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January 19, 2000 Contact: Melissa Ring (617) 496-9761

Public Dissatisfied With Nomination System, But What's the Alternative?

Voter Involvement Index Survey Methodology

With the Iowa caucuses just days away, the first votes for president will be cast earlier than ever this year. Although many Americans feel the presidential campaign has started too early and will last too long, they are also not enthusiastic about alternatives to the current nomination system.

  Voter Involvement Index: 25%

Components of Index
  Talked about campaign 16%
  Paid close attention to campaign 16%
  Recall a news story about campaign 33%
  Thought about campaign 35%
Source: Shorenstein Center Poll. Margin of error: ±6%

The latest Shorenstein Center national poll found that a slight majority of Americans would prefer a national primary held on a single day to the current system of state primaries held on different days (57% to 32%). But people express less support for one of the most frequently discussed alternatives, a series of rotating regional primaries, compared to the current system (44% to 46%). When asked why they favor the current system or do not favor an alternative, many express dissatisfaction with the current system but find it better than the proposed alternatives.

"The American voter is not enthusiastic about the current nominating system but neither about an alternative system," says Marvin Kalb, co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project and the Executive Director of the Shorenstein Center's Washington office. "The current system attracts their reluctant support, but no alternative system at this time seems that much more attractive."

  Voter Involvement Index
Jan. 12-16 25%
Jan. 5-9 25%
Dec. 28Jan. 2 12%
December 2126 18%
December 1519 20%
December 812 21%
Source: Shorenstein Center Poll
Sampling error: ±6%

And despite expanded news coverage of the intensifying campaign, the national electorate remains largely uninterested. About one-third of Americans (33%) have seen, heard, or read news of the campaign in the last day, and a similar number (35%) report having thought about it; however, only half as many (16%) have found it worthy of conversation.

The Shorenstein Center Poll for the Vanishing Voter Project also found that most Americans (70%) are no closer to selecting a presidential candidate than they were at the beginning of January, when nearly three-fourths said they hadn't picked a candidate yet. "Despite the nearly constant candidate debates and the rapid approach of the first caucuses and primaries, these numbers show that this campaign has yet to engage the national electorate enough for more than a few people to have a favorite in the race," says Tami Buhr, the Shorenstein Center's research coordinator. "Iowa and New Hampshire will vote, but will the rest of the country be watching?"

The Vanishing Voter Project is a study by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Funding for the project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The project is co-directed by Thomas E. Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government & the Press at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard, and by Marvin Kalb, Executive Director of the Shorenstein Center's office in Washington.

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