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March 13, 2000 Contact: Melissa Ring (617) 496-9761

Americans "Disgusted" With Politics

Voter Involvement Index Full Questionnaire
Survey Methodology

Americans' disenchantment with politics sparked John McCain's candidacy, but not even McCain was able to tap it fully. The latest weekly Shorenstein Center national survey found that 71% of Americans agree with the statement: "Politics in America is generally pretty disgusting."

  Voter Involvement Index
Mar. 1-5 38%
Feb. 23-27 38%
Feb. 18-22 37%
Feb. 16-20 35%
Feb. 9-13 34%
Feb. 4-9 30%
Feb. 2-6 38%
Jan. 27-30 32%
Source: Shorenstein Center Poll
Sampling error: ±6%

This view characterizes all demographic groups but is more pronounced among some groups. Women (76%) are more likely than men (67%) to express disgust with the nation's politics while independents (78%) are more disenchanted than either Republicans (73%) or Democrats (64%). Surprisingly, perhaps, young adults were slightly less likely than older Americans to say that politics is "pretty disgusting." Two-thirds of those 34 years-of-age or younger expressed this view, compared with three-fourths of those 35 or older.

The Shorenstein Center poll revealed that an even greater number (87%) of respondents felt that "most politicians are willing to say whatever it takes to get themselves elected." Moreover, half of these respondents believed that none of this year's presidential candidates was an exception to the rule. Among those who did cite an exception, John McCain was mentioned most often. Thirty-one percent claimed that McCain was willing "to say what needs to be said even if it hurts his chances of winning." Less than 20% placed Bush or Gore in this category.

"With McCain effectively out of the race, the outlet for Americans' disenchantment with politics and politicians is not yet clear," says Thomas Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project, which conducts the Shorenstein survey. "But a good guess is that we will see an electorate that is more apathetic than the one we saw in the early primaries."

The survey results reported here are from a nationwide telephone survey of 1,011 adults conducted March 1-5, 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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