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PLASKON: Voters should have some kind of defense system against vague political rhetoric. That was the idea of Presidents Carter and Ford when they created Project Vote smart in 1992. The holy grail is the "Political Awareness Test" a kind of survey of politicians that will cement their stances. Every election year volunteers scour newspapers and political parties for local issues. They form questions and send them to scientists and reporters who evaluate them for neutrality. After that, the questions meet their intended target - politicians across the nation. Adelaid Elm Board Chair of Vote Smart explains the published answers at vote-dash-smart-dot-org.
ELM: Just basic factual data information on the candidates issue information, how they voted where their money is coming from. They want information they know didn't come with a hidden agenda.
PLASKON: Governor Kenny Guinn answered it back in 1998. He believes partial birth abortions should be prohibited but likes affirmative action, deregulation of the electricity industry and he supports local control of education, he also supports state sponsored charter schools. He was one of 70 percent of candidates across the nation filling out the survey in the late 90s. While 3 million constituents go to the web site every day looking for these kind of concrete answers politicians aren't as interested in answering them anymore. Participation has dropped to 50 percent in 2000. In Nevada less than a dozen of the 140 candidates running for office this year have answered the questionnaire. Elm of Vote Smart hears why.
ELM: Candidates are sticking with their safe messages, their finely tuned images and they are not willing to go beyond what works well for them. They have tested all of their rhetoric and they know what they are going to say and when to say it.
PLASKON: Tom Gallagher running against John Porter for congress says he is more intent on focusing on debates and getting out in the community like this ice cream social this week at the Jacee Mobile Home Park Club House.
GALLAGHER: The problem with politics is it is not about what I believe on every issue. It is about what my constituents believe, like how can we do better on a veterans hospital and how can we speed that up.
PLASKON: He says he gets surveys from every group imaginable and it would be impossible to fill them all out. On that point he is in touch with some of his constituents, tired too of getting surveys about issues like abortion or gun control.
ANONYMOUS: I am old and a lot of those don't pertain to me. I am tired of being called all day and into the night for a survey.
PLASKON: But others would like to see concrete answers from their candidates like those published at Vote-Smart.
ANONYMOUS: It doesn't sound good. I would go on there and look, oh ya."
PLASKON: Gallagher hasn't filled out the survey from Vote Smart. Because
GALLAGHER: Like I said I have never heard of it."
But his press secretary Mara Gassman has.
GASSMANL: I know that project vote smart considers itself the foremost candidate survey but when you have a limited amount of time you have to be smart about how you best reach the people, and project vote smart is not the best way to meet the people.
PLASKON: Besides Ice Cream socials, occasional debates and TV ads are the other best way to reach people she says.
SOUND: Gallager TV ad
PLASKON: But some candidates say it's best to lay all their opinions out in one place.
CHANDLAR: I am asking people to vote for me people ought to know what they are getting.
PLASKON: Vote Smart kept hounding Travis Chandlar, Republican Candidate for Legislative District 20 to fill out the survey. So he sat down and answered the questions about abortion and other issues.
CHANDLAR: This is not what my campaign is about, my whole purpose of running is to address a single issue that I feel so strongly and was handled wrong by my opponent and I see many of these issues quite frankly are distractions.
PLASKON: Mara Gassman of the Gallagher campaign says Vote Smart surveys are in decline because the organization doesn't cater to the campaigns.
GASSMAN: Just kind of look at the way campaigns are run and look at the political realities I think they just need to be more media savvy.
PLASKON: In fact project Vote Smart has teamed up with more than 30 national media organizations from NBC to the local Reno Gazette Journal to try to get tough questions answered. The media wants to use the survey to compare and publicize candidate positions. Many send letters to candidates encouraging them to fill out the survey. MSNBC, CBS, Cox newspapers, Knight Ridder, Iowa and New Hampshire public radio as well as the San Jose Murcury News have asked the presidential candidates to fill out the survey. On that point, the candidates are ignoring these media outlets and the 3 million people who log on every day looking for the candidate's concrete stance on issues.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR