Campaign Website Wonkery

by hilzoy

For some reason, while I was researching various blog posts I got interested the differences between McCain's and Obama's websites, and in particular the policy information they make available. I think it started when I decided to check out reports that McCain had no energy policy. It turned out that you could find bits of one, if you were prepared to slog through his various speeches, but at the time, his Issues page did not have an entry for energy. (Now it does.) I then noticed that, as I said earlier, it doesn't have an entry for foreign policy either. (It still doesn't, though there is a page on Iraq.) I started poking around, and the contrast between McCain's and Obama's Issues pages is really striking.

Here's a list of issues that Obama has a page on and McCain doesn't: Civil Rights, Disabilities, Faith, Family, Foreign Policy, Homeland Security, Poverty, Service, Seniors and Social Security, Technology, Urban Policy, Women. That's a pretty striking list. Moreover, he has a page called 'Additional Issues' with links to plans on Arts, Child Advocacy, Katrina, Science, Sportsmen, and Transportation. Of these, only Sportsmen has a counterpart on McCain's site. Finally, under 'People', you can find separate policy pages on issues relevant to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (one-pagers in six languages, a longer version in English), First Americans, Labor, Latinos, and LGBT.

That's twenty five issues that Obama gives a page to and McCain does not. And some of them are pretty striking: Foreign Policy, Homeland Security, and Poverty are surprising absences in one way; Faith, Family, and Service in another.

Here's a list of issues McCain covers that have no counterpart on Obama's Issues page: The Sanctity of Life (question: why is "Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers" part of McCain's Sanctity of Life policy?), Judicial Philosophy, Space Program. If you hunt around, you can find a link to a little page with two paragraphs on autism which has, to my knowledge, no counterpart on Obama's site. [UPDATE: in comments at ObWi, ulpian246 points out that Obama does have a page on autism.]

That's four three issues that McCain gives a page to and Obama does not.

Moreover, Obama's pages are a lot more detailed than McCain's, and they usually contain links to both to pdfs that are even more detailed and to speeches Obama has given on the topic in question. Almost none of McCain's do. This is a pity: McCain's speeches often contain more detailed expositions of his policy than you can find on his Issues page, and on issues like foreign policy, they are the only source of information about what he thinks. But there is no systematic way to find them.

I don't mean to suggest that this is any sort of serious critique of McCain's campaign. I do think that issues pages give a rough guide both to the care with which a candidate has thought through the issues, and to which ones he gives priority to, but it is rough. (It's a better guide to the professionalism of the campaign, as an organization.) I also love issues pages, myself: I recall the bad old days when "Position Papers" were something you had to actually write off to campaigns for: most people had no access to them at all, and so we were entirely dependent on the media to tell us what the candidates actually believed. The fact that we can now just go and read them all on our computers fills the once frustrated wonk in me with joy, and I like to see campaigns make it easy for us to inform ourselves.

(Cross-posted at Obsidian Wings. This is generally true, though I usually forget to say so.)