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March 20, 2000 Contact: Melissa Ring (617) 496-9761

Interest In Campaign Plummets, Falling To Pre-New Hampshire Level

Voter Involvement Index Survey Methodology

The Super Tuesday primaries of March 7 drove Americans' interest in the presidential campaign to its highest level. Since then, interest has declined substantially. It is now no higher than it was immediately before the first primary, even though the primary season still has more than two months to go. The process won't officially end until June 6, when five states will hold their contests.

  Voter Involvement Index
Mar. 15-19 30%
Mar. 10-14 37%
Mar. 8-12 46%
Mar. 1-5 38%
Feb. 23-27 38%
Feb. 18-22 37%
Feb. 16-20 35%
Feb. 9-13 34%
Source: Shorenstein Center Poll
Sampling error: ±6%

Campaign interest rose steadily after New Hampshire and, during Super Tuesday week, 36% of the respondents in the Shorenstein Center weekly national survey said they were paying "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of attention to the campaign. Roughly a third said they were paying "only a little" or no attention. In the latest weekly Shorenstein poll, however, only 24% said they were paying close attention and slightly more than half said they were paying almost no attention. "The numbers strongly suggest that the public's interest in the presidential campaign has dropped to earlier low levels," says Marvin Kalb, executive director of the Shorenstein Center's Washington office and co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project, of which the Shorenstein weekly poll is a component. "John McCain's meteoric rise to national prominence as a reform-minded alternative to the other candidates was the main reason for the sharp increase in public interest with him now out, the interest declined quickly."

The rapid decline in campaign attention during the past two weeks may signal the start of a pattern similar to that seen in the last presidential campaign. In 1996, voter interest declined sharply after a March peak and did not rise again until the party conventions in July and August. "Unless something extraordinary happens-such as a major scandal involving Bush or Gore-we can expect public interest to remain low for the next four months," 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. "The question is whether the public will use this interlude as an opportunity to deepen their understanding of the candidates. If the public is not much better informed in early July than it is today, we have to question the wisdom of a nominating process that effectively ends in March. What's the purpose of a four-month gap in the action?"

The survey results reported here are from a nationwide telephone survey of 1,009 adults conducted March 15-19, 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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