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MU Professor Says Republicans Will Likely Focus on Policy and Character Issues during Their First Televised Debate

May 3, 2007

Story Contact:  Bryan Daniels, 573-882-9144,
William Benoit, 573-882-0545,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Today, the 2008 Republican presidential contenders will square off at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in the first nationally televised debate of the campaign season. A University of Missouri-Columbia researcher, who will analyze the debate, said GOP candidates are likely to focus on policy and character issues.

“Past research finds that candidates from both major political parties tend to emphasize policy over character, but Democrats are likely to stress policy more and character less than Republicans,” said William Benoit, communication professor in the College of Arts and Science and one of the nation’s leading experts on political campaigns. “We should look to see how much the Republicans address these two topics in their first debate.”

Last week, the Democrats held their first debate and, according to Benoit, discussed policy 72 percent of the time; 28 percent of the discussion was devoted to character issues.

He also will observe the tone of the forum and whether the GOP candidates are positive or negative in their remarks. Benoit wants to see if the Republican hopefuls are critical of the current administration.

“Given President Bush’s low popularity, it will be interesting to see how much fellow Republicans distance themselves or even criticize him,” he said.

Benoit said that 21 percent of the statements by Democrats were attacks and that most were targeted toward Bush.

Benoit has been a MU faculty member since 1984. He is the author of several books on political campaigns, including Communication in Political Campaigns (2007). He also coordinates a Web page on political campaigns.