Issue Ownership


State politics directly impacts the lives of citizens in myriad ways including infrastructure investment, education, regulatory power, taxes, electoral law and even social welfare. However, the growing theory of the nationalization of state politics reduces much of this dynamic to a reflection of national partisan agendas and polarization.

Using the Digital Campaigns Project, I explore both variation in salience and rhetoric within campaign websites for state legislative candidates. Preliminary results reveal that, despite a growing emphasis on national issues amongst the electorate a number of factors contribute to variation in issue salience across the states. First, specific regional public concerns regarding issues like healthcare, immigration, gun control, and environmental and energy policy can cause candidates from both parties to increase emphasis on an issue simultaneously. Secondly, key issues like economics, education, infrastructure investment, and public assistance are used by state level candidates to challenge incumbent partisans, producing within-party variation in issue emphasis across the nation. It is within these arenas where the aphorism, “all politics is local” remains true. I find that, in spite of nationalization and polarization, state-level candidates are more likely to position themselves relative to the state capital rather than the national one. Future studies will continue to expand on this research by evaluating the content of messaging within each policy arena, as well as exploring the impact of district demographics and candidate qualities on campaign content.