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August 11, 2000 Contact: Melissa Ring (617) 496-9761

GOP Convention Struggles For Audience

Voter Involvement Index Survey Methodology

The television audience for the GOP convention in 2000 was smaller than in 1996, but more than 50 million adult Americans still managed to watch at least some part of it on an average night.

In the latest Shorenstein Center weekly national poll, 37% of respondents said they watched some of the GOP convention on an average night. But one in three viewers (33%) said they watched only a few minutes, while 23% watched a half hour, 20% watched an hour, and 24% watched more than an hour of the coverage.

The viewing audience would have been higher if the three major broadcast networks ABC, CBS, and NBC had not reduced their coverage this year. According to the Shorenstein Center poll, 53% of the convention audience on the typical night consisted of viewers who "just came across" the convention while watching TV and decided to watch a part of it. Because of the reduced hours of network coverage, such viewers were fewer in number this year. A fourth of American homes don't have cable and many cable viewers habitually monitor the network channels. "Imagine how many more would have been watching and learning if the networks had not cut back so drastically on their coverage," says Marvin Kalb, co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project and the Executive Director of the Shorenstein Center's Washington Office.

  Voter Involvement Index
August 2-6 39%
July 26-30 32%
July 19-23 28%
July 12-16 22%
July 5-9 21%
Source: Shorenstein Center Poll
Sampling error: ±6%

The future of the televised convention also would appear to be jeopardized by the demographic breakdown of the GOP convention audience. Adults who are 50 years of age or older were nearly four times as likely to watch more than an hour or more of the convention on a typical night than those 29 or younger. In fact, on the average night, only 7% of young adults said they watched at least an hour of the convention while 53% did not watch the convention at all.

The GOP convention was perceived favorably by those who watched more than just a few minutes of it. Slightly over one-third of these viewers (35%) described it as "extremely" or "very" interesting. Another 45% described it as "somewhat" interesting. Viewers identified George W. Bush's acceptance speech as the convention's best feature. Yet most Americans were not all that happy with the GOP convention. When respondents who did not watch were asked why, the major reason beyond the customary ones "too busy" and "just not interested" was that the convention had been preprogrammed and would lack suspense and excitement. It was a complaint echoed by viewers asked what they liked least about the convention. "If the parties have a long term interest in attracting a convention audience and they do they are going to have to find a way to build a greater degree of spontaneity into the conventions," says Thomas Patterson, director of the Shorenstein Center poll and Bradlee Professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

The results reported here are from nationwide telephone surveys of approximately 1,000 adults conducted November 14, 1999 August 6, 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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