Residents list what they would like to ask the presidential hopefulsPresidential candidates on a living-room tour of the country would find plenty of hosts with questions, many of them about the war in Iraq and other foreign policy challenges, many about health care and the economy.
That's the picture that emerged when 35 news organizations around the country, including The Daily Astorian, e-mailed 11,495 readers recently. They asked: "If you had an informal chat in your living room with each of the presidential candidates, which issues would you discuss with them as being the most important to you?"
HOW TO SIGN UPReaders of The Daily Astorian interested in participating in the e-mail network are asked to contact Laura Sellers-Earl, corporate Internet manager, at
(firstname.lastname@example.org)Within four days, answers came from 1,750 people in 48 states. They put almost 5,000 suggestions of issues to ask about on editors' lists. More than a third of those answering had a foreign policy question. A third also said they were concerned with health care or about the state of the economy.
"Do you have the courage and influence to raise our taxes to restore our broken and exorbitant health care system to one that adequately serves all Americans?" was the first question suggested by Donna K. Wright of Astoria.
But she had other issues on her mind too.
"Do you have the courage and influence to penalize American businesses for relocating to third world countries, exploiting workers there and robbing American workers?
"Do you have the courage and influence earnestly to commit adequate funding to heal our devastated environment?
"Do you have the courage and commitment to be governed by the only 'world voice,' the United Nations, to promote peace and erase our ugly image abroad?
Another subject with special interest to Oregon was also on her agenda.
"Do you have the courage and influence to restore effective, powerful, inclusive, positive, and affordable schools for our most precious natural resource?" she asked.
The effort to ask readers about presidential campaign issues is part of Associated Press Managing Editors National Credibility Roundtables Project. One of the project's goals is to encourage editors to include voices of the public in conversations about news coverage and journalistic issues.
The newspapers and online sites taking part have built reader e-mail feedback systems. They find readers willing to get occasional e-mails asking their input. Editors send queries when they want to quickly hear more voices on a journalistic question or to gather a wider variety of sources for news coverage.
The e-mail queries are not a scientific poll. "The idea is to hear more voices inside newsrooms when editors are planning coverage, to get messages with personality and passion," said Carol Nunnelley, director of the Roundtables Project.
"It's like conducting 1,750 person-on-the-street interviews," said Ken Sands, chief architect of the reader e-mail project and the online managing editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash. "Editors love to hear from 'real' people in their own words."
"Many politicians would prefer us focus solely on their sound bites and the mudslinging against their opponents. But our readers clearly want more than just horserace-type coverage of elections,'' said Steve Thomas, managing editor of the Lincoln Journal Star in Nebraska. "They depend on us to ensure that the issues important to them get addressed by politicians."
"Many times, the voice that gets left out in elections is that of the citizen,'' Thomas said. "If we make a conscious effort through efforts such as this (the APME survey), we can bring them back into the election process."
The e-mail questions unearthed no surprise issues on a national scale. For example, a CBS News/New York Times poll earlier this month asked registered voters nationwide "which one issue would you most like to hear the candidates for president discuss during the 2004 presidential campaign." The top five issues cited were the economy and jobs ; war/Iraq/foreign policy; education; taxes/IRS and defense/military.
The e-mail queries attracted distinct voices on the issues making headlines, speeches and debates.
Robert Hussey of Rock Hill, S.C., asked: "What positive steps will be taken to improve the job market with livable income employment opportunities?"
Rick Kennedy of Akron, Ohio, would ask about "War In Iraq - the lies that took us there."
But at least one person, Earl Gates, of Appleton, Wis., doubts the idea of his quizzing the candidates: "I can think of no useful purpose that such a chat would serve. The practicalities of running for office would overrule any announcement of principle or intent that might be made in such a venue as my living room."
Most reader networks used for last week's APME Election 2004 Issue Survey were established during the past year. Newspapers across the country invited readers to join e-mail "reader advisory networks." Those who sign up receive occasional e-mail messages asking about events or newsissues.
APME'S National Credibility Roundtables Project is supported by a grant from The Ford Foundation.
The newspapers and online sites taking part included the Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Ariz.: The Bakersfield Californian, Bakersfield, Calif.: Greeley Tribune, Greeley, Colo.; Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville, Fla.; Idaho Statesman, Boise, Idaho; The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Mason City Globe Gazette, Mason City, Iowa; The Manhattan Mercury, Manhattan, Kan.; The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky.; Village Soup.com, Camden, Maine; Carroll County Times Westminster, Md.; Hamilton-Wenham Chronicle, Hamilton-Wenham, Mass.; The Detroit Free Press, Detroit, Mich; Free Press, Mankato, Minn.; St. Cloud Times, St. Cloud, Minn.; The Missoulian, Missoula, Mont.; Lincoln Journal Star, Lincoln, Neb.; Norfolk Daily News Norfolk, Neb.; Nashua Telegraph, Nashua, N.H.; Star-Gazette, Elmira, N.Y.; The Forum, Fargo, N.D.; Akron Beacon Journal, Akron, Ohio; The Vindicator, Youngstown, Ohio; The McAlester News-Capital and Democrat, McAlester, Okla.; The Bend Bulletin, Bend, Ore.; The Daily Astorian, Astoria, Ore.; The Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia, Pa.; The Observer-Reporter, Washington, Pa.; The Newport Daily News, Newport, R.I.; The Herald, Rock Hill, S.C.; The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.; The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah; The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.; The Post-Crescent, Appleton, Wis.; Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Cheyenne, Wyo., and (Newsdesk.org).