Election Campaigns, Issue Focus and Voting Intentions: Survey Experiments of Norwegian Voters
Carl Henrik Knutsen, Audun Beyer and Bjørn Erik Rasch
Scandinavian Political Studies 2014 37(4) pp. 406-427.
This article investigates whether and how changes in issue focus in election campaigns affect voting intention, even if no preference change takes place, and whether such effects vary systematically across different groups of voters. Evidence is reported from two survey experiments of Norwegian voters, where respondents were treated with information drawing their attention towards issues pertaining either to immigration or the environment. Although irrelevant for policy learning or persuasion, this information strongly increased the support of particular parties. More specifically, parties with ‘ownership’ of the issues involved gained votes. Certain types of voters were more likely to change voting intentions post-treatment than others, but which types crucially depended on the issue area under focus. Nevertheless, the results indicate that the issue focus of campaigns is very important for vote choice. Hence, one should expect that, for instance, even ‘neutral’ political news coverage at or close to election day could affect voters in predictable ways. Furthermore, one should expect different parties to fight hard to steer the focus of campaigns towards issues where they have ownership.