News Interest Index: Campaign Seen as Less Negative than 2004 Contest

  • February 21, 2008

The public remains highly engaged in the presidential campaign, and strong majorities say the campaign is important, easy to follow, interesting and informative. The public's only major complaint about the campaign is its length: 57% say it is too long, while 40% disagree. However, campaign fatigue has not increased in recent months. If anything, the public is less concerned about the length of the campaign now than was the case last fall. In October, 66% said the campaign was too long, and 28% said it was not.

Relatively few Americans (28%) say the campaign has been too negative thus far. Two-thirds (66%) say it has not been too negative. By comparison, nearly half of the public found the campaign to be too negative at a comparable point in the 2004 election. In March 2004, 47% of Americans said the presidential campaign had been too negative, while 47% said it had not been too negative. By the fall of 2004, a solid majority of voters (57%) said the campaign was too negative.

Those who are following the campaign very closely are among the least likely to view it as being too negative. Just 23% of those paying very close attention to the campaign say it has been too negative. This compares with 32% of those paying less attention to the campaign. In March 2004, those who were highly attentive to the presidential campaign were just as likely as those paying less attention to say it was too negative.

Republicans are somewhat more critical than Democrats of the tone of the campaign. Roughly a third of Republicans (34%) say the campaign has been too negative compared with only 19% of Democrats. Even so, a strong majority of Republicans (61%) says the campaign has not been excessively negative.

Public interest in the campaign continues to rise, and is much higher than at comparable periods in previous presidential elections. In fact, the current level of interest in campaign news rivals or surpasses interest in the very late stages of the 2004 and 2000 campaigns. Last week, 44% of the public followed news about the campaign very closely. In mid-October 2004, 46% were paying very close attention to the campaign. And in mid-October 2000, 40% were following very closely.

Fully 70% of the public now finds the campaign interesting, as opposed to dull. This is nearly twice the number that said the campaign was interesting last fall. In October 2007, 37% said the campaign was interesting, 55% said it was dull.

Read the full report Campaign Seen as Less Negative than 2004 Contest on the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press Web site.