulation, agricultural subsides, taxation, the minimum wage,
free trade, social security, health care, education, the death penalty, decriminalization of
marijuana, homosexual rights, abortion, stem cell research, and gun ownership.
Given that our purpose was to give the electorate an opportunity to quickly size up presidential
candidates to assist them in making an informed decision based on issue positions, we reluctantly
omitted questions on partisanship and other variables known to affect both vote choice or the
acquisition of new information (Lupia et al., 2007). Basic site traffic shows that, for instance,
between February 15 and March 16, 2008, 20,407 people visited VoteHelp, 58% from direct
traffic, 26% from Referring Sites, and 16% from Search Engines. During this same period, on
average people spent nearly six minutes on the site and looked at all three pages. Over three-
quarters of visitors were based in the United States, but visitors came from over 71 countries.
Viewership also spiked noticeably before primaries. All told, over 200,000 people visited
VoteHelp from 21 October 2007 to March 2008, and over 100,000 completed the calculator
questionnaire.
Visitors are unlikely to represent the entire population. For instance, a 2006 Pew study found that
70% of American adults use the internet at least occasionally (Pew Internet and American Life
Project, 2006). This same study found similar use across genders, but sharp differences between
young and older cohorts: 83% of those 18-29 use the internet, 82% of those 30-49, 70% of those
50-64, with only 33% of Americans older than 65 reported using the internet. There is also a tilt
toward White, Non-Hispanics, 72% of whom report using the internet, in contrast to only 58% of
Black, Non-Hispanics. The study also found that 93% of those who earn over $75,000 annually
report internet use while fewer than 49% of those earning less than $30,000 per year use the net.
The income gap in internet use parallels the education gap: 36% of Americans with less than
high school, 59% of those high school graduates, 84% of respondents with some college and
91% of college plus respondents use the internet. To summarize, the sub-population cruising the
“net” tends to be wealthier, better educated, younger and “whiter.”
Campaign Issues in 2008: Which Issues Are Candidates Addressing?
Politicians benefit from owning some issues while ignoring others. During debates, politicians
are incentivized to talk past one another (Jerit 2008). Each candidate tries to frame the issue to
his or her advantage, using language, common touchstones, and other devices designed to engage
or repel certain groups. The issues and issue frames in this election support these expectations. In
addition, on certain issues, the war in Iraq, for instance, politicians are engaging each other.
In this election cycle, we have identified candidate engagement in the following issues: the Iraq
war, terrorism/foreign policy, immigration, health care, and to a lesser extent, global warming,
government spending, taxation, global trade, and moral values (i.e., gay rights, abortion, gun
control). The questions we ask on VoteHelp span a total of 27 issues that candidates are
addressing this election cycle. We had to eliminate a few questions because candidates’ positions
couldn’t be found or because the positions were so broad that politicians were talking past each
other in generalities. The 27 questions in our questionnaire are all worded in the affirmative in an
attempt to reduce bias. See Appendix A for each candidates’ issue scores by question. In the
4


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