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Pew Trusts Expand Support Of U.Va.’s Clean Campaigning Program

June 16, 2000 -- The University of Virginia's Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership has received a three-year, $730,000 grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts to expand its work on programs that encourage ethical political campaigning.

The institute will use the grant to refine its Virginia programs and then help organizations in other states create similar programs. An important part of the grant will be a study assessing the impact of campaign behavior -- in particular campaign advertising -- upon the Virginia race this year between incumbent U.S. Sen. Charles Robb and former Gov. George Allen.

The institute, established in 1993, is a privately funded, nonpartisan center 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 Pew to develop 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.

"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."

An important part of the new grant is an in-depth study of campaign behavior in the Robb-Allen race. Between July and November, the Sorensen Institute will conduct five surveys aimed at finding out what Virginians think about the candidates and their tactics. "If we want to help candidates run better campaigns in the future, we need to find out what's wrong with campaigns now," said Dale Lawton, director of the institute's Project on Campaign Conduct.

"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."

The institute will also 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.

The Sorensen study will be a marriage between cutting-edge political science and the world of practical politics. Research into the effects of campaign conduct has boomed in recent years, but has yielded mostly contradictory findings. Paul Freedman, assistant professor in U.Va.'s department of Government and Foreign Affairs and the project's research director, said: "This is a tremendous opportunity to address long-standing questions about the effects of campaign conduct -- and negative attacks in particular -- on voters. It's also a chance for us to move the debate forward in important ways, by focusing on new dimensions of campaign behavior."

The surveys will be conducted by U.Va.’s Center for Survey Research. Alison Meloy, formerly with CSR, will join the institute to oversee the survey operations.

In a 1998-99 survey, the institute found that Virginia voters have clear views on what constitutes fair campaign advertising and are prepared to punish candidates who make unfair charges. Voters rated more than 3,000 hypothetical campaign attack scenarios. The results showed that voters reward campaign practices perceived as fair, and punish candidates for engaging in unfair attacks. Further, the study found that an exchange of unfair charges makes it more likely that voters say they will stay home on Election Day.

To help with the development of the curriculum for first-time candidates, the institute will select an advisory board composed of bipartisan political experts from across the state. These experts will review the institute's efforts at turning the academic research into a program that will adequately prepare candidates for the rough-and-tumble world of practical politics.

Based in Philadelphia, The Pew Charitable Trusts support nonprofit activities in the areas of culture, education, the environment, health and human services, public policy, and religion. Among the nation's largest philanthropies, the Trusts support a broad range of strategically targeted social investments designed to advance knowledge and to translate it into effective action in the public interest.

William H. Wood may be reached at the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at (804) 982-5698. Dale Lawton is also available at the institute at (804) 982-4998. For additional information about The Pew Charitable Trusts, contact Jim Bornemeier at the Trusts’ Public Affairs Office at (215) 575-4818.

Contact: Dan Heuchert, (804) 924-7676

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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