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For voters, abstract talk works -- but not at crunch time

October 15, 2008 |  4:20 pm

Timing is everything, and as of tonight's debate, the time for abstract messages is over, according to a study from the Journal of Consumer Research. Researchers found that voters facing a choice in the distant future are fond of vague concepts like hope, change, experience and low taxes. And the more uninformed the voter, the happier they are with abstract promises.

But only to a point. In a series of studies with marketing undergraduates, researchers from Canada and the U.S. gave participants a series of statements from fictional candidates, along with a time frame for the fictional election. What they found is that, compared with highly informed potential voters, those who were less informed viewed abstract, high-falutin ideas more favorably when the election was long in the future. But if they thought voting day was getting near, they wanted more specifics, and those least informed were the most antsy for specifics.

Here's how the researchers explained the phenomenon:

"Imagine taking a vacation to Cancun some time in the future. If the vacation is six months away, the traveler is probably thinking about beaches, sunsets, and other abstract information. On the other hand, if the vacation begins the following week, the traveler is thinking about taxi cabs, boarding passes, and specific concrete concerns."

So when it comes to healthcare policy, the New America Foundation has some pretty specific ideas they'd like to see addressed in tonight's debate.

  • Our struggling healthcare system is hurting U.S. businesses and the American workforce.
  • We must reduce healthcare costs for every American family.
  • We must improve the quality of care that patients receive.
  • Controlling healthcare costs is part of the solution to our entitlement crisis.
  • Improving our healthcare system is part of a comprehensive economic recovery plan.

-- Susan Brink