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Election 2008

Inside the Minds of Single-Issue Voters

Desiree Cooper

Millie Jefferson

E Okobi

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Supporters of presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty)
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Desiree Cooper: Martin, you're a self-proclaimed single-issue voter and Huckabee supporter from Iowa. I know that you have been inundated with speeches, stumping, persuasion...the whole nine yards. Was all of that a waste of time?

Martin White: For me personally, a lot of it was, absolutely. I had a pretty good idea with the candidates going in where they stood on their issues and in particular single-issue that I'm interested in, which is gun control. I'm very pro-Second Amendment. I don't support candidates that don't have the same views on the Second Amendment as I do.

As a single-issue voter, your concern is about guns, do you find yourself waiting for a candidate to say the magic words?

Martin White: Well, yeah probably a little bit. I guess those words are that they basically spell it out without being wishy-washy whether or not they support the Second Amendment and the right to keep and bear arms.

So, Fred Thompson...

Martin White: Yes, he said that. He made that very clear.

And are there words you wish Huckabee said so you could feel better about your support for him?

Martin White: You know he probably didn't come out and make that any kind of key issue except that when a question directed to him about it, I felt he clarified his position on it.

So Martin, are you going hunting this weekend?

Martin White: I plan to, yes, after some driving.

Well, good luck to you on your hunting trip this weekend.

Martin White: Thank you.

Ed Sarpolus analyzes voting trends and polling results. He says single issue voting doesn't always work out for the candidate. So, Ed, lets start with something basic: why are people single-issue voters?

Ed Sarpolus: They are single-issue voters because they actually believe in something and it's something that they want resolved. The key to single-issue voters is that they are very prominent in primaries and less so in generals. People that turn out for primaries tend to be much more of the single-issue voters.

So you got Romney running as a moderate in Massachusetts now coming to Iowa and claiming that he was a hunter shooting "varmints." And you've got Mike Huckabee, who basically because of the values piece, was able to overcome the issue that he raised taxes in Arkansas. And the problem being in the case of Rudolph Giuliani, the ex-mayor of New York, he lost on the abortion issue, he couldn't run on the gun issue and he doesn't have the values issue because of his pro-choice stance and his multiple wives. So, he essentially had to sit out the election in Iowa, which may have cost him the nomination on the Republican side.

Are single issues salient on both sides? Do Democrats also have their issues?

Ed Sarpolus: The Democrats have their issues, but they're not as dominant as they used to be in the 70s and 80s. In the 70s and the 80s, the issues of choice and abortion were very key to voters on the Democratic side.

I'm wondering if a single issue is beginning to emerge, however, with Obama coming out of the Iowa caucuses on top, is something like change or unity is that too amorphous to be a single issue?

Ed Sarpolus: No, because it's the code word for war. Barack Obama's success has been that he is not only the change agent for the war, but for things in general. He is a younger generation bringing people together. In the case of Hillary Clinton, she can't say that she is the agent of change because she voted for the war, and she supports some of the policy. So, yes, change is the new buzz word for Democrats single issue, but it is a code word for many other things.

So, perhaps the trick for the candidate is to find a single issue that resonates, but that is also flexible enough that it can be transportable from state to state, and primary to primary.

Ed Sarpolus: That is why Mike Huckabee feels very comfortable with the economic populism, because he can still keep his pro-gun message, he can still keep his anti-immigration message, but he can still focus on cultural conservatism and still appeal to those people who feel there is a role for government in their lives.

Well, Ed, this is interesting and we'll have to check back with you as the primaries progress.

Ed Sarpolus: My pleasure.

More stories from our Election 2008 series


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