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Issue Ownership

Issue ownership happens when a plurality of voters believes one political party is better suited to handle a particular issue than another party. In the United States, the Republican Party generally “owns” national defense and crime, while the Democratic Party is thought to better handle, and thus “own,” education and the environment.

Issue ownership is tied to commonly held images of political parties that tend to be relatively stable over time. But if a ruling party handles an issue poorly over a period of time, it may lose the public's confidence on that issue. For some issues, such as the economy, neither party claims enduring ownership. These are called “performance issues” because public opinion is tied mainly to a party's performance rather than its image. A ...

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