Nothing to Hide, Nowhere to Run, or Nothing to Lose: Candidate Position-Taking in Congressional Elections
If candidates do not state clear issue positions, then voters cannot anticipate how the candidates will govern if elected nor hold candidates accountable for breaking campaign pledges. Yet, previous research argues electoral incentives lead candidates to avoid discussing the key issues of the day. Even though silence on issues is the modal campaign strategy, this paper argues that candidates systematically make clear issue statements on occasion. We identify three variables that predict whether a candidate will address an issue and the clarity of the candidate’s stance on that issue: (i) the public salience of an issue; (ii) ideological congruence between candidate and district; and (iii) candidate quality. This argument is tested using data on candidate position-taking regarding the Iraq War and gay marriage collected from the campaign websites of U.S. House candidates in 2006 and 2008.
KeywordsCongressional campaigns Issue positions Candidate strategy
The authors wish to thank M. Scott Meachum, Aaron Embrey, Scott Liebertz, and Andrew Smith for their research assistance. We thank James Druckman, Gary Jacobson, and Walter J. Stone for making available some of the data used in this paper. We would also like to thank Bill Berry, Brad Gomez, David Peterson, and the editors and reviewers for their helpful comments. A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2011 meeting of the American Political Science Association in Seattle.
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