Dialogue in American Political Campaigns? An Examination of Issue Convergence in Candidate Television Advertising


  • The authors thank Ernesto Calvo, Charles Franklin, Lee Sigelman, several anonymous reviewers, and audiences at the 2003 Midwest Political Science Association conference, the Bush School of Government at Texas A & M University, the University of California-Davis and George Washington University for their helpful comments. We are also grateful to Ken Goldstein for the use of the Wisconsin Advertising Project data.

Noah Kaplan is assistant professor of political science, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204 (nkaplan@uh.edu). David K. Park is assistant professor of political science, Washington University, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130 (dpark@artsci.wustl.edu). Travis N. Ridout is assistant professor of political science, Washington State University, 816 Johnson Tower, Troy Lane, Pullman, WA 99164-4880 (tnridout@wsu.edu).


The theory of issue ownership holds that competing candidates should avoid discussing many of the same issues during a campaign. In contrast, theories of democracy suggest that competitive elections are the mechanism by which the public can hold politicians accountable. To determine the extent to which each theory depicts current campaigns, we develop a new measure of “issue convergence” and test whether or not issue convergence increases as the competitiveness of the race increases. Using new data based upon television advertising aired in U.S. Senate campaigns from 1998 through 2002, we find that issue engagement or dialogue occurs more frequently than indicated by previous research. We also find that issue engagement increases with the competitiveness of the race but that issue engagement decreases as the gap in financial resources between candidates increases.