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Bentley College Political Science Professors Share Latest Findings on 2008 Presidential Candidates' Websites

October 30, 2007

Waltham, Mass. -- As the presidential election approaches the 'one year away' milestone, Bentley College Political Science professors Christine B. Williams and Jeff Gulati continue to monitor the candidates' web sites for campaign impact and how they use their sites to characterize their platforms.

Professor Williams observes, "Even though the candidates are trying hard to distinguish themselves from competitors in their own parties during the nomination contest, their web sites reveal more similarities than differences."

The Bentley professors' most recent examination focuses on how the candidates' sites treat "issues" including how they identify and prioritize them, the naming of specific groups, and outreach to ethnic minority or special interest communities.

Overall Democratic and Republican candidates give equally greater attention to domestic issues (75%) over foreign policy issues (25%), but there is a clear difference in their attention to social issues and named groups:

  • Democrats identify specific groups as an issue interest in 22.5% of their "Issues" headings; Republicans identify specific groups in only 1.7%.
  • Republicans identify social issues as interests in 24.1% of their "Issues" headings; Democrats identify social issues as interests in only 2.6%.

In 17 candidates' priority listings there are 20 issues that receive a first, second or third place ranking:

  • Iraq receives 8 first, second or third place mentions
  • Health care and taxes receive 6 mentions each
  • Terrorism and immigration receive 4 each
  • Spending/budget, middle and working class families, and U.S. world standing/leadership receive 3 each
  • Abortion and energy each receive 2
  • 10 other issues receive a single mention

Democratic and Republican candidates differ in their issue priorities.

  • Democrats identify the top issues as:
    • Iraq- 6 mentions
    • Health care -5 mentions
    • U.S. world standing/leadership and middle/working class families - 3 mentions each
  • Republicans identify the top issues as:
    • Taxes - 6 mentions
    • Immigration and terrorism - 4 mentions each
    • Spending/budget - 3 mentions

Three of the Democrats' first, second and third ranked issues do not appear in the Republicans' top listed issues:

  • Energy
  • U.S. world standing/leadership
  • Middle/ working class families

Four of the Republicans' first, second and third ranked issues do not appear in the Democrats' top listed issues:

  • Taxes
  • Immigration
  • Terrorism
  • Spending/budget

Professor Williams notes that "Even at this early date, we see a clear differentiation of positions across party lines. Each side is appealing to its base with candidates emphasizing the issues where they perceive their party has the advantage."

To date, the presidential candidates' web sites show modest outreach to ethnic minority or special interest communities:

  • Only 7 of the 18 have Spanish language content:
    • Democrats Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Bill Richardson
    • Republican Mitt Romney

According to Professor Gulati, "It is interesting that the candidates are not targeting Hispanics more extensively since they represent a growing force in key swing states in the Southwest and Rocky Mountains."

  • Only 8 have posted a list of affinity groups, ranging from women and African Americans to first responders and gun owners.
  • Of the 11 web sites that post campaign photos on the homepage, 7 include a person of color: 4 out of 5 Democrats and 3 out of 6 Republicans.
  • Under the "Issues" headings, 12 identify a particular group such as Seniors or Veterans, the other 50 "Issues" headings identify specific policy areas.

This latest information is a follow up to Williams' and Gulati's initial findings from a general analysis of nine Democratic and 11 Republican presidential candidates' websites conducted in April 2007 (http://www.bentley.edu/news-events/pr_view.cfm?id=502234).

The two professors have also analyzed campaign web sites in the 2006 and previous years' Congressional elections. Their reports on this research can be found at http://blogsandwikis.bentley.edu/politechmedia/

Professor Williams is on the judging panel for the first political web site awards published in the November issue of Campaigns & Elections magazine (www.campaignsandelections.com).

 

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