Americans Are Forgetting Some Of What They Knew About Bush And Gore
The public's attention to the presidential campaign has receded in recent weeks, and so has its knowledge of the candidates' issue positions. Americans are less informed about Bush and Gore's policy positions today than they were at the time of the New Hampshire primary in early February.
In the most recent Shorenstein Center weekly national poll, 76% claimed not to know George W. Bush's position on gun registration and only 13% identified his position accurately. Just after New Hampshire, 24% correctly identified his position. Over this same period, the proportion of Americans correctly identifying Al Gore's position on school vouchers fell from 19% to 12%.
"One might expect citizens to become better informed as the campaign progresses toward November, but that's not what's happening," 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 conducts the Shorenstein Center weekly poll. "A nominating process that peaks in March and then goes into hibernation strains the public's effort to understand what the candidates represent. When attention to the campaign drops, people start to forget what they once knew."
Information levels have declined among all major demographic groups, but the drop is more substantial among those who typically have lower information levels-young people, women, and the less educated. Among those 18-29 years of age, for example, the percentage correctly identifying Bush's position on gun control fell by more than half. In fact, young people were somewhat more likely to misjudge Bush's position than to gauge it accurately. Eight percent claimed that he favored a policy that would require the registration of all privately owned guns, while 6% said he opposed such a policy. "The latest numbers suggest that news coverage of the campaign plays a positive educational role," says Marvin Kalb, co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project and executive director of the Shorenstein Center's Washington office. "Now that the coverage has dropped off because the nominating races are over, people know less."
The results reported here are from nationwide telephone surveys of approximately 1,000 adults conducted November 14, 1999 April 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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