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November 21, 2000 Contact: Melissa Ring (617) 496-9761

Interested but Discouraged: Americans' View of the Election Drama

Voter Involvement Index Survey Methodology

The unfolding election drama in Florida has captured Americans' attention in a way that the 2000 presidential campaign itself never did. But Americans are also more discouraged about the election than they previously were.

For the past year, the Shorenstein Center has conducted weekly national polls designed to measure public involvement in the presidential election. During the campaign, interest peaked in the final week before the election, when 46% said they were paying "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of attention. In the week that followed, as it became clear that the Florida vote would decide the outcome, 77% said they were closely following the campaign. And in the most recent week, 57% claimed to do so.

  Voter Involvement Index
November 15-19 63%
November 8-12 73%
November 1-5 50%
October 25-29 45%
October 18-22 43%
October 11-15 44%
October 4-8 46%
Source: Shorenstein Center Poll
Sampling error: ±6%

Americans are also talking about the campaign. In the week immediately after Election Day, almost 80% of the survey respondents said they had discussed the election with someone during the past day. The frequency has since declined but the election is still a topic of daily conversation for about 60% of Americans.

Even young adults, whose attention level was well below that of older citizens throughout the campaign, are now paying close attention. During the past two weeks, they have been nearly as attentive to election developments as older citizens. "Whatever else one might conclude about events of the past two weeks, they have awakened young adults to election politics, to the daily news, and to the importance of the vote," says Thomas Patterson, director of the Shorenstein Center survey and Bradlee Professor of Government & the Press at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

Americans are not particularly happy with what they have learned about the campaign during the past two weeks. Roughly 60% have claimed to be "discouraged" by what's been happening in the campaign while 20% have said they are "encouraged." In the past four days, the number of "discouraged" citizens has jumped to 70% while only 14% claim to be "encouraged." Half of the public believes the election has been "unfair" to the voters.

Broad attitudes toward politics and government have also worsened in the past two weeks. Just before Election Day, only 1 in every 10 respondents in the Shorenstein Center national poll answered "none" when asked, "How much influence do you think people like you have on what our government does?" In the most recent survey, 1 in 4 expressed this opinion.

The struggle for supremacy in Florida appears to have confirmed people's beliefs about politicians and tarnished their view of George W. Bush and Al Gore. Eighty-six percent say that "most politicians are pretty much willing to say whatever it takes to get themselves elected." Roughly a third claim that Bush is "undeserving" of the presidency. About the same number say that Gore is "undeserving." "Americans have been very patient most of them still say that the most important thing is to count the Florida votes fully and fairly," says Tami Buhr, research coordinator at the Shorenstein Center. "But, as time and the infighting go on, we can expect them to become increasingly disenchanted with the process and the candidates."

The results reported here are from nationwide telephone surveys of approximately 1,000 adults conducted November 14, 1999 November 19, 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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