Issue Engagement on Congressional Candidate Websites (2002-2006) (WP-09-07)


James N. Druckman, Cari Lynn Hennessy, Martin J. Kifer, and Michael Parkin

When candidates engage in robust policy debate, it gives citizens clear choices on issues that matter. Previous studies of issue engagement have primarily used indicators of campaign strategy that are mediated by reporters (e.g. newspaper articles) or indicators that may exclude candidates in less competitive races (e.g. television advertisements). We study issue engagement with data from a unique source, congressional candidate websites, that are unmediated and representative of both House and Senate campaigns. We find that the saliency of issues in public opinion is a primary determinant of candidate engagement. And, despite the unique capacity of the internet to allow candidates to explain their positions on a large number of issues, candidates continue to behave strategically, selecting a few issues on which to engage their adversaries.

James N. Druckman, Associate Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University
Cari Lynn Hennessy, Graduate Student, Political Science, Northwestern University
Martin Kifer, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
Michael Parkin, Assistant Professor of Politics, Oberlin College

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