Working Paper No. 08-11

'Wave riding' or 'Owning the issue': How do candidates determine campaign agendas?
Mariya Burdina
October 2008, Updated November 2009


In this paper I adress the question of how the agendas for political campaigns are being determined, which issues candidates discuss and whether or not candidates discuss similar issues. Two candidates compete for the votes of four groups of voters by choosing how to allocate their time across two different issues. Candidates' positions are fixed, and their most preferred policies will be implemented after the candidate is elected. Each candidate has a unit of time to clarify his position on both issues. The time spent by candidate discussing an issue will affect the level of uncertanty regarding candidate's policy on that issue among the voters.

Both voter distribution and issue importance affect the outcome of the election. Voter distribution determines which candidate will have an advantage in the election and issue importance determines the minimum amount of time that a candidate with advantage has to devote to the most important issue in order to win the election. I find that in most cases, candidates are willing to discuss both issues to a certain degree, and dialogue between candidates is possible. Only when candidates disagree on both issues, which are equally important to the voters, each candidate will discuss the issue upon which he agrees with the decisive group of voters.