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February 2, 2000 Contact: Melissa Ring (617) 496-9761

Opening Contest Has Only Modest Effect On Voter Involvement

Voter Involvement Index Full Questionnaire
Survey Methodology

With the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary signaling the official start of the presidential campaign, more Americans might be expected to start paying attention. The most recent Shorenstein Center Poll finds that Iowa increased the public's involvement with the campaign, but that the effect was relatively small and short-lived.

Voter Involvement Measures
Before and After Iowa Caucuses*
Measure Before After
Attention 17% 23%
Talk 20% 33%
Think 39% 43%
News Story 41% 43%
V.I. Index 30% 36%
*"Before" and "after" refer to poll data taken in the six-day periods from Jan. 19-24 (n=1736) and 25-30 (n=1288), respectively.

The week between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary is traditionally one of the most media intensive weeks of the nomination campaign. This election has been true to form. Network news coverage of the campaign averaged seven minutes a night during the first two weeks of January, nine minutes during the third week, and jumped to an average of fourteen minutes the week following Iowa.

Like media coverage, Americans' interest in the campaign has risen since the beginning of January, reaching its highest level immediately after Iowa. Compared to the six days leading up to the caucuses, more people were thinking about the campaign (43% to 39%) and following it in the news (43% to 41%) during the six days following Iowa. The caucuses also encouraged many more people to talk about the campaign (33% to 20%). "The latest Shorenstein Center poll indicates slow but steadily rising public interest and involvement in the presidential campaign," said Marvin Kalb, executive director of the Shorenstein Center's Washington Office.

But unlike media coverage, public interest was only temporarily excited. By the end of the week, involvement had fallen rather than continuing to increase heading into New Hampshire. News coverage held steady during the week between Iowa and New Hampshire, but many fewer people recalled seeing, hearing, or reading a campaign news story at the end of the week than on caucus day (48% to 35%).

  Voter Involvement Index
Jan. 27-30 32%
Jan. 21-27 33%
Jan. 19-23 26%
Jan. 12-16 25%
Jan. 5-9 25%
Dec. 28Jan. 2 12%
Source: Shorenstein Center Poll
Sampling error: ±6%

Before Iowa, most Americans were not following the race closely enough to make predictions about who would win. The Iowa caucuses did not alter this pattern. Half the public does not know who won either party caucus, which helps explain the caucuses' fleeting impact. "We're expecting a bigger boost from the New Hampshire primary," says Thomas Patterson, co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project and Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard. "The question is how big the boost will be, and how long it will last."

The survey results reported here are from three nationwide telephone surveys of just over 1,000 adults conducted January 19-23, 21-27, and 27-30, 2000. The surveys have a sampling error of ±3%. Media content data are provided by the Center for Media and Public Affairs.
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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