Issue Knowledge and Perceptions of Agreement in the 2004 Presidential General Election

Authors

  • KATE KENSKI,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Arizona
      Kate Kenski teaches political communication at the University of Arizona and was a member of the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey team at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
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  • KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Pennsylvania
      Kathleen Hall Jamieson is the Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication of the University of Pennsylvania and Walter and Leonore Annenberg Director of its Annenberg Public Policy Center.
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  • AUTHORS’ NOTE: We thank Miriam White, research and project assistant at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, for her contributions to the content analysis presented in this article.

Kate Kenski teaches political communication at the University of Arizona and was a member of the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey team at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson is the Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication of the University of Pennsylvania and Walter and Leonore Annenberg Director of its Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Abstract

Using post-election data from the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey, this study finds that compared to the 2000 election, candidate issue knowledge was relatively high by the end of the 2004 general election. It argues that just as in 2000, voters’ mistakes in matching presidential candidates with their issue positions benefited Republican incumbent George W. Bush more than Democratic challenger John Kerry. Perceived agreement with Bush exceeded actual agreement on four issues tested. Taking six demographic variables, party identification, and ideology into consideration, knowledge about the candidates’ issue positions mattered, as more informed respondents preferred Kerry to Bush. On the three issue knowledge items on which citizens performed the worst, content analyses indicate that citizens could have learned about the candidates’ positions from the debates as well as press coverage. We offer a number of explanations for these incorrect answers.

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