SUU Professor to Study New Campaign Rules in Second District ContestApril 29, 2004
Author: Renee Ballenger
Joining a nationwide team researching the impact of recent campaign reforms, Southern Utah University political scientist, Stephen Roberds, will study Jim Matheson’s fight to hang on to his Second District seat.
Roberds, SUU Associate Professor of Political Science, will function as a field investigator for the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, which has assessed competitive federal elections since 1998. The group’s work was cited in the Supreme Court’s December ruling that upheld new campaign finance rules. This information is also published in a new book form the Brookings Institution Press.
“The Second District race is anticipated to be one of the country’s tightest Congressional contests,” says Kelly Patterson, the Center Director. “With so much candidate and interest group activity expected, we’re glad to have talented researchers like Professor Roberds monitoring campaign activity.”
After the district’s boundaries were redrawn in 2001 to include Kane, Iron and Washington counties, Democratic incumbent Jim Matheson edged out his Republican challenger John Swallow by less than one percent of the 200,000 votes cast. Although Swallow lost the overall vote, he won handily in Washington and Iron counties.
“Southern Utah is very important to the outcome of this race,” Roberds comments. “The Republican candidate will need to win by wide margins here, but Matheson’s name recognition and incumbent status will be used to deflect GOP efforts. Voter turnout in southern Utah will be a key to the race.”
Recent campaign reforms include a ban on campaign ads from interest groups 60 days prior to Election Day. Because of the broadcast advertising restrictions, the project’s investigators expect a shift toward “ground war” campaign methods such as direct mail, door-to-door contacting and phone banks. In 2002, Patterson’s reconnaissance team identified 50 unique mailers and 15 campaign phone banks. Because ground war campaign activity often takes place out of the public view, the Center relies heavily on local field investigators.
“This research contributes in an important way to the ongoing debate about how elections should be run,” states Roberds. “I’m excited to be a part of the project.”
Roberds, who joined the SUU faculty in 1998, teaches classes on political parties, elections and voter behavior and also researches the effect of scandals on elections. He will work with BYU professor Gary Bryner, who will monitor the northern portion of the Second District.