- The Washington Times - Friday, July 16, 2004

The presidential campaign may prove to be a ground war rather than an air war.

A study released yesterday from the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University finds that both Democrats and Republicans are scurrying to doorsteps, mailboxes, sidewalks and phone lines to get their messages to voters.

The reason: The allure of slick and relentless television campaigns could be on the wane.

“The parties have rediscovered the front porch as a very effective way to mobilize people and energize voters,” said David Magleby, who directed the research.

“The trend reinvents an old idea, but it also marks a cultural shift, too,” Mr. Magleby said. “Voter outreach has been long dominated by broadcast messages and media consultants with big budgets. That trend is changing, however.”

While President Bush has long presented a friendly, down-home appeal to voters, his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, is just getting around to perfecting the neighborly touch.

He officially christened his campaign the “Front Porch Tour” yesterday, and pledged to bring “shared vision and values to front porches across America,” not to mention “hometown values.”

The nation could be primed for such fare, however.

“Presidential elections have largely been fought on TV until now. Between the explosion of campaign spending, the oversaturation of political television advertising and the new restrictions on such activity, the election may well be decided on the ground as much as the air,” Mr. Magleby said.

Revised Federal Election Commission rules restrict “electioneering communications,” which mention a candidate’s name within 60 days of a general election.

The candidates have about seven weeks left to make their case on the TV screen.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry each have spent about $80 million so far this year on campaign spots — but for Mr. Kerry, it could be all for naught.

The study found that 13 percent of respondents said they did not know how to “assess” Mr. Kerry, compared with 4 percent who were unsure about Mr. Bush.

The study also lauded Republican strategy as successful in emphasizing “Kerry’s indecisiveness” and Mr. Bush’s “leadership.”

The effort “seems to have had an impact on voters’ perceptions of the candidates,” the study noted. It found that almost half of the respondents said Mr. Kerry “changes his mind too often,” compared with 29 percent who felt that way about Mr. Bush.

Another 55 percent said Mr. Bush was a strong leader, compared with 39 percent for Mr. Kerry. Nationwide, the study found 47 percent of the respondents supported Mr. Bush and 45 percent Mr. Kerry.

The survey of 2,782 adults was conducted from June 24 to July 3 in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kerry’s image was also cited by a separate study released yesterday by Media Tenor. In a comparison of magazine and newspaper articles, which ran in corresponding six-month periods during the two presidential election years, the Berlin-based research group stated, “Al Gore was more visible in 2000 than Kerry in 2004.”

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