July 7-20, 2000
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Clean campaigning program and research expanded

Staff Report

The Virginia race between incumbent U.S. Sen. Charles Robb and former Gov. George Allen is already heating up this summer. How campaign behavior -- in particular, advertising -- affects the race will be examined by the University's Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. The institute has received a three-year, $730,000 grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts to expand its work on programs that encourage ethical political campaigning.

"We are very grateful to Pew for its continuing support. The new grant will help us build on the work we've already done in Virginia and export the Virginia model to other states," said William H. Wood, executive director of the institute. "The vast majority of men and women who seek public office want to run ethical campaigns -- and will run ethical campaigns if they believe they can take the high road and still win. Our job is to show them how they can do both."

Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership

The Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, established in 1993, is a privately funded, nonpartisan center, housed in the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, that runs programs for Virginians who want to become actively involved in the political process. From its inception, the institute has emphasized ethical campaign conduct.

In 1997, it received a $410,000, 30-month grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts to develop Charitable Trusts a national program to teach state and local candidates that they can win without resorting to unethical behavior. The program, called the Project on Campaign Conduct, includes sessions on campaign basics -- fund-raising, polls, message delivery -- but emphasizes how to approach every aspect of campaigning in an ethical manner.

Research into the effects of campaign conduct has boomed in recent years, but has yielded mostly contradictory findings. The Sorensen study will be a marriage between cutting-edge political science and the world of practical politics. In addition to conducting surveys about the Robb-Allen race, the institute will conduct a national survey this fall to see how Virginians' opinions about campaign conduct compare with people in other states. As with the Virginia surveys, the national study will ask what people like and dislike about political campaigns and how campaign conduct affects citizens' attitudes and behaviors. The institute will incorporate the information gained from the surveys into its curriculum for first-time candidates.

"Much of the public seems to be disgusted with political campaigns. Focusing on the Robb-Allen race gives us a chance to learn how candidate conduct -- both good and bad -- might influence public sentiment about campaigns," said Dale Lawton, director of the institute's Project on Campaign Conduct.


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