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Experts: candidates' books don't impact voter support

BY MARY KATE KNORR | NOVEMBER 15, 2011 7:20 AM

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Republican caucus candidates are shoveling out literature, but experts say their books likely won't have a huge effect on voters.

Most of the GOP candidates in the Iowa caucus spotlight have published books, but numbers from the Iowa City Public Library show they're not checked out often.

"I don't think they have much of an impact in determining how people actually vote," said Bruce Gronbeck, a University of Iowa communications-studies professor emeritus. "… I think more often, they get picked up by people already interested … so they tend not to have an effect."

Public Library circulation numbers may reflect low voter interest in the political nonfiction genre.

Books by some of the candidates including former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — have been checked out around a dozen times. Others — including those by Georgia businessman Herman Cain and Texas Gov. Rick Perry — have only been checked out a couple times.

Overall, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul is apparently the most popular among local library users.

Paul's book The Revolution: Manifesto has been checked out 50 times.

"I would say the Ron Paul one is pretty average," said Anne Mangano, a Public Library reference librarian. "Usually, things circulate one to five times per year [but new popular nonfiction books] circulate 18 to 20 times per year."

Paul's Liberty Defined was checked out 20 times and End the Fed followed close behind with 15 checkouts since July 2010. Unlike other candidates' publications, the library circulates numerous print copies of all three books and provides audio editions of Liberty Defined and End the Fed.

Andrew Civettini, assistant political science professor at Knox College, said average voters do not read candidates' books to learn about individual issues. Instead, he said, a candidate's book is popular among two audiences.

"There's the name-recognition audience [with whom] you are trying to establish yourself as a brand," he said. "You don't necessarily expect most of these people to sit down and read the book. Instead, they are buying the book so they can say, 'Oh yeah, I have Romney's book,' when someone else brings it up."

The second audience, Civettini says, is the one candidates aim to impress.

"People who are highly engaged, highly interested, and knowledgeable — that audience they are trying to win over," he said. "This is the group of people who are going to matter for deciding the party's nominee."

There are a few candidates who are garnering mainstream media attention but don't have books in the stacks at the Public Library, including Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer.

Bachmann is scheduled to release her first book, an autobiography, this month.

Even with the variety of candidates who have published books, David Perlmutter, the director of the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said the largest demographic to read the books is probably journalists.

Journalists typically use the books as a reference about the candidates and their stances on policy issues, Gronbeck said.

"Journalists will pick it up, and they'll be looking for things she hasn't said," he said. "If they pick it up and see the same old stuff, it will die."


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