In the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election, the Annenberg Public Policy Center at Penn is still keeping a close eye on Washington and educating the public about key issues.
The center conducts research on a variety of topics related to media, communication and public policy.
Politics-related work is only one of seven major areas in which the Public Policy Center conducts research, but the institute is probably best known for creating and maintaining factcheck.org -- a nonpartisan Web site that monitors the accuracy of political media and communication.
The center is also responsible for many similar initiatives which strive to start dialogue among citizens and politicians to increase understanding of American politics.
For factcheck.org, which is run out of the Public Policy Center's Washington office, the post-election calm has resulted in time to redesign the site and develop new content. The site is now focusing on key national issues such as Social Security reform and the upcoming congressional elections.
"Our goal is to shift over from the political debate over the election to the political debate over policy," said Brooks Jackson, director of factcheck.org. "So far, what we've done is to focus on the Social Security debate."
"It's the biggest domestic program there is, so [it is] worthy of our attention," Jackson added. "There are others that we want to get to as we work out what our role is going to be in a non-election year."
With between 100,000 to 200,000 hits a day in the month before last year's election, factcheck.org remains one of the Public Policy Center's successes.
However, the drop in traffic, to about 10,000 to 20,000 hits a day, has given Jackson a chance to re-evaluate the site's audience, role and future.
"The size of that citizen audience ... surprised us, and it's very gratifying," Jackson said. "We really didn't figure that we would have that many people, that much traffic, this many subscribers when we started out."
Communication professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Public Policy Center, said that the election did not decisively change what the center does in the political communication arena.
"Much of our work in that area was active before and continues after elections," Jamieson said in an e-mail interview.
Terry Madonna conducts similar research at Franklin and Marshall College, where he directs the Center for Politics and Public Affairs.
Policy analysis "tends less now to be focused on the campaigns and more focused on the policy," said Madonna, who has concentrated on Senate and state issues since the election. "We move out of a campaign mode, but we certainly don't lessen our attention to what Congress does and to other big issues that are before the country."
One of the major projects of the Public Policy Center is an annual report, the latest of which was released on Wednesday, on issues-advertising by groups lobbying Congress.
"Earlier studies have suggested that there is a spending imbalance between differing types of spending organizations," report co-author Gordon McDonald said. "Corporate interests tend to spend more than all other groups."
The report found that a small number of groups and issues tended to dominate spending.
"I was surprised at the number of organizations that advertise with what we call ambiguous or potentially misleading names," McDonald said, citing groups like Voices for Choices, a group of telecommunications companies that lobbied against industry deregulation.
The issues-advertising report is a good example of the nature of much of the center's work in politics; though the election has ended, many of the same issues tend to crop up.
"I think in the 527 controversy you saw some of these ambiguously named organizations," McDonald said.
Such 527s -- named for the tax code loophole under which they are created -- as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are advocacy groups that campaign on behalf of candidates.
"I think it's the same in a lot of ways," McDonald said.
In a similar effort to educate people about sources of news and political commentary, factcheck.org is developing content to educate visitors about the political affiliations and funding sources of various think tanks and other organizations.
Jackson hopes the new content will "help [visitors] sort out which sources of information they find most trustworthy."
In addition to the issues-advertising report, most of the center's political work continues unaffected by the election.
The national radio program Justice Talking is produced by the Public Policy Center and distributed by National Public Radio.
The Public Policy Center also runs a program called Student Voices, which helps to educate students about politics and foster political discussion in schools.
Making the headlines The number of newspaper appearances in the last year according to a Lexis-Nexis Academic Quick News Search: 108 - Annenberg Public Policy Center 82 - Kathleen Hall Jamieson 81 - Factcheck.orgComments powered by Disqus
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