Hillary Clinton contends her Democratic primary opponent Barack Obama is "all talk," but Web users testing her campaign site reported it was hers that was too wordy, while Obama's was more clear and direct. A study testing clarity of the presidential candidates' Web sites on issues showed the sites helped, but sometimes harmed when it came to favorability and clarity on issues.
Web sites for Republicans Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee and Democrat Obama helped the candidates gain favor in the eyes of study participants. According to the "Shopping Online for a President" report from market research outfit RelevantView and online survey firm Greenfield Online, more than 50 percent of visitors to their campaign sites said they were more favorable towards the candidates after seeing the sites, compared to before viewing the sites.
"The more they found out, the more they liked the candidates," suggested RelevantView founder and CEO Marshall Harrison.
But that wasn't exactly the case for all the candidates. More than 60 percent of Clinton site viewers maintained the same level of favorability towards the New York Senator before and after going to her site. And while 44 percent of John McCain's site visitors improved their outlook towards the military man after checking his online home, the site managed to turn off the highest percentage of site visitors; 9 percent said their favorability lessened afterwards. Eight percent of Huckabee site viewers also were thumbs down after seeing his site.
Among the goals of the report was to assess the ability of the campaign sites to clearly present the candidates' stances on four issues: healthcare, the war in Iraq, taxes and spending, and immigration. The survey, which was completed by 780 U.S. citizens of voting age after the Super Tuesday primaries, measured the percentage of respondents who had more understanding of where candidates stood on each issue after viewing their campaign sites.
Huckabee's site was the most successful in clarifying his position on immigration compared to the other sites, dropping the percentage of "unsure" from 48 percent before visiting to 9 percent after. As for healthcare, Obama's site came out on top, resulting in the smallest percentage of visitors unsure of his stance on those issues, 9 percent. Huckabee, Obama and Paul shared the lowest percentage of visitors unclear on their Iraq War positions after seeing their sites, 11 percent; Clinton and McCain tied with 13 percent who were unsure of their Iraq stances after visiting their sites.
On taxes and spending, McCain, who has made pork-barrel spending a main subject of his campaign, fared best. After visiting his site, the percentage of those unsure of his position went from 44 to 17 percent.
McCain's site may be relatively clear on his views about taxes, but survey participants had little luck determining his stance on immigration from looking at his site; 33 percent were unsure of his position after visiting. The only other instance of a candidate's site doing such a poor job of clarifying a policy position was Clinton's on taxes. Thirty-two percent of her site visitors were still scratching their heads after seeing her site, down from 38 percent before seeing it.
In these two cases, however, site design and editorial may not be at fault. Candidates make deliberate decisions to be vague in regards to certain issues, particularly during primary season when they need to shore up the more extreme party base while not offending more moderate voters. For instance, McCain's relatively soft stance on immigration has long irked staunch conservatives, while Clinton's site's list of issues doesn't actually include a specific "taxes" link; rather, it features a subsection on "Strengthening the Middle Class."
"On the Democratic side the positions were not as clear on tax and spending, which is clear, of course on the Republican side," said Nazia Khan, director of client services at RelevantView. "They're purposely avoiding certain issues," she continued.
According to RelevantView, Clinton's and McCain's sites were deemed less direct in terms of language used on the issues, and how the candidates' positions were presented. "People felt Clinton's site was very wordy, unclear, a lot of jargon," said Khan, adding McCain's site came off as inconsistent and redundant in the way information is presented.
"Usability is just another manifestation of marketing," said Harrison. "People need to find out the specs whether it's a car or a political candidate."
Users preferred more defined, less dense text such as bulleted lists pinpointing what candidates believe or plan to do when in office. However, even though a site like Obama's included links to succinct topics such as "Immigration," as opposed to Clinton's "Reforming Our Immigration System," his site also fails to include an obvious tax-related page. Instead, users needed to look for "Fiscal" or "Economy" in his issues list. Many of those issues pages include a series of bullet points regarding his stance on the current situation, plans for improvement, and his record on the particular issue. To be fair, Clinton's tax-related page also includes a bullet pointed list featuring her "economic blueprint."
Overall, participants said they were 73 percent satisfied with Obama's and Huckabee's sites, 69 percent with Paul's, 66 percent with Clinton's and 59 percent satisfied with McCain's. Perhaps when compared to the approval ratings of the current Congress and President, the lower satisfaction ratings don't seem quite so bad.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.