Satisfaction With Candidates Spurs Attention To Campaign
In recent weeks, Americans' interest in the presidential campaign has remained relatively high, fueled undoubtedly by the competitiveness of the nominating races. But Americans' interest also appears attributable to their general satisfaction with their candidate choices, especially in the Republican race.
The weekly Shorenstein Center poll found that attention to the campaign reached its highest level yet during the last week of February. Nearly 30% of Americans said they were paying "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of attention and another 24% said they were paying "some" attention. These figures are nearly twice the level that prevailed just before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary were held. "The turnabout in public attention to the campaign has been dramatic," says Thomas Patterson, acting director of the Shorenstein Center and co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project, of which the Shorenstein poll is a component. "The public has gone from barely attentive to closely attentive, except, of course, for those with little interest in electoral politics of any type."
The public's heightened level of attention, which has been sustained for the most part since the first contests, seems to rest in part on satisfaction with the presidential contenders. Americans are twice as likely to say they are "satisfied" as to say they are "dissatisfied" with the Republican candidates (67% to 33%). Self-identified Republicans are particularly pleased with the party's slate of candidates. Eighty-five percent of Republicans expressed satisfaction with their choice in this year's election.
The Democratic candidates, Al Gore and Bill Bradley, draw a less enthusiastic response. According to the Shorenstein poll, 49% percent of adults say they are "satisfied" with the Democratic alternatives while 42% say they are "dissatisfied." Among those who identify themselves as Democrats, the satisfaction level rises to 71%.
As expected, independents are less satisfied with the candidates seeking the Republican and Democratic nominations than party identifiers. But despite the high level of support that John McCain has received from independent voters in open primaries, independents nation-wide are not more satisfied with the Republican candidate choices than the Democratic ones (57% to 56%).
The public is also reasonably satisfied with the way that the major candidates have performed. By a margin of nearly two to one (48% to 26%), more Americans say they are "satisfied" than "dissatisfied" with how John McCain has conducted his campaign. The comparable percentages are nearly as favorable in the case of Gore (47% to 31%) and somewhat less favorable for George W. Bush (44% to 36%) and Bradley (40% to 31%). "Credit John McCain with converting a formerly uninspired electorate into a currently energized citizenry," says Marvin Kalb, co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project and the Executive Director of the Shorenstein Center's Washington office. "Whether this enthusiasm will survive the March 7 primary results remains to be seen."
The survey results reported here are from a nationwide telephone survey of 1,014 adults conducted February 23-27, 2000. The survey has a sampling error of ±3%. 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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