High-profile candidates and the accelerated pace of the 2008 presidential campaign have drawn the public into the race far earlier than in past election cycles. In this week's survey, 55% of Americans say they are tracking news about the candidates for the 2008 presidential election very or fairly closely. Public interest has been at or near this level consistently over the past three months with an average of 53% closely following the campaign. By comparison, polls conducted in the spring and summer of 2003, found an average of only 38% paying close attention to news about the 2004 presidential election. Similarly, in the early months of the 2000 presidential election, 45% of Americans were closely following campaign news. And, in 1995, 46% of the public was closely following news of the 1996 election.
Public interest in the 2006 campaign has coincided with heavy media coverage of the race. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the campaign has been one of the top five most covered news stories for every week from mid-January through March, as well as the first full week of April. The only news story that has received more coverage this year is the Iraq war.
Democrats have consistently paid closer attention to campaign news than have Republicans. On average interest among Democrats has exceeded interest among Republicans by 12 percentage points. During the week of April 2, when candidates' first quarter fundraising totals dominated campaign news, 66% of Democrats were paying very or fairly close attention to the campaign compared to 58% of Republicans. Independents have been slightly less attentive to the campaign than Democrats or Republicans throughout most of the year. Last week, 46% of Independents were closely following campaign news.
The most recent comparable presidential election, without an incumbent president, was 2000. In the early stages of that contest, Republicans were following campaign news more closely than were Democrats. During June and July of 1999, the gap in interest between Republicans and Democrats was just under 10% points. In the early stages of the 2004 presidential campaign, when only the Democratic nomination was up for grabs, Democrats were paying closer attention than Republicans to campaign news. Similarly, in 1995, when only the GOP nomination was at stake, Republicans were more interested than Democrats in campaign news.
Read the full News Interest Index on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press Web site.