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2004 Election Panel Study

The rise of party and interest group campaign advertising over the last few elections has raised some interesting and newsworthy questions about the effects of campaign communications on voters, both in terms of their attitudes toward elections and democracy as well as possible effects on voter behavior. Few studies of campaigns have been able to link the volume, tone, and type of campaign communication to attitudes and behavior of voters. Many political scientists are in agreement that political campaigns have important and measurable effects on voting behavior. What is less understood is just how this link works. Does television advertising, direct mail, telephone calls, or in personal contact have the largest effect, or is it some combination of these factors that affects both a voter’s choice of candidates and their decision about whether or not to vote at all? The tone of campaign communication is also an important factor to consider. Political consultants believe negative campaigns really work, but the evidence produced by political scientists is divided on this issue. Lastly, competitive campaigns can produce an enormous volume of campaign communications. How do voters deal with and process this information? Does more information produce more informed voters or do they feel overloaded and begin to ignore or avoid it?

2004 presents a unique opportunity to study some of these issues. Accordingly, The Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy (CSED) at Brigham Young University and the Wisconsin Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin, Madison are conducting a panel study this election year to better understand the link between campaign communications and voter behavior.

More specifically, we are conducting a three-wave panel study to measure the impact of campaign communications at critical points during the campaign. Panel studies are well suited to our research purposes because the same respondents are reinterviewed at different points in time throughout the campaign permitting us to assess change in attitudes or behavior due to campaign communications. W
e conducted the first wave over an eight day period between June 24 and July 3, completing 2,782 interviews comprising a random sample of the United States with an oversample of potential voters in battleground senate and presidential states. We also oversampled voters in Ohio for a representative look at that key state. The second wave of interviewing will occur in early September. The third wave will begin on Tuesday evening November 2nd (Election Day).

Although much of the instrumentation in the survey is designed to tap the effect of campaign communications on voter behavior, there are a slew of other questions that we hope other scholars can make use of in their research and we are happy to provide real time access to that data as soon as possible over the course of our study and beyond.

Data should be cited in the following way:  The 2004 Election Panel Study, BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy and UW-Madison Wisconsin Advertising Project. Electronic resources from the EPS Web site (http://csp.polisci.wisc.edu/BYU_UW/). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Advertising Project [producer and distributor], 2004, Wave 1.

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