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February 10, 2000 Contact: Melissa Ring (617) 496-9761

New Hampshire Primary Boosts Americans' Interest in Campaign

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Survey Methodology

The New Hampshire primary succeeded in raising Americans' attention to presidential politics in a way that two months of campaigning in late 1999 and early 2000 failed to do. During most weeks of the 2000 campaign, fewer than 20% have said they were paying close attention to the election. In some weeks, the figure was as low as 10%. In the days immediately following New Hampshire's primary, however, 27% claimed to be paying "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of attention to the campaign. Only 23% said they were paying no attention. In several of the campaign's earlier weeks, 40% or more claimed to be paying no attention.

  Voter Involvement Index
Feb. 2-6 38%
Jan. 27-30 32%
Jan. 21-27 33%
Jan. 19-23 26%
Jan. 12-16 25%
Jan. 5-9 25%
Source: Shorenstein Center Poll
Sampling error: ±6%

The weekly Shorenstein Center national poll found other evidence of a "New Hampshire effect." After the primary, 33% of Americans said they had discussed the campaign during the past day with another person, double the average rate for earlier weeks in the campaign. Attention to news stories about the campaign also nearly doubled the average for earlier weeks. "New Hampshire is clearly a 'critical event' in terms of awakening Americans to the presidential campaign," 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 sponsors the weekly national poll. "It truly energized a portion of the electorate. The question now is whether the effect will last."

The impact of the New Hampshire primary, however, was limited by the relatively modest level of attention that most Americans have paid to the presidential campaign at this early stage. Only 47% could name John McCain as the winner of New Hampshire's Republican primary. Four percent claimed that George W. Bush had won and 49% said they didn't know the victor's name. By comparison, 70% correctly identified the St. Louis Rams as the winner of the Super Bowl.

New Hampshire's primary had a smaller impact on younger adults than older ones. Among those 18-34 years of age, only 30% could identify McCain as the Republican winner. Moreover, only 20% of those in this age group claimed to have paid close attention to the campaign during the week of the New Hampshire primary. Young adults were also less impressed by the fanfare surrounding the New Hampshire primary. Slightly more than 50% of young adults said the campaign during the week of the New Hampshire primary had been "boring." Only 19% claimed it had been "exciting." Americans 35 years-of-age or older were twice as likely to say the campaign week had been an "exciting" one. "Igniting interest among young people is the single biggest challenge facing American politics," says Marvin Kalb, co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project and Executive Director of the Shorenstein Center's Washington office. "The candidate who works this miracle deserves the presidency."

The survey results reported here are from a nationwide telephone survey of 1,012 adults conducted February 2-6, 2000. The survey has 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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