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Presidential Candidates Used to List Their Positions on an ‘Issues’ Page on Their Websites. Now Most Don’t

7 minute read
Updated: | Originally published:

A week ago, on the verge of launching his 2024 presidential campaign, Chris Christie’s old website from his 2016 run was still online. The site included an in-depth “Issues” page, which detailed the former New Jersey Governor’s support for “common-sense bail reform,” lowering corporate tax rates, and creating a nationwide veterans’ mental health hotline.

By Wednesday, chrischristie.com had been revamped entirely. The updated site included only scarlet donation buttons and a video of his announcement. There was no “Issues” page in sight.

“Issues” pages, which outline candidates’ stances on key policy topics, have long been expected features of campaign websites. But Christie isn’t alone in forgoing one. The top of President Joe Biden’s official site for his re-election campaign is similarly studded with firetruck-red donation buttons, as well as one linking to merch—including a Dark Brandon crop top—but no section dedicated to his political positions. In fact, of the fourteen major candidates who have entered the presidential race, only a handful have detailed, stand-alone pages describing where they stand on the issues and what they plan to do in office. Several include no written policy commitments at all.

Strategists agree that the country has become so polarized that the candidates’ positions on issues matter much less than they once did. In general elections, many voters will simply support the candidate of their preferred party without bothering to look up their stances. But even for those competing in primaries, an “Issues” page may not benefit a candidate as much as it once did. A survey of various congressional campaign websites from both parties reveals many don’t include an “Issues” page.

“Post-Trump campaigns are starting to move more towards personality, and how they engage the cultural debates around politics rather than the issues,” says Eric Wilson, a political technologist who led the digital team on Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. “You see that just reflected in how voters are consuming politics as entertainment now more than ever. So really, having an ‘Issues’ page, for a lot of campaigns, is just viewed as a liability, because that gives something for something for the press and your opponents to attack you about.”

Tara McGowan, a prominent Democratic digital strategist over the past few election cycles who is now the publisher of Courier Newsroom, a left-leaning outlet, says the Republicans running in the presidential primary this year have good reason to avoid saddling their campaigns with “Issues” pages.

“When your goal is to focus the conversation on the culture wars, then any detailed policy positions on your website are going to be distractions from those topics, or worse, statements that candidates have to stand by and defend even when they’re unpopular among voters,” McGowan says.

She points to national abortion restrictions as a subject where many Republican candidates have been hesitant to take firm positions. But McGowan thinks a different factor may have influenced Biden’s barebones site: his campaign launched quickly ahead of his announcement in late April. “Their site is just really a shell for donation and the video at this stage, and that is not the strategy they took for the first election,” she says. “I don’t think it’s going to be the strategy long-term.”

Some Republican campaigns may also flesh out their sites more in the coming months, before next year’s primaries. In the hurry to break into the crowded field and qualify for the first GOP presidential debates this summer, some candidates may still be refining their policy positions. Many of those who recently jumped into the race are missing any content on their websites related to the issues; most of those who have been in longer have more detailed information about their records and stances.

“Expect lots of working groups to be formed and policy experts to be consulted with,” says Wilson. “You’ll start to see campaigns build out these ‘Issues’ pages on their websites.”

But there are also some practical reasons why more campaigns may ultimately decide not to add “Issues” pages at all.

“I think the ‘Issues’ pages were really a product of the early web in politics, when it was like, ‘Okay, we can build a website, but how do we fill it with content?’” says Tyler Brown, who spent several years developing the digital infrastructure of the Republican National Committee. “Sort of like the rest of the web, where it has gone from sort of static web pages to much more interactive—the goal has been to make the website a much more central part of the overall marketing structure.”

According to Brown, who is now president and founder of digital public affairs firm Hadron Strategies, the donation buttons, email list sign-up forms, and slick videos that now populate campaign websites spark much more engagement than “Issues” pages do. Using analytics, campaigns can see that such pages aren’t generating the same kind of tangible results that actually help win elections.

“I’ve been part of a lot of different website builds, and it’s usually the candidate that would come in and say they feel like they need an ‘Issues’ page,” he says. “But I think that’s kind of more driven by what somebody imagines a campaign should involve versus how campaigns are actually run.”

While strategists like Brown say the “Issues” page is a digital dinosaur of a bygone era, Wilson thinks eliminating those pages is a mistake. After the midterms, the Center for Campaign Innovation, a nonprofit he runs focused on helping conservative candidates, commissioned research on how media and technology are affecting elections. The survey found that half of donors and more than a quarter of voters use campaign websites to learn more about candidates. Three-quarters of donors and nearly 7 in 10 voters went to those sites to learn about their positions on the issues, a significantly greater share than were researching candidate biographies, news, debates, voting, or donating.

“From data on search engines like Google, voters are searching not just for the candidate’s name, but they’re searching for ‘candidate name + issue topic,’” Wilson says. “From a digital strategy perspective, we spend a lot of time explaining to campaigners that they need to have content on their website that Google can recommend to voters.”

Among the presidential contenders, former President Donald Trump is one of just a few whose campaign website includes an easy-to-access, in-depth “Issues” page. The page touts his accomplishments while in the White House, including around the economy, energy independence, and border security.

The page also makes a number of specific commitments for a second Trump presidency. “In cooperative states, President Trump will deputize the National Guard and local law enforcement to assist with rapidly removing illegal alien gang members and criminals,” it promises. “President Trump will cut federal funding for any school or program pushing Critical Race Theory or gender ideology on our children,” another section reads. “His administration will open Civil Rights investigations into any school district that has engaged in race-based discrimination.”

For now, voters mousing over to rival campaign websites won’t see nearly as many policy positions to contrast with those of the former President.

“It’s another indication of just how surface-level and how shallow our political campaigning and politicking has become in this country,” McGowan says of the disappearance of “Issues” pages. “I just think that’s a bad thing.”

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