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September 30, 2000 Contact: Melissa Ring (617) 496-9761

Nearly Half of Young Adults Say They Will Not Watch the First Presidential Debate

Voter Involvement Index Survey Methodology

Forty-eight percent of 18-29 year old Americans say they don't plan to watch the televised presidential debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush on October 3. Among Americans 30 years of age and older, only a third say they will not watch the debate.

  How Much of the October 3 Debate Do You Plan to Watch?
  18-29 30+
Most of it 14% 33%
Some of it 17% 16%
Only a little 21% 18%
None 48% 38%
Approximately 2% of respondents answered "don't know" and were omitted from these results.

The latest Shorenstein Center weekly national poll also found that only 14% of young adults say they plan to watch all or most of the televised presidential debate. Among older adults, 33% claim they will watch that much.

Throughout the presidential campaign, the Shorenstein Center polls have found that young adults have taken much less interest in the election than their older counterparts. On a week-to-week basis, young adults have been a third less likely (20% to 32%) to say they have been thinking about the campaign, talking about it, or paying attention to news about it. "We have regularly found that young adults are not paying much attention to the campaign," says Tami Buhr, research coordinator at the Shorenstein Center. "Our surveys have not yet found even a single week in the campaign when a majority of young adults have said they have paid close attention to what's happening."

Not surprisingly, many young adults haven't yet decided whether they would prefer Bush or Gore as president. Forty-three percent of adults under 30 say they don't yet have a preferred candidate or could change their mind about their choice during the remaining weeks of the campaign. Somewhat surprisingly, given their relatively low level of interest in the televised debates, nearly half of these uncommitted young adults say that the debates are very or somewhat likely to affect their choice of a candidate.

  Which are You Interested in Watching?
  18-29 30+
Debates 14% 35%
Olympics 55% 42%
Both Equally 31% 23%
Approximately 2% of respondents answered "don't know" and were omitted from these results.

In the week following the New Hampshire primary, which was also the week following the Super Bowl, the Shorenstein Center poll found that young adults were three times as likely to know who had won the Super Bowl (the St. Louis Rams) as to know who had won the GOP New Hampshire primary (John McCain). In the most recent Shorenstein Center poll, young adults were four times as likely (55% to 14%) to claim an interest in watching the televised Olympics as in the televised presidential debate. "This generation of young Americans is steeped in the media-television and the Internet-but most of them pay only a small amount of attention to news or televised public events," says Thomas Patterson, director of the Shorenstein Center survey and Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. "Compared with young adults of the 1960s and 1970s, this generation is politically apathetic, at least in the realm of mainstream politics, including elections."


The results reported here are from nationwide telephone surveys of approximately 1,000 adults conducted November 14, 1999 September 24, 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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