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ScienceDaily (Oct. 28, 2008) — If you think candidates never keep their promises and will say anything to get elected, you’re certainly not alone. And you’re not right, either.
The perception is largely untrue, says Tracy Sulkin, a University of Illinois political scientist, who has conducted an extensive study, apparently the first of its kind, comparing the campaign ads and legislative records of recent congressional officeholders.
Candidates’ words generally match their deeds, according to Sulkin. The issues candidates say are priorities in their commercials are likely ones they care about and will take action on through the introduction and co-sponsoring of legislation, she said.
Whether they are vague or specific on an issue doesn’t matter, Sulkin found. “There turn out to be no differences in subsequent activity among people who just say they care about an issue and people who lay out a specific plan. … Specificity, which we seem overly concerned about, isn’t actually a signal that you care more about the issue,” she said. Instead, what drives candidates to be more specific on issues is the closeness of the race.
When a candidate attacks an opponent on a given issue, however, it does not mean the attacking candidate cares about that issue or will act on it, Sulkin’s research shows. “Negative appeals, appeals that attack the opponent, don’t have much signaling power about what that candidate is going to do,” she said.
In another striking conclusion, Sulkin said that being in a “safe” seat, apparently free from challenge by a candidate from the other party, does not seem to produce unresponsive legislators who feel free to do whatever they want.