Voters Now Focusing On Campaign

As the presidential campaign enters the final stretch, substantially more voters are turning to the choice they will face in November. For the first time this year, a solid majority of registered voters ­ 59% ­ now say they have given a lot of thought to the coming presidential election. This is up from less than half of voters at several points earlier in the year, including a low of 46% in June and July when voter interest was comparable to similar points in 1996.

What’s more, just as many voters are fully engaged by this year’s election as were at the same point in the 1996 campaign, offering new evidence that turnout in November may well match voter participation four years ago. The 59% of voters who say they have thought a lot about the election today compares with 56% in early September 1996, and is nearly equal to the 61% who were as engaged by late September four years ago. At the same time, voter interest this year still lags slightly behind 1992, when fully 69% of voters said in September they had given a lot of thought to the election.

More voters have also become interested in news about the presidential campaign since the conventions. Fully 73% of voters are paying at least fairly close attention to the race today, with just over one-quarter (26%) paying little or no attention. This is a shift from June, when some 38% said they were paying little or no attention to the campaign.

Some Good News for Bush?

But Gore’s recent gains in voter support are not due entirely to growing interest in the presidential campaign among would-be Gore backers. Indeed, some of the largest increases in voter interest have come among groups that remain as likely to support Bush as Gore, including independents and the key 30 to 49-year old voting bloc.

Half of independents (51%) now say they have given a lot of thought to the coming election, up 14 points from 37% in June. This compares with a 14-point increase among Democrats and a 10-point increase among Republicans.

Similarly, there has been a 16-point increase in the number of voters between 30 and 49 who say they have thought a lot about the election, with 57% now fully engaged in the campaign — up from just 41% in June. But while the rise in campaign interest among these voters is noticeably greater than among all other age groups, the 30-49 group is also the only one where Bush actually has a slight edge over Gore.

Except for voters under 30, solid majorities across all other age groups now say they have given a lot of thought to the coming election, bringing the level of interest to about where it was at this point four years ago. At the same time, interest is lagging slightly among younger voters.

Two-Party Parity in Voting Intentions

More than eight-in-ten voters (84%) say today they are certain they will vote in this election, a figure that is comparable to both early September four years ago (83%) and to September 1992 (85%). Notably, Democrats are now as determined as Republicans to vote this November, with 87% of Democrats and 88% of Republicans saying they are certain they will vote. This parity among loyalists of both parties reflects a slight change from earlier this year, when Republicans were slightly more likely than Democrats to say they were certain to vote.

A noticeable level of dissatisfaction with the parties among some voters does not appear to be dampening voter interest. Indeed, more than one-third (36%) of Democrats and Democratic-leaners and nearly half (49%) of Republicans and Republican-leaners fault their preferred party for the way it is handling key issues. But these disgruntled voters are only slightly less likely to say they are certain to vote in November than those who are pleased with their party’s efforts.

Additional Findings: A Closer Look at Independents and Swing Voters