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Issue Knowledge and Perceptions of Agreement in the 2004 Presidential General Election



Using post-election data from the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey, this study finds that compared to the 2000 election, candidate issue knowledge was relatively high by the end of the 2004 general election. It argues that just as in 2000, voters’ mistakes in matching presidential candidates with their issue positions benefited Republican incumbent George W. Bush more than Democratic challenger John Kerry. Perceived agreement with Bush exceeded actual agreement on four issues tested. Taking six demographic variables, party identification, and ideology into consideration, knowledge about the candidates’ issue positions mattered, as more informed respondents preferred Kerry to Bush. On the three issue knowledge items on which citizens performed the worst, content analyses indicate that citizens could have learned about the candidates’ positions from the debates as well as press coverage. We offer a number of explanations for these incorrect answers.