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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 22, 2008

University of Iowa offers story ideas for reporters in election homestretch

After nearly two years of covering the presidential race 24/7, the story idea well might be running dry for reporters.

So, here's a fresh list of angles and experts from the University of Iowa. The ideas range from how political comedy like Sarah Palin's appearance on "SNL" can affect perceptions of politicians to how voting machines travel from Point A to Point B -- and why we should care about how they're calibrated.

Note to media: For high-resolution images of the experts and other resources for journalists covering the 2008 election, visit

VOTING MACHINE FIASCOS: UI computer scientist and voting machine expert Doug Jones noted in recent coverage of ballot-reading problems in Florida that voting machines aren't consistently calibrated. Federal standards don't set an effective threshold for an acceptable number of scanning mistakes, so the manufacturers get to decide. Jones is a former member and past chair of the Iowa Board of Examiners for Voting Machines and Electronic Voting Systems. He has testified widely on problems arising in the 2000 election and has been involved in investigations of problems in Miami-Dade County, Fla., and Maricopa County, Ariz., arising in the 2004 election cycle. Jones can be reached at 319-335-0740 or

FOUR TYPES OF VOTERS: UI political scientist David Redlawsk and his colleague Richard Lau at Rutgers developed four models to describe how voters pick candidates: the rational voter who weighs the pros and cons, the passive voter who votes with their party, the frugal voter who tunes into only a handful of issues, and the intuitive voter who pursues only enough information to come to a decision. Redlawsk can be reached at 319-335-2352 (office), 319-400-1134 (cell) or

IOWA ELECTRONIC MARKETS: The IEM is a real-money political prediction futures market operated by professors in the UI's Tippie College of Business. It allows traders to invest up to $500 and buy and sell contracts based on who they think will win an election, with the price of the contract representing the probability that event will happen. Since its founding in 1988, the market has beaten public opinion polls 74 percent of the time in predicting the vote share of a presidential election. For more information visit or contact Joyce Berg, professor of accounting, IEM director, 319-335-0840,; Tom Reitz, associate professor of finance, 319-335-0856,; Forrest Nelson, professor of economics, IEM co-founder, 319-335-0854,; Tom Snee, media contact, 319-384-0010, 319-541-8434,

EFFECTS OF POLITICAL COMEDY: Impersonations of Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live" -- and her recent cameo on the show -- may have been funny and boosted the show's ratings, but late-night comedians' constant shots at politicians do more damage than you might think, argues Russell Peterson, a faculty member in the UI American Studies Department. In his new book, "Strange Bedfellows: How Late-Night Comedy Turns Democracy Into a Joke," Peterson asserts that traditional late-night comedy can reinforce the notion that all politicians are inherently awful, furthering Americans' deep-rooted cynicism toward government and the Democratic process. Peterson can be reached at 319-578-0137 or

ENTHUSIASM OF YOUNG VOTERS: Younger voters could secure Barack Obama's seat in the Oval Office, but a new UI Hawkeye Poll suggests they're less likely to make it to the polls and paying less attention to the election than older voters are. In the national poll of 796 voters conducted Oct. 5-18, registered voters 35 or younger favored Obama over John McCain by a 26-point margin. Eighty-four percent said they are certain they will vote. But a mere 39 percent of younger voters said they're keeping a close eye on the election, which could be a clue that they're less likely to make it to the polls. UI political scientist David Redlawsk is director of the poll and an expert on youth and politics. He can be reached at 319-335-2353 (office), 319-400-1134 (cell) or

VOTING MACHINES ON THE MOVE: On Election Day, when voters step to the polls and cast their ballots, not many are likely to wonder how the voting machines got there in the first place. But someone had to deliver them, and Jeffrey Ohlmann thinks about easier ways governments can make that happen. Ohlmann, an assistant professor of management sciences in the UI Tippie College of Business, is an expert in logistics planning and studies how governments can most effectively and most fairly distribute their voting machines on Election Day. Moving thousands of machines requires dozens of considerations: How many trucks are available to move the machines? How many drop-off points are there? What's the anticipated voter turnout? When are volunteers available to take delivery of the machines? How bad will traffic be when the trucks are expected to be on the road? He put his work to use in 2006, when he helped the Hamilton County (Ohio) Board of Elections develop a system to distribute its machines in a more efficient, less costly manner for the primary and general elections held that year. Ohlmann can be reached at 319-335-0837 or

CONFUSION ABOUT OBAMA'S FAITH: People are paying close attention to the presidential campaigns; still, nearly 42 percent of registered voters nationwide could not correctly identify Barack Obama's religion, a new UI Hawkeye Poll shows. In the national poll of 680 registered voters conducted Oct. 1-11, 8.4 percent of all respondents considered Obama Muslim, and 33.4 percent could not name his religion when asked in an open-ended question to identify it. UI political scientist Caroline Tolbert is co-director of the poll and an expert on voting and elections, political behavior and race/ethnicity. She can be reached at 319-335-2360 or

THE PALIN FACTOR: Like her or not, Sarah Palin's appointment as the Republican vice presidential nominee continues to create a buzz. UI political scientist Tracy Osborn is an expert on women in politics who comments regularly about female politicians like Palin and Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton. She can discuss women candidates and their activities, and the behavior of women as voters and political participants. Osborn can be reached at 319-335-2337 (office), 781-635-3779 (cell) or

ECONOMY'S IMPACT ON ELECTION: The financial crisis is the No. 1 issue affecting the decision of voters in every age group, a national UI Hawkeye poll conducted this month showed. And, 49-58 percent of voters (depending on age group) considered their financial situation bleak or fair. Kevin Leicht, who studies political sociology at the UI, recently co-authored the book "Postindustrial Peasants: The Illusion of Middle-Class Prosperity," which outlines how and why the economic standing of the middle class plunged in the past three decades. He can comment on pocketbook issues pertaining to the middle class, and how those issues could affect the election. Leicht can be reached at 319-353-2813 (office), 319-621-0570 (cell) or

POLITICAL ADVERTISING AND CANDIDATE IMAGE: How do campaigns tailor their messages in the final, vital days before an election? Why are there so many attack ads, and how do voters respond to them? Bruce Gronbeck, director of the UI Center for Media Studies and Political Culture, studies political ads, Web sites and debates, analyzing how the "character issue" plays during the national elections. He's also an expert in the politics of scandal. Gronbeck can be reached at 319-828-4033 (home), 319-936-7302 (cell) or

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Nicole Riehl, University News Services, 319-384-0070 (office), 319-430-6576 (cell),