Americans' Support of Presidential Candidates Drops as Their Campaign Interest Declines
Public interest in the presidential campaign has declined sharply since Super Tuesday, and so has Americans' commitment to a presidential candidate. According to the latest Shorenstein Center national survey, 59% said they hadn't picked a candidate yet, compared with 49% the week following Super Tuesday.
This finding is at odds with many national surveys, which show only a small percentage of uncommitted voters. But these surveys nearly force respondents into a choice by reading them the names of George W. Bush and Al Gore and asking them to select one. The Shorenstein Center poll posed the question differently: "Which presidential candidate do you support at this time, or haven't you picked a candidate yet?" The landslide winner with 59% was "no candidate yet." George W. Bush was supported by 23%, and Al Gore 17%. Two percent indicated a preference for a third-party or independent candidate. "The wording of the pollster's question is often the key to the public's answers," said Marvin Kalb, co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project and executive director of the Shorenstein Center's Washington office. "Name the candidate and you get one response; don't name him and you get another, perhaps far more revealing, response."
With the two major party nominees already known, one might expect fewer undecided voters as partisan predispositions begin to guide people's choices. But Shorenstein Center surveys taken since mid-November show that candidate preferences rise and fall with public involvement in the campaign. Involvement has dropped steadily since Super Tuesday and, as it has, the percentage of uncommitted voters has increased. "For some citizens, the choice of a presidential candidate is a fleeting thing," says Thomas Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project, which conducts the Shorenstein Center weekly poll. "When the campaign slips from view, so does their embrace of a candidate."
The proportion of undecided voters varies substantially among groups, with political independents, women and young adults much less likely to have chosen a candidate. Over three-quarters of independents are uncommitted, compared to 52% of Democrats and 32% of Republicans. And while 50% of men have made their decision, 68% of women have yet to do so. Even more reluctant to support a candidate are Americans under 30 72% of these potential voters are uncommitted, in contrast to 56% of those 30 and over.
The results reported here are from nationwide telephone surveys of approximately 1,000 adults conducted November 14, 1999 April 30, 2000. The surveys have 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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