Voters still disinterested despite media hyping

A recent increase in the quantity and prominence of political coverage in the press hasn't affected widespread voter apathy, according to a report released by the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

Part of the Vanishing Voter Project,

the report is a weekly nationwide telephone survey of about 1,000 adults.

The latest results, from the week of Jan. 5-9, saw a doubling from the previous week in the number of Americans who could recall having recently seen, read or heard a campaign news story.

The proportion of people who said they had thought about the campaign sometime during the past day more than tripled, from 11 percent to 34 percent.

Despite this increased exposure to the presidential races, nearly 70 percent said they still viewed the campaign as "boring," and only 9 percent of those polled felt it had been "exciting."

And nearly 50 percent said they viewed the past week's campaign activities as "uninformative."

"These numbers reflect the ability of the media to get the voters' attention," said Thomas E. Patterson, coordinator of the Shorenstein Center poll and Bradlee professor of government and the press at the Kennedy School of Government.

Mark C. Halperin '87, political director for ABC News, said ABC has stepped up its election coverage in anticipation of the Jan. 24 Iowa caucus and the Feb. 1 New Hampshire primary.

"The pace of how much [political] coverage on our broadcast is up, and we will continue to ratchet it up in the days before the two key contests," Halperin added.

But media hype cannot attract interest where there is nothing to be hyped, Patterson said.

"When the campaign is on the front pages and at the top of the newscasts, people will notice it. But they won't necessarily embrace it," Patterson said.

"To get that response, something big needs to happen. Nothing in these debates fits that description," he added. That's why Americans say it's been a boring and uninformative stretch of the campaign, despite the debates."

Marvin Kalb, co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project and the executive director of the Shorenstein Center's Washington, D.C. office, said apathy is particularly widespread among young voters.

"So far, anyway, there is no evidence of public interest or excitement about the 2000 campaign, especially among young Americans," Kalb said. "'Boring' and 'uninformative' are still the adjectives of choice."

Heather A. Woodruff '03, who has been involved in the campaign of Republican candidate George W. Bush, said she agreed with Kalb's analysis.

"Overall people are apathetic," she said. "Everything in the world is pretty much OK, so most people are kind of, 'Heh, let's keep things the same.' Until there's a problem, people don't look for solutions."

But Marc Stad '01, President of the Harvard College Democrats, attributed voters lack of enthusiasm to the intense coverage the media has given the election thus far.

" "There's been a lot of media coverage this year; it's unprecedented. A hundred years ago candidates were just starting to declare at this time of

year," Stad said. "People, not just students, have been flooded with information."

The Vanishing Voter Project will monitor news coverage and survey the electorate every week for the next year to determine when and why citizens follow or ignore the campaign.

More survey results are available on the project's Web site at http://www.vanishingvoter.org.