Even On Super Tuesday, Most Americans Unaware Of Their Own Primaries
Turnout in presidential primaries and caucuses is typically much lower than in the November general election. One reason for this year's low turnout may have been that most Americans did not even know when their state's primaries or caucuses were being held, even when they were only days away.
The Shorenstein Center has been conducting weekly national polls since the beginning of the presidential campaign. In the week preceding each state's primary or caucus, respondents from that state were asked when their state's contest would be held-within the week, a few weeks later, or more than a month afterward. When the results for all the states are tabulated, a picture emerges of a public that was barely attuned to the primary process. Only 45% of the respondents knew when their states' contests would be held within the week. More than half either guessed incorrectly or said they did not know when they were scheduled. "We sometimes take it for granted that citizens will at least know when an election is being held, but that assumption clearly is not warranted," says Thomas Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard's Kennedy School and co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project, of which the Shorenstein Center weekly polls are a component.
As could be expected, residents of states that held their nominating contests on or before Super Tuesday (March 7), when George W. Bush and Al Gore effectively wrapped up their parties' nominations, were more likely than other Americans to know when their primary or caucus would be held. But even among residents of Super Tuesday and earlier primary states, only 50% knew when their contest was only a few days off.
Of the major demographic groups, young adults enjoyed the highest level of ignorance. Only 23% of Americans aged 18-29 knew that their state's contest would be held within the week. Young adults living in states that held their nominating contests on or before Super Tuesday were twice as likely as other young adults (31% to 15%) to know that their primary or caucus was less than a week away, but they still lagged behind older Americans.
The results reported here are from nationwide telephone surveys of approximately 1,000 adults conducted November 14, 1999 June 25, 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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