INSTITUTE FOR RURAL JOURNALISM & COMMUNITY ISSUES
Research reports on voter guides in Kentucky, North Carolina
October 21, 2004
These reports are the opinion of the researchers.
Family Trust Foundation of Kentucky
The Kentucky Candidate Information Survey (KCIS) is a nonpartisan project sponsored by the Family Trust Foundation of Kentucky, a non-profit organization dedicated to “encouraging and strengthening families and family life in Kentucky.” According to the KCIS, “the issues-only, head-to-head approach avoids pushing a particular agenda, but at the same time, cuts through the political rhetoric often found in campaign literature.”
Kentuckians will be voting this November on an amendment to the Kentucky Constitution, which would define marriage as between one man and one woman. I believe the KCIS distorts what “yes” and “no” votes would mean. For example, according to the KCIS, a “no” vote on the amendment means one supports gay marriage and the rights of gay couples to adopt children. A "no" vote maintains that gay couples could raise children “just as well” as a mother and father. I do not see the words “children” or “adopt” in the proposition. The guide also says those voting “no” on the amendment believe love is all that is necessary for children, and that a “yes” vote “assures every child would have the hope of having both a mother and a father.” Those who support the Amendment, KCIS states, “believe the coming together of the two halves of humanity in marriage (male and female) IS the perfect diversity that children need in their nurture, while same-sex couples offer nothing but 'sameness' to the children they acquire." (Emphasis in original). Not all supporters or opponents of the amendment base their position addressed diversity and child-rearing methods.
The KCIS gave each candidate running for major state and federal offices a series of 20 statements about issues of public interest developed from the 108th Congress or the 2004 Kentucky General Assembly, as well as from state news sources. Candidates were asked to respond to the assertions using “Strongly Disagree,” “Disagree,” “Undecided,” “Agree,” or “Strongly Agree.” They were given 18 words to further explain their responses. They were also given 18 words to list their top three policy priorities.
Some of the issues included the restriction of sexually explicit material on the Internet, the funding of international population control organizations that involve the promotion of abortion, the availability of contraception to teenagers in public schools, and a state-wide ban of nude dance in public areas. While these issues might be expected, I did not expect to see so few questions concerning health care, social security, and education. Also, questions that did concern these issues were addressed in extreme manners. For example, federal candidates were asked the question, "Would you support universal healthcare?" while smaller initiatives were not mentioned.
North Carolina Family Policy Council
The council issued two different voter guides, one for U.S. House and Senate candidates and one for state candidates, including races for governor, the N.C. General Assembly and the judiciary. The Family Policy Council is a conservative group “dedicated to the preservation of the family and traditional family values,” but it is not expressly religious.
The response rate across the board was about 30 percent, with no difference between Democrats and Republicans. Judicial races in North Carolina are non-partisan.
The congressional guide asked candidates 15 questions covering the typical issues of concern for the Christian right, including abortion, gay rights, gambling and pornography, while also touching on immigration policy and the war in Iraq. While the choice of issues is clearly, and understandably, tilted towards cultural issues, the actual text of the questions is quite even-handed, which might explain the even split among respondents.
The guide is most notable, in fact, for what is not there. The typical cultural conservative buzzwords – homosexual, gay, pornography – are nowhere to be found. The question on gay marriage, for example, asks, “Should the United States Constitution be amended to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman?” Another question asks about federal benefits for “domestic partners.” The only question directly dealing with abortion asks, “Should federal funds be used to pay for abortion?” In short, throughout the federal guide the language seems neutral, or even, dare I say, politically correct.
In many ways, the first 14 questions are merely a prelude to the final question. It asks, “Should an individual’s personal religious beliefs influence the decisions he or she makes while serving in public office?” This, of course, is the fundamental issue that voters consulting the FPC guide will want to know. It is also one that is spectacularly ill-suited for a yes/no answer. It is hard to imagine any Bible Belt candidate believing, much less admitting, that religious beliefs play absolutely no role in his or her decision-making (and in fact no major candidate does). The question is how do those beliefs influence their decision, and that is not a question that can be answered in one word.
The FPC’s state-level guide is longer (17 questions) and a bit edgier. The second question, for example, asks “Should homosexuals have the right to adopt children?” Not openly slanted, but also not as neutral as the federal guide. Five of the 17 questions deal with abortion, birth control or stem cell research (versus two of 15 for the federal guide), reflecting, it seems, the FPC’s belief that these battles will be fought at the state level, not in Congress. The final question on the state guide is the same as the federal guide.
In contrast to many voters guides from culturally conservative groups go, the FPC’s guides do seem designed to educate a range of voters rather than to divide them.
Eric M. David, Graduate student
School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Rural Journalism & Community Issues
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Al Cross, interim director , email@example.com