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Conceptual Map Connecting 2008 Presidential Candidates to Supporters’ Other Causes

One way to learn about an election campaign is to learn something about the people who support a particular candidate. One useful piece of information to gain is simply the number of people who actively support a particular candidate during any one period of time. This is the sort of horse race that mainstream media typically follow. But we can also delve a bit more into the sorts of people who support different candidates. In the past, for instance, we’ve looked at the candidates supported most often by residents of each of the fifty states. All of this information is gained from our analyses of bumper sticker, button and t-shirt sales at our Vote Democrat 2008 webshop.

We’ll look at these sorts of information again in the near future, I’m sure. Today, however, I decided it would be fun to look at the instances in which someone who ordered a sticker, shirt or button in support of a 2008 contender also bought another item — a bumper sticker, button, or t-shirt not directly related to the 2008 election at all. Alternatively, someone might have ordered a sticker, shirt, or button in support of a second 2008 contender as well. Each of these joint orders represents a conceptual tie, showing affinity between support for a particular candidate and support for some other idea or candidate. When we look at all the ties put together, they create a conceptual network (or, in graphical form, a conceptual map) that shows us the structure of ideas driving the 2008 presidential campaign.

Without further ado, I’ll share below just such a conceptual map. It is generated from Vote Democrat 2008 orders in April and May of 2006:

Conceptual Map of ties between Democratic 2008 Presidential Contenders and Related Causes, Candidates and Ideas

Candidates are represented by blue circles, and non-candidate causes by red circles. The thicker the line connecting circles, the more often people make orders for stickers, buttons or shirts related to both circles. When there is no line connecting two circles, there is no case in which someone buys items related to both circles. Only the more popular candidates are here with their associated causes, since unpopular candidates don’t produce a reliable enough picture of related causes (a “low n” problem).

At first pass, what’s interesting to me is the pattern of connections between candidates — the times when someone buys, for example, a bumper sticker in support of Hillary Clinton and then another bumper sticker in support of…. Oops! Bad example. You see, there is no case in which someone buys an item in support of Hillary Clinton, and then buys another item in support of another candidate. In other words, people who support Hillary Clinton seem to support her candidacy alone. John Kerry and Wesley Clark show the same pattern — people who support their presidential bids don’t support any other. On the other hand, people who have bought pro-Boxer, pro-Gore and pro-Obama stickers have also bought bumper stickers that support a candidacy of John Edwards. Another “cognitive star” in this network is Barack Obama — people who buy bumper stickers in support of Bill Richardson, Mark Warner, Joe Biden, Barbara Boxer and John Edwards also buy bumper stickers in support of Barack Obama. Is this some sort of way of hedging bets? Barack Obama is seen commonly as a “dream candidate” who won’t really run. Perhaps individuals buy a “dream” sticker and also purchase a “realistic” sticker to boot.

Turning to focus on non-campaign causes, some are especially well-connected to multiple campaigns. For each and every 2008 candidate, there is a case in which someone bought a sticker, shirt, or button supporting them and at the same time bought an item stating opposition to George W. Bush. Nearly as commonly tied to campaigns is the cause of peace (or opposition to war). Liberty, on the other hand, is an outlier, only connected to the candidacies of Russ Feingold, Wesley Clark and Al Gore. Health care is nearly an isolate, with an item in support of that cause only jointly purchased by a Kerry supporter. Finally, some causes, while associated with more than one campaign, are more strongly associated with one particular candidate than with others. This is most clearly the case with Al Gore, whose supporters also purchased huge numbers of items expressing support for environmentalist causes and interests. This is no surprise, given the impending release of Gore’s movie on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth.

What patterns do you see in these results? What do they tell you?

7 thoughts on “Conceptual Map Connecting 2008 Presidential Candidates to Supporters’ Other Causes”

  1. Alan says:

    The first thing that grabs me is Al Gore out there by himself in LEFT field. Maybe it’s just the way it came out in the conceptual map–pulled to the side of the other candidates by the liberal/progressive label and the environmental issue–and probably only temporary because of his film.

    The next thing that jumps out is the large number of conceptual ties on the anti-Bush node (11) as opposed to the liberal/progressive node (5). The same candidates that are connected to the liberal-progressive node are also connected to the anti-Bush node, but it just seems the anti-Bush sentiment is more global (and more electible?). It would be an interesting footnote to see if the candidates with liberal/progressive labels also have the most progressive voting records as determined by the IT scorecard.

    There are no concept-concept ties although there are candidate-candidate ties and candidate-concept ties. Is this because of one-issue buyers, or was the relationship between issues not considered.

    I don’t think the war issue will be critical to the election, mostly becasue there will not be a clear differene between candidates. Dems will not dare to appear unpatriotic, and Rep will say they are making good progress and hold up example of postWWII Germany. The growing anti-war sentiment, and visible evidence of larger groups coming out for marches will, however, push the Iraqi government to get their act together and give Bush the excuse he needs to pressure them and get out. Every Arab knows Vietnam as an example of American public opinion ending a military presence.

    Patterns I would expect to see but didn’t?–issues apparently not covered by products:
    -the economy (war deficit)
    -mismanagement/cronyism (Katrina-FEMA, defense contracts, oil prices, Haliburton, hookers for contracts)
    -the intrusion into government of Falwell/Robertson/the religious right
    -privacy, (phone, Email, warrants)-why, oh why is this issue not hot with the majority of voters?

  2. Jim says:


    Thanks for writing with your observations. You’re right: the left-right and up-down axes are not substantively organized. Rather, an algorithm places circles (“nodes” in network-speak) close-by if they are tied to each other and if they are tied to still other circles in common.

    The reason there are no concept-to-concept ties is definitional and practical. Definitionally, I set out only to look at orders for which at least one of the orders was of a 2008 Election item, and only to look at coincidences between Election 2008 items and others, not between non-Election items. Practically-speaking, it would be much more involving to run an analysis on the coincidence of all items (election OR not), simply because the number of coincidences to tabulate would be much higher. But that’s something in the abstract I’d like to do, given a little more time.

    Those subjects you mention ARE covered by products. It’s interesting that there’s not an overlap between them and interest in 2008 candidates, isn’t it?

  3. J. Clifford says:

    What strikes me is that, of all the candidates, Al Gore seems the least strongly associated with anti-Bushism and the most strongly associated with a specific issue, as well as the most connected with the liberal/progressive value system. This suggests that, in the minds of people buying bumper stickers, buttons, and t-shirts here, it’s Al Gore who best stands for a positive agenda and not just a reaction.

  4. Alan says:

    I connect Gore with the National Performance Review, which he authored. The result was a ‘reform’ that eliminated huge chunks of government and established a shadow government of outsourcing. As a result, no one today knows the size or the nature of the shadow government.

  5. Kat says:

    It tells me that supporters of other candidates buy their stuff from somewhere else

  6. Jim says:

    No, actually, it doesn’t. Do you have a favored candidate of your own that you wish was more popular, Kat? Reread the accompanying text. Only the most popular candidates are included here, because there isn’t a large enough number of purchases for an unpopular candidate to discuss their corresponding other messages with reliability.

  7. Alan says:

    It would be interesting to see this break down by region–maybe red state/blue state/swing state or bible belt/sun belt/rust belt…

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