Hot issues for upcoming election
By Kira Everhart
With the 2004 presidential elections quickly approaching, the candidates are working hard to make their voices and platforms heard. But the defining issues for this term's presidential candidates are going to be more than just education and environment, said Joe Aistrup, head of the political science department at Kansas State University.
"There are a set of issues that will play a big role in defining the candidates and help the voters make their decision," he said.
One of the strongest of these issues will be the war in Iraq, Aistrup said.
"The question is whether or not some type of stability can be brought to Iraq before the election," he said. "If events turn more positive and fewer American troops die in the fall, this should help to shore up support for President Bush. If events continue on their present course, President Bush's re-election may be in jeopardy."
According to Aistrup, there are three types of voters -- those who have opposed the war from the beginning, those who supported the war but will change their opinions based on events and those who continue to support the war and will support the effort no matter what.
"The individuals whose opinions are swayed by events in Iraq will have a large role in determining the presidential election outcome," Aistrup said.
Aistrup said the effect of the war on the world's view of the United States may also play a role in elections.
"The U.S.'s reputation was damaged because the reasons the Bush Administration told the world it was necessary to go to war didn't pan out," he said. "The lead up to the war, the subsequent occupation and the lack of evidence supporting the Bush administration's stated reasons for invading Iraq have basically wiped away many of the positive feelings many countries had toward the U.S. following 9/11."
For a small group of voters, this issue will probably sway them toward Sen. John Kerry, he said.
The Sept. 11 attacks resulted in a number of events and policy changes, which Aistrup calls the "aftershocks of 9/11." The war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, Homeland Security and the Patriot Act are only a few of such aftershocks.
"These issues and how many voters react to the aftershocks of 9/11 might overwhelm the other issues," Aistrup said. "For example, the more voters view the invasion and occupation of Iraq as legitimate responses to 9/11, the more supportive they are of the Bush administration and the more likely they are to vote for President Bush."
Bush's response to the aftershocks may prove beneficial for him in the voting booths, Aistrup said.
"He appeared to be a strong leader and many voters developed a respect for him in the aftermath of 9/11," Aistrup said.
There are also a couple of domestic issues that are likely to have an influence on the election, Aistrup said, and gay marriage is one of them. Discussion on the constitutionality of gay marriage is occurring all over the country. Although Aistrup believes gay marriage may be a deciding factor for a small number of voters in the presidential elections, he predicts it will play more of a role in state elections.
"But it could bubble up to the presidential level," he said. "For those who are motivated with social issues, this issue represents another piece of red meat for them to feed other voters who share their values."
As in every election, the economy is expected to have an effect on the 2004 elections as well, Aistrup said. However, its role will be more limited than in the past, he added.
"I'm not expecting the economy to have as much of a role as the war in Iraq," he said. Aistrup attributes this to the inconsistency of economic recovery throughout the nation.
"Some states have not experienced the level of recovery that other states have," he said. If the economy plays a significant role, however, it will be in the swing states, Aistrup said. These are the states that are expected to be extremely close, such as Florida, Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico and Missouri.
"Several of these states went for Bush in 2000, but, because of the downturn in their economies and higher fuel prices, enough swing voters could put these states in the Kerry column," Aistrup said. "The margin of victory for either candidate will be comparatively small in these states, so a small block of voters, motivated by economic issues, could play important roles in determining the presidential election."