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August 30, 2000 Contact: Melissa Ring (617) 496-9761

Conventions Boost Americans' Issue Awareness

Voter Involvement Index Survey Methodology

Americans' recognition of the issue positions of presidential nominees George W. Bush and Al Gore rose substantially during the period of the national party conventions. It was the first major increase in the public's issue awareness since February and early March, when the primaries were being hotly contested.

  Knowledge of Candidate Issue Positions

The Shorenstein Center's weekly national polls have measured issue awareness by asking respondents to identify Gore and Bush's positions on 12 key issues. During the four months after Super Tuesday, the public's knowledge of Bush and Gore's issue stands improved only marginally. Since the start of the national conventions, however, there has been a more than 30% increase in people's ability to identify correctly Bush and Gore's positions. "Our latest survey indicates the continuing importance of party conventions as an educational tool for the American public," says Marvin Kalb, co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project, for which the Shorenstein Poll was conducted, and Executive Director of the Shorenstein Center's Washington Office. "This is a substantial increase in the public's awareness and knowledge of candidate issues, and we have the conventions to thank for that."

Issue awareness increased among nearly every demographic group. A notable exception was adults aged 18 to 29. Although their knowledge had crept upward at the same slow pace as other citizens after Super Tuesday, it did not rise significantly during the convention period. Citizens who are not registered to vote also showed little gain. The fact that young adults and non-registered citizens had very little exposure to the conventions may account for these patterns. "It's pretty clear that people who followed the conventions at least somewhat closely gained information as a result," says Tami Buhr, research coordinator of the Shorenstein Center. "It's also evident that those who more or less ignored the convention are not much better informed today than they were a month ago."

  Voter Involvement Index
August 23-27 34%
August 16-20 42%
August 9-13 38%
August 2-6 39%
July 26-30 32%
Source: Shorenstein Center Poll
Sampling error: ±6%

Last week, the Shorenstein Center reported that its weekly surveys indicated that the public's attitude toward the campaign, and involvement in it, had improved substantially as a result of the national conventions. This week's findings on issue awareness provide additional support for the view that the national conventions are critical to Americans' ability to engage the campaign. "Although some in the media have claimed that the conventions have lost their purpose, they ignore the importance of these events to the public. The conventions are a time when people pay closer attention to the campaign. They acquire a better understanding of what the candidates stand for and a heightened respect for the political process," says Thomas Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and director of the Shorenstein surveys.

The results reported here are from nationwide telephone surveys of approximately 1,000 adults conducted November 14, 1999 August 27, 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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