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Analysts:  US Presidential Election Hinges More on Issues Than Personalities - 2004-07-09


Democratic presidential contender John Kerry appears to have gotten a boost in public opinion polls this week with his selection of North Carolina Senator John Edwards as his vice presidential running mate. But, most political experts still expect it will be issues and developments at home and abroad that will determine the outcome of the November election.

Despite the already intense media coverage of this year's U.S. presidential election, political experts caution that most voters do not even begin to pay attention until the final weeks of the campaign.

Jack Pitney is a professor of government at Claremont-McKenna College in California. He spoke with VOA News Now.

"Right now, most voters are not paying much attention to the presidential campaign," he said. "They know they do not have to make their decision until the fall and they have other things on their mind right now, summer vacations, the Olympics and after that, the World Series in baseball."

Once voters do focus on the campaign, they will consider a range of factors including issues, world events and the personalities of the candidates.

Washington-based political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says this year two issues seem paramount as voters consider whether to give President Bush a second four-year term or instead turn to Democrat John Kerry.

"We had a slow economy for a long time but over the last few months significant job growth has helped the president," he said. "And so right now, the president's performance on the economy is improving, according to the voters. His performance on Iraq is sliding, according to the voters, and that is providing the president with a very difficult environment. He needs some sense of optimism on Iraq to fully take advantage of the economy."

The other major factor in the 2004 election is likely to be how the candidates handle the continuing threat of terrorism. Opinion polls indicate the public has greater confidence in the president on this issue than Senator Kerry.

American University presidential historian Allan Lichtman says the public will judge the president on a range of factors stemming from the 2001 terrorist attacks.

"A whole series of issues coming out of 9-11 will be central to this election, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, homeland security, the Patriot Act and the questions that surround George W. Bush about weapons of mass destruction, preparedness for 9-11 and our conduct of the war," he said. "How the electorate determines their view on these issues coming out of 9-11 could decide the election."

Other issues could drive the voters to the polls as well. Social issues like abortion and gay marriage will compete for attention with health care and education.

But most experts believe the state of the domestic economy and what is happening on the ground in Iraq just prior to the election will have the greatest impact on this year's election.

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