Sam Youngman and the Kentucky Senate Race

This past week we interviewed Sam Youngman concerning the Kentucky Senate Race. Youngman is a national political writer, spending ten years in Washington, D.C. before moving back home to Kentucky and joining the Lexington Herald-Leader. In 2012 Youngman was a correspondent for Reuters where he was on the campaign trail with presidential nominee Mitt Romney, in addition to spending over three years as a White House correspondent for The Hill covering Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Youngman, too, has covered countless House and Senate races, and thus we wished to capture his views on the Kentucky Senate race.

Below, find a portion of our interview. While many of these topics have been discussed in previous blog posts, Youngman adds a journalistic perspective. 

1. From a journalistic standpoint, what is the least covered aspect of the Kentucky Senate Race as of now?

Honestly, I think it is education. This race has become dominated by coal and jobs. Both of those are important issues but they are not the only issues. Really what we are seeing here is a nakedly political race. Most times we claim to talk about the issues, but that’s not what we’re really doing here. What we are seeing is both sides using issues to frame the politics the way they want. For Senator McConnell, that means coal: using coal to tie Alison Lundergan Grimes to President Obama and to national Democrats like Senate Leader Harry Reid. For Alison Lundergan Grimes that means taking a comment that Senator McConnell says about jobs and trying to turn that into a comment on his thirty years in Washington and the current economic state of Kentucky. So you see we aren’t really talking about solutions on these issues, we are talking about who is worse on these issues.

2. You mentioned Senator McConnell trying to tie Secretary Grimes to Democratic leaders in Washington like President Obama and Harry Reid. While we have heard this several times, do you think that Grimes has been successful in her effort to distance herself from Obama and Reid?

I think from what we saw on the primary night the answer is ‘no’. But that is just for now, that is why we have campaigns so you can try and change these narratives. But what we saw primary night was that in coal-producing counties where voters had been inundated for months by advertising that made that effort to tie Grimes to Obama and Harry Reid and on primary night in a closed Democratic primary, Alison Lundergan Grimes really underperformed in a number of counties. In some places, close to 40% of the people voted for another Democrat even though none of the other Democrats put any money into the race. So I would say that early on the numbers would indicate McConnell has had some success with that strategy. What we have seen from Grimes since the primary, and really since she has gotten in the race, is a concerted effort portray herself as an independent voice. It is too early to tell if she is having any success in that push back. But, I think given the long period she was in the race without really introducing herself on a mass scale to voters, I think it is going to be an uphill battle for her to put daylight between her and the President.

3. One of our blog posts deals with when a candidate takes a position on an issue or not. So for McConnell, we wrote about how he was fervently against Obamacare, but then after the success of Kynect, was forced to rethink some of his statements. Recently you have written about Grimes not taking a clear stance on immigration funding…do you think that this is an issue which is salient enough in Kentucky to where she will be forced to take a stance?

Oh, I think so. It is a crisis that is getting national attention. Just this morning the McConnell campaign put out a release noting the different positions that Secretary Grimes has taken on the crisis since we started asking about it. I was really struck a couple weeks ago when we asked Secretary Grimes about the Presidential request for an emergency supplemental funding bill to address the crisis and she declined to take a position. But, it also seemed like she didn’t really know what we were asking. She kept referring to the 2013 Senate Immigration Bill. So I was really struck when she wasn’t more engaged on that issue, considering what big news it’s been. But I think immigration is going to continue to be one of the dominate, hot button issues in this country until there is a comprehensive reform passed, or until it is dealt with, it will continue to be this hot button issue…and I don’t know when that will be. Chuck Todd was here the other night and he said ‘look at the calendar, when do you see immigration getting done? This election year, the next election year, or in 2016 when everyone is running for President?’ So I think yes, it will be a big issue this year and a big issue going forward.

Do you think that voters are currently upset with Grimes for not taking a stance on immigration? Or are they even aware that she hasn’t?

You know, that is the big question: how much are people paying attention? My feeling has always been voters aren’t making up their mind during the spring/summer, but they are forming general impressions. If a general impression, especially for somebody young and their opponent is trying to push the idea that they don’t have the experience or the policy knowledge to do the job, and I feel that if the general impression confirms either of those things, then it becomes a problem. You know, polling conducted in the spring showed that as much as a third of voters didn’t know enough about Secretary Grimes to make an opinion. That is a danger zone for a candidate because that means not only have they not defined themselves with voters, but they have also given their opponent the opportunity to define them for them…and that is a real dangerous place to be. I do think that as we move into the fall campaign it will be on her to not only rebut those notions but really prove that she is capable of doing the job.

4. Do you think that Grimes, as a challenger, is different from McConnell’s previous challengers? Does she have an advantage of any sort over the failed challengers of the past?

I do. I think that when you are running against someone who has been in office for thirty years in a time when American distain for Washington and Washington institutions is an all-time high, being sort of a fresh face is an unmeasurable advantage. Really successful politicians, however, can turn an advantage into a weakness, and I think we’ll see Senator McConnell do that. One of his campaign lines is ‘my opponent will say she is a fresh face, but she is a fresh face for the status quo.’ I’m not sure how effective that will be, but I do think that is a bar any young candidate has to clear.

5. What is it then that is McConnell’s biggest advantage aside from incumbency?

His greatest advantage is that he lives for races like this. A close race, with his back against the wall, this is Mitch McConnell’s idea of Christmas. He is the guy that lives for the fight….and I think Alison Grimes is going to give him one.

So you’re saying that he does well under pressure?

I am. I mean if you look at his numbers throughout the course of his career, he has never really been what you would call ‘beloved’. He is a survivor. It is races that are in the margin of error are where he really excels. I think one of the reasons they are so confident right now is that if you look at the moderate district Senate races, Democrats don’t have a problem getting to where Alison Grimes is getting— mid-to-high 40s, no problem. It’s getting over that that is the problem, and I have to believe that right now with the way the electorate has been trending, the problems that national Democrats are having, especially beginning and ending at the White House, are creating an environment that is favorable to McConnell. But, I come back to that it is not just Obama that people are mad at in Washington, it is all of Washington, and that includes Senator McConnell.

6. Our last question is this: come November, will it be an issue that matters most to voters or will it be straight partisanship, like we touched on earlier?

There is what is known as an ‘October-Surprise’ in just about every election. I always about this point in a race I laugh myself thinking I’ve got such a good handle on the race, but I’ve been doing it long enough to know that there is a good chance something will happen that none of us see coming that could dramatically alter the contours of the race. But if the current trend lines hold, I think what the race is about will tell you who won. If it is a referendum on Barack Obama, then Mitch McConnell wins a sixth term. If it is a referendum on Mitch McConnell, I won’t say that Alison Lundergan Grimes definitely wins, but I would say that favors her. Like I said, this is a nakedly political race—whoever is better at framing the debate will win this race.

An Interview with Dr. Rohr on the Role of Gender in Politics

The following is an interview with Dr. Lia Rohr who came to Centre College in 2013 as a Visiting Professor of Politics. She received a B.A. in history from the University of Arizona and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from Southern Illinois University. She studies the intersection of gender, the media, and American politics.

Alison Grimes has been placing a lot of emphasis on her gender, presumably in hopes that Kentucky women, who make up 53% of the electorate, will be more likely to vote in her favor come November 4th. Do you think this strategy will be successful?

While “playing to gender” has proven to be a successful  strategy in some contexts and with some voters,  I think it would be a mistake for Grimes to continue this pronounced gender-based strategy, as it has the potential to turn off as many voters as it might attract to her camp. We have to keep in mind that parts of Kentucky are pretty conservative, and a gender-based focus might not be the most effective strategy in some areas.  If she wishes to defeat McConnell, she might want to shift some of the attention away from her gender and toward a focus on her qualifications.

How do you think that Mitch McConnell or the national Republican Party will deal with the role of gender in the campaign? What effect might that have on voters?

McConnell will likely tread very lightly on gender in order to avoid making any ill-timed gaffes, such as the one’s that plagued male candidates of his party in 2012.  McConnell’s team might attempt to mitigate the focus on gender altogether or, conversely, focus on gender from either a family-values or economic independence perspective. He will also need to be careful not to appear as though he is attacking Grimes too overtly, as that might turn a number of voters off.

In my last post, I discussed Alice Eagly’s argument that a female’s disadvantage in politics stems from a necessity to assume both the female gender role but also the stereotypically “male” leadership role characteristics. Do you find validity to that argument? What other arguments do you find particularly convincing in explaining this disadvantage?  

It is true that women candidates are often plagued by a “double bind,” in which they must walk a metaphorical tight rope between feminity and competency, but I do believe that more voters have become aware of this and less likely to punish women who don’t fit the ideal image of female candidate who effectively balances the two sides of the bind.  Unfortunately, this is still a reality and one that is often perpetuated by the media.  However, I think as we see more in politics, the need to appeal to the double bind will diminish.

On the most basic level, do you consider it an advantage or a disadvantage to be a woman in American politics? 

While in some contexts and in some districts, being a woman might actually be advantageous, I think that overall women still face an uphill battle.  While women are just as successful as their male counterparts when they do run, a lot of women, even highly qualified women, are reluctant to run.  Unfortunately, many women do not feel they are qualified to run (even when they are) or are turned off by what they perceive as the hostile nature of electoral politics.  Also, women are less likely to be encouraged to run, though this is changing.  And while some voters are still biased against women candidates, others are not.  The key is to get more women to run.

What was your Ph.D. dissertation about? Does it relate to the Kentucky Senate race? If so, how?

In my dissertation, I looked at how U.S. House candidates in a variety of electoral contexts negotiate gender role expectations in their campaign communications through the performance of gender-based archetypes.  These archetypes range from the overtly feminine/masculine “mother” or “alpha male” characterizations to the more modern and less overtly gendered professional or modern man/women role.  This definitely relates to the Kentucky Senate race.  In my study I found that while many women challengers running against male incumbents pursued an overtly feminine gender-based strategy, none of them were successful in defeating the male incumbent.  This implies that “playing to gender” might not be the best strategy for a woman candidate.  If anything, Grimes needs to prove to the public that she is just as competent and qualified as McConnell.  Emphasizing her gender, to a certain, extent, is necessary, but to win in such a high profile race, she will need to prove to the voters that she is more than her gender.  Whatever the outcome, it will be an exciting race to watch from both a political and gender-based perspective.

The Gender Vote: Myth or Reality?

This past week while in Buckner, Kentucky, Senator Mitch McConnell made the comment that, “even though Alison Grimes has the female position on the ballot, it doesn’t mean she will get the gender vote.”  The question we must ask here is simple: is McConnell correct in his assumption?

It is a common fact that women are less politically active than men on several accounts. For example, women are less likely to contact their elected official, less likely to affiliate with political organizations, and less likely to run or serve in an elected office. However, it is interesting to know that when it comes to voter turnout, even in non-presidential elections, women equal, and at times exceed, men in voter turnout. Thus, if it is possible to gain the gender vote, it could prove to be vital to a campaign.

With that, is it possible to gain the gender vote? According to David E. Broockman, the answer is simple: women candidates are not a shoo-in for the woman vote.  Broockman examines at a state level whether women’s voter turnout rises when there is a female candidate on the ballot, and he finds at a 95% confidence level that, at most, women’s turnout will rise by no more than 0.9 percentage points due to a female candidate. Thus, this would suggest that statistically, whether a woman is on the ballot or not, women will typically not increase in numbers to vote for female candidates.

With, at most, less than a 1 percent increase in women’s voter turnout, the next question is whether the women who are turning out to vote are voting along gender lines or along partisan lines in the presence of female candidate (i.e. will a Republican woman vote for a Democratic candidate due to her gender, or stick with the male Republican due to her ideological beliefs?). Research has shown that sex has virtually no presence in voter choice, that women do not vote as a bloc, and that “winning elections has nothing to do with the sex of the candidate and everything to do with incumbency”. Only when conditions between the two candidates running are even on every account other than gender (which is rare) will a person use a candidate’s sex when casting their vote.  Thus, according to this research, Republican women are showing up to vote for the Republican candidate, and Democratic women are showing up to vote for the Democratic candidate. There is little, if any, cross over (as shown here in the political party exit poll).

With this information, it would seem that McConnell could be correct in saying that Grimes is not guaranteed the gender vote. However, it must be noted, that while Grimes may receive more votes by women than McConnell, that would not necessarily disprove McConnell’s statement, because nationally, women tend to have a Democratic advantage in terms of partisanship. Thus, it is only when Republican women make a decision to vote for a Democratic candidate based solely on the candidate’s gender that it could be said that Grimes was receiving a “gender vote,” and according to previous research, that rarely happens. Partisanship matters much, much more than gender in determining vote choice for national elections. Therefore, this research would suggest that Grimes shouldn’t bank on the vote of women to boost her above McConnell in the polls, and McConnell is historically correct in his statement.

Gender and Politics: An Explanation of Females’ Disadvantage

In my last post, I discussed Alison Grimes and how her political experience and gender will affect her chances at beating Mitch McConnell for the Kentucky Senate seat. I explored a relationship where being a female puts the candidate at a disadvantage. Why does this relationship exist? Why is it that until 2000, a female challenger had never beaten a male incumbent in a senate race?

A study concerning the female advantages and disadvantages in leadership claims that in contemporary culture, women are recognized as having a good combination of skills for leadership lending women to superior leadership styles and outstanding effectiveness. However, there are statistics that show that women often come in second to men in competition to attain leadership positions.

This study defines good leadership as future-orientated rather than present-oriented, an ability to foster followers’ commitment, and an ability to contribute creatively to organizations. The study also argued that particular leader roles demand certain types of leadership, which essentially confines men and women in the same role (such as candidates for the Senate) to behave in the same ways.

So why might women and men display different leadership styles within the set confines of a leadership role? Women are faced with the conflicting demands of their roles of as women and as leaders. People expect and prefer that women be communal, exhibiting traits such as kindness, concern for others, warmth, and gentleness. Men are expected to possess traits such as confidence, aggressiveness, and self-direction. Stereotypes about leaders generally coincide with stereotypes of men more than with stereotypes of women, thus many perceive men as more natural in most leadership roles and this places women at a disadvantage. As a result, the general public more easily credits men with leadership ability and are more apt to accept them as leaders.

These cultural stereotypes create a double-edged sword for female leaders. Not only are they expected to possess the characteristics expected in female gender roles, they are also expected to be aggressive, confident, and self-directed as are inherent of leadership roles. Females are constantly seeking a middle ground that is not unacceptably masculine or unacceptably feminine and are thus at a disadvantage.

What does this mean for Grimes? It would seem that being forced to find the necessary middle ground to suit the role as a female and also a leader will be a difficult challenge. Whereas, McConnell will face fewer contradictory expectations between his gender and leadership roles and is thus at an advantage when paired against a female challenger. This inherent disadvantage for Grimes is one that will be necessary to overcome in order to win the Senate seat.

McConnell Makes Stops Around KY: Even Educational Events Can Bring Votes

This past week Senator Mitch McConnell made his rounds in Kentucky performing both campaign duties and educational opportunities for local citizens.

Last Wednesday, July 2nd, McConnell met with local farmers in Lebanon, Kentucky to discuss pertinent issues in agriculture policy. The event housed around 45 people at the Marion County Extension Office, with attendants including State Senator Jimmy Higdon (R-KY), State Representative Terry Mills (D-24th district),  and several local county photo (7)executives. McConnell opened the event talking about the specific ways in which he has been able to help Kentucky through agriculture policy, including his success in the Tobacco Buyout, the Estate Tax, and the passage of Farm Bill. McConnell then opened the floor to questions from the audience, where attendants asked questions ranging from legislation on trade, energy, the new EPA regulations on water quality (specifically water on Kentucky farms), and inquiring about ways to incentivize young farmers to continue Kentucky’s agricultural tradition. After the audience had finished their questions, McConnell then went and shook hands and talked to nearly every person who attended the event.

That same week, McConnell and his wife, Secretary Chao, attended the annual Independence Day Parade in Campbellsville, Kentucky, and also at this event was 10507006_762238557131990_2096193074664725404_oSecretary of State Alison Grimes. This was the first time since last summer that the two candidates were in the same place at the same time.  McConnell and Grimes both participated in the parade, with a slew of volunteers behind each of them, passing out campaign paraphernalia and chanting cheers as the candidates marched down Main Street.  (photo) Continue reading

Candidate Characteristics and the Impact on a Challenger

Alison Grimes is a young woman who is currently Kentucky’s 75th Secretary of State. Previously, she was a practicing attorney in Lexington, Kentucky specializing in intellectual property and complex business litigation. Grimes gained her law degree from Washington College of Law at American University in Washington, D.C. How will these characteristics affect her chances at winning the Senate seat?

An article written by Peverill Squire of the University of Iowa addresses these questions by analyzing the relationship between “candidate quality” and how the candidate performs on Election Day. He gauges “candidate quality” through name recognition, fund raising ability, and political experience. Senate incumbent defeats come much more often than Representative incumbent defeats and until recently this was attributed to because the fact that Senators are more likely to face competent, skilled, well-funded challengers as compared to challengers.

In Squire’s study, of the 155 Senate challengers over a period of six years, over a third were not in a political office at the time of the Senate race. Statewide officials, such as Secretary of State, comprised only 10% of the challengers. Those challengers with political experience, especially high-powered positions, were more successful in the campaigns they ran, whereas challengers not holding office and lacking political experience won the election far less often. This suggests that political experience is related to campaign success. Thus, Grimes who is currently Secretary of State is at an advantage (compared to other challengers). She is more adept at running a campaign, has name-recognition, and has established necessary grounds for fund-raising.

Another characteristic that affected Senate outcomes in Squire’s analysis is the sex of a candidate. Female challengers won just 9% of their races, whereas male challengers won 31% of their races. Women candidates were successful only in open-seat races, and even in that situation they won at lower rates than their male counterparts. During this study, no woman beat an incumbent although 16 ran. Men had more success with 21 out of 95 beating an incumbent. So although Grimes holds political office, the fact that she is a female would suggest a grim outlook for her chances of election in the upcoming Senate race.

That being said, this study was performed over a decade ago and this disadvantage for female candidates may be weaker than it was in the past. In 2000, Maria Cantwell from Washington and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan became the first women to defeat incumbent senators. Since 2000, subsequent women have defeated a male incumbent. Will Grimes be able to defeat McConnell? Although it is a rarity, it has been done.

The Advantage of the Field Office: The More, The Better

As Senator Mitch McConnell and Secretary of State Alison Grimes continue to race across Kentucky in hopes of votes, it is without question that their campaign teams are constantly searching to see how one candidate may have an advantage on the other. While in the media the focus never strays too far from the difference in money in either campaign, perhaps the media is missing another component of great importance: the drastic difference in the number of field offices between McConnell and Grimes. According to Alan Abramowitz, this can make an impact on the election outcome.

Abramowitz looked at the effects of advertising spending and field offices in the 2008 Presidential election. From his research, he found that within 15 battleground states, Obama had 281 field offices and McCain only 94. Below is a breakdown of the field offices by state (Source: Table 1)

After controlling for underlying partisan predispositions in the 15 states, Abramowitz was able to independently test advertising spending and the number of field offices, and found that each do make a difference in the election. In fact, Abramowitz’s study showed that the impact of field offices can be just as significant as advertising spending. He points to the fact that the field offices may have contributed to the Obama’s Indiana and North Carolina victories, and to the fact that Missouri almost turned blue for the first time since 1996.Thus, for Abramowitz, when comparing the costs of a field office versus the cost of television advertising, he said that it may be more of an efficient use of campaign funds to open more field offices than to pay for more television ads.

The advantage of having more field offices in your campaign is that a field office is a great way to have personal communication and interaction with the politician’s campaign staff. Those working in the field are able to contact constituents in an area and rally them together to do things such as canvasing, helping out in phone banks, be attendants at political events, participate in local politics, and be able to answer any question or need that a constituent may have. This further helps with political efficacy and suddenly your campaign team turns from just hired staff to a team of volunteers across the state ready to help at any moment, and most importantly, these constituents feel as if they are furthering the campaign and thus will be much more willing to vote, in most cases. Therefore, field offices help to get out the vote, and they also give a politician a slew of resources that they didn’t have before.

While this study does allude to the importance of field offices, it must be taken into context that this was a Presidential election, not a Senatorial election, and thus our conclusions must be made with that in mind. But, if we are able to extrapolate these findings, we will see that McConnell may have an early advantage. Currently, McConnell has eight field offices (Bowling Green, Eastern Kentucky, Hardin County, Lexington, Northern Kentucky, Oldham County, Somerset, and Western Kentucky) and Grimes only three (Lexington, Louisville, Frankfort).  Thus, from this study, it would suggest that McConnell may have an advantage over Grimes. However, when speaking with the Grimes campaign office, it appears that the campaign team is in the midst of setting up several more offices spreading across Kentucky. While they did not specify which areas of Kentucky the field offices may be or give a timeline as to when they would be set up, it may be that soon the possible early advantage of field offices which McConnell has may be neutralized. Only time will be able to tell.

Alison Grimes and Elizabeth Warren Rally For Students

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Sunday morning, Caroline and I attended a Grimes campaign event at The Red Barn at the University of Louisville. Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts spoke on behalf of Grimes, repeating her endorsement and also speaking on student loans. The venue held 280 people and the excess crowd was allowed to move onto the patio and stand to observe from outside a door. Speakers also included the President of the UL College Democrats. As people began to fill in, our position on the patio was soon transformed into a nearly front-row viewing of the rally!

Senator Warren spoke about her roots and family history and then proceeded to discuss her academic career, where she started and how photofar she has come from her beginnings. She spoke with poise about the necessity of an affordable college education. She discussed the importance of another woman in Congress working hard for the middle class and for those students to make this education a possibility. Secretary Grimes then stood and discussed these same points, making it clear that she would work for Kentucky to make these possible and would work to end the all-too-polarized Senate. Grimes stated that Kentucky needs a woman who would work for those teachers that make barely enough to get by and need to get their Masters degree but cannot afford to do so. She also declared that a woman that will fight for equal pay for equal work and that a woman that will give veterans the rights they deserve.

How effective are these elite endorsements from politicians such as Senator Warren? A previous post discussed just that and argued that high profile endorsements, such as that by Senator Warren, can have a positive impact on the candidate so long as the endorser is well-liked by the public. How effective are these campaign events at mobilizing voters? This question was also discussed briefly in another previous post that argued that campaigns do utilize important mechanisms, such as rallies or events, that in turn increase voter turnout.

But the question here is, how effective are campaign rallies at getting potential voters involved and getting them excited for November? Prior to the event today, the Grimes campaign called all those who RSVP’d to the event to confirm that they would be there. Although we interpreted this to mean that the Grimes campaign may have been anxious about low attendance, the event met capacity at the venue and there was still a large line waiting to get in. A psychological analysis of why people turn out to vote asserts that these rallies can inspire turnout and foster civic skills. The authors argue that the more a person is engaged with political activity and is working with others, the more appealing casting a vote will later appear to be. Getting involved, volunteering, and attending events is likely to incentivize one’s decision to vote come November. Thus, it makes sense why candidates put so much time and money into these rallies, as they can help encourage attendees to maintain the enthusiasm to vote in November.


Newspaper Endorsements and The Impact on Senate Candidates

The media have long played an important part of politics and political campaigns.  Historically, the press has played two significant roles during elections.

First, the press has been the middleman between the candidate and the citizens for the better part of two centuries. Most of what citizens know about their candidates comes from media outlets. Candidates also use these media outlets to broadcast their message to potential supports, making it one of the best ways to spread information quickly. Second, the press is also known for agenda setting by emphasizing certain political topics over others. Thus, the press has the ability, alongside politicians, to define what the important issues are and what ought to be paid attention to.

The press is not the same one that existed two centuries ago. Newspapers used to be shamelessly partisan and were viewed as political propaganda. Today, newspapers attempt to limit any displays of political preferences to the editorial pages while striving for impartiality throughout the rest of the paper. However, the endorsement decisions made by newspapers, as is displayed in the degree of coverage, may affect the readers’ opinions of the competing candidates.

A study done by Arizona State University’s Kim Kahn and Patrick Kenney suggests that the press can have a significant impact on citizens’ opinion of a candidate during a Senate election. In the first section of the study these researchers looked at editorial endorsements and their relationship to overall coverage in the given newspaper. They focused on the major newspaper in the state for each of the races they were studying and created a scale. The scale had to do with the overall tone of coverage and was rated as positive, negative, mixed, or neutral. The study found a positive relationship where a newspaper offering an editorial endorsement then led to more positively slanted coverage of said candidate by that newspaper’s reporters. The second half of the study looked at whether or not these editorial endorsements, and in turn more slanted coverage, led to a more positive view of the candidate by citizens. This portion of the study analyzed a survey in which citizens were able to rate their feelings about said candidate through a feeling thermometer. The study concluded that there was a positive relationship between an editorial endorsement and the citizens’ positive view of said candidate. In sum, they concluded that newspaper endorsements can indeed affect opinions toward Senate candidates.

Although editorial endorsements have yet to be made by papers in Kentucky and will likely not surface until much closer to November, what can we predict from this study? We can expect that whomever the largest newspapers in Kentucky choose to endorse will likely reap the benefit of citizens having a more positive view of them. This endorsement may come as a result of a number of different things that the ASU study explains. These editorial endorsements may come because the candidate shares the same political party or ideology as the publisher and editors. The endorsements may also come if the newspapers’ executives believe that giving a candidate an endorsement will later look favorably on the newspaper and possibly lend a helping hand. Regardless of the reason for the endorsement, what is important to note is that the candidate that receives the most editorial endorsements from the largest read papers in Kentucky will likely benefit from more positively slanted coverage and will in turn be perceived more positively by Kentucky’s citizens, which might just give them a boost on Election Day.

Position Potentials and Pitfalls: When Politicians Take Clear Stances on Issues

Senator Mitch McConnell and Secretary of State Alison Grimes are leaving no time to spare in the race to the November election. Our television screens are full of political advertisements, our neighbors’ yards are surfaced with political posters, and the newspaper ads are just the beginning of what is to come. With the nearing of the election, it is important that voters are aware of the positions each candidate has taken on the issues. In the following blog post, I will explain the reasons why candidates do and do not take clear positions on issues, and then discuss three issues that are important to Kentuckians with McConnell’s and Grimes’ positions on each issue.

According to Kerri Militia, John Ryan, and Elizabeth Simas, there are three factors which indicate whether a candidate will take a clear stance on an issue.

1. Public salience of the issue. Militia, et al. state that when an issue is prominent enough in a candidate’s electorate, the candidate is forced to take a clear position on the issue—it is unavoidable. This is why on the largest issues affecting the state, most informed voters are able to tell you clear positions taken by candidates, but when lesser known issues arise, it is not as consistent that informed voters know each candidates’ position.

2. Ideological congruency of the candidate with the district (for our purposes, the state). This refers to where the candidate aligns on the left/right political spectrum as compared to the rest of the state. When a candidate does not align with the median ideological preferences of the state overall, the candidate is less likely to take a clear position on an issue for fear of risking votes.

3. Quality of the candidate. According to the criteria used in the study, Militia, et al. would find both McConnell and Grimes to be quality candidates seeing as they both have held elected position in the state. As part of the same category, the study would also argue that as the Senate incumbent, McConnell would be less likely to take clear stances on issues than his challenger, and use valence (a candidate’s positive and negative characteristics) more than clear position taking as a reason for which to vote for him, and Grimes would use a balance of valence and clear position taking for reasons which to vote for her. Thus, when considering an issue, a candidate has a series of factors which indicate whether it is valuable to take a clear position or not.

Following are the stances that both candidates have taken on issues:


Militia, et al.’s first criteria was that of issue importance in the electorate, and there is no issue more important than coal in Kentucky. As expected, both McConnell and Grimes have taken stances firmly in favor of supporting the coal industry in Kentucky. The reason for this is most likely that the salience of the issue in Kentucky is clear—a candidate cannot be wishy-washy about the issue of coal in Kentucky, nor can they be elected by taking a stance against coal. While Grimes has repeatedly stated that she opposes legislation hindering the coal industry, McConnell continually tries to group her with Democratic leaders such as President Obama and Leader Reid who put barriers against the coal industry, and McConnell says that while she claims to be supportive of the industry, Grimes’ campaign is being funded by anti-coal activists. However, it is also important to know that while it is true that Grimes does have anti-coal donators to her campaign, so does McConnell.


With the success that Kynect has brought Kentuckians (421,000 Kentuckians have enrolled), both McConnell and Grimes have difficulty coming up with a clear stance on the issue. McConnell, one of the largest critics of Obamacare, says that he has a hardline stance against Obamacare, but that he is in support of Kynect. While this seems like a safe answer, Grimes and Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear have repeatedly stated that without Obamacare, Kynect would be entirely dismantled (click here to see Beshear’s full statement of repealing Obamacare and dismantling Kynect). As for Grimes, she has not taken a position either way, though she is quick to criticize McConnell’s position. If Grimes were to say she supports Kynect, after saying that it cannot exist without Obamacare, Grimes runs the risk of McConnell grouping her even closer to Obama and releasing statements that she supports Obamacare—one of the leading issues that Kentuckians consistently oppose. Thus, because there is no safe answer for either candidate, and because it is not as salient in the public as other issues, no clear stance has been given. Further, according to Militia, et al., neither candidate is safe to take a clear position on the issue due to the second factor of ideological congruency. Grimes is probably farther to the left than most Kentuckians on the issue of Obamacare, and McConnell is farther to the right on the issue, seeing that his stance to repeal Obamacare could possibly dismantle Kynect. So, for now, it is not safe for either candidate to take a hardline stance, until the issue becomes salient, the two candidates will more than likely continue to dance around issue instead of confronting it.

Minimum Wage

The issue of Minimum Wage is an issue where both McConnell and Grimes have taken clear positions, though opposite of one another. For McConnell, the idea of raising minimum wage to $10.10/hr is a ‘job killer’, but according to Alison Grimes, it is a ‘job creator’. While it is reported that the polls indicate favor for an increase in minimum wage, it does not seem that McConnell will waiver from his clear position. As for Grimes, she has made this a leading issue in her campaign, saying to an audience in Louisville that the first thing she will do as Senator is put her name to a minimum wage hike. According to McConnell, this is nothing more than a “Democratic distraction” from the real job killer: Obamacare. Thus, while both have taken a clear stance on the issue, it is interesting to see that the stances are not unified. Militia, et al. would predict that the reason for this is most likely ideological congruency. In Kentucky there is economic variance, with the most eastern part of the state being much poorer than the rest of the state. Thus, Grimes will be able to pull her support for raising minimum wage from the ideological congruence of this part of the state, while McConnell will be able to pull his support from richer parts of the state that lean more economically conservative. Therefore, because there is support for both sides of the issue of raising minimum wage, each candidate is safe to take a stance on the issue.