Most Voters Not Even Paying Attention To 2016 Race At This Point

The political media is breathlessly reporting on every event in a campaign that is just beginning, and voters aren't really paying attention to it at this point.

Vote 2016

Ted Cruz has already officially entered the race for President, Rand Paul will be doing so this week, and, if reports are to be believed, he’ll be followed in short order by candidates ranging from Hillary Clinton, to Marco Rubio,  to Ben Carson. Pundits, pollsters, and political analysts are breathlessly digesting every bit of information they can find and writing essays proclaiming what it “means” for a race for President that won’t be complete until nineteen months from now. The Republican primary debates are scheduled to begin in just about four months, and we’ll of course be subjected to the Ames Straw Poll in August. In other words, the 2016 race for President has begun in earnest. A new Pew Research Poll, however, finds that most people aren’t paying much attention to it:

The 2016 presidential campaign has gotten off to a slow start with voters. A majority of registered voters (58%) say they have given at least some thought to candidates who may run for president in 2016, but that is 10 points lower than at a comparable point in the 2008 campaign – the last time both parties had contested nominations.

Yet, even at this early stage, the vast majority of voters (87%) say they care a good deal about who wins the presidency, and 72% say they care which party prevails.


With the 2016 election more than a year and a half away, most voters have yet to fully engage with it—just 26% say they have given a lot of thought to the 2016 candidates, while 58% say they have given at least some thought.

Overall, there is less interest in the campaign today than there was in March 2007 (when 68% had given the candidates at least some thought). At that stage of the 2008 election, all of the major candidates from both parties had formally announced their candidacies. As of today, just one 2016 candidate—Ted Cruz—has formally declared an intention to run.

Today, Democrats, Republicans, and independents are about equally likely to say they have given thought to 2016 candidates. In March 2007, Democratic voters were somewhat more attentive to the election than their Republican counterparts (71% said they had given it at least some thought, compared with 64% of GOP voters).

Among all registered voters, Hillary Clinton registers the greatest share of support. One-third (33%) of voters say there is a good chance they would vote for her, while an additional 19% say there is at least some chance. No more than 13% say there is a good chance they would vote for any single other candidate.

The article at the link goes on to give the results of Pew’s recent poll of the state of the race on both the Democratic and Republican sides. Hillary Clinton remains the prohibitive favorite on the Democratic side just as she has been since leaving Foggy Bottom. On the Republican side, there’s no clear leader just as there has been in other polls, although Jeb Bush continues to pull in good numbers, with candidates like Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio not very far behind him. This isn’t dissimilar to the way the fields in each party looked at this point in 2008 race, with the difference that Hillary is a much stronger candidate this time and there doesn’t appear to be any Obama-like candidate in the Democratic field that could be a threat to her. In any event, these numbers are what they are and, considering that most of these candidates haven’t even begun campaigning yet, they don’t mean very much.

The most important takeaway from this poll, then, is the fact that the vast majority of Americans aren’t even paying attention to the race at this point.

It’s good to keep numbers like this in mind as we go through the cycle of political news and coverage of the 2016 race going forward. Whether its the Indiana RFRA, the Iran nuclear deal, or any other issue, pundits of all types will be weighing in for what some particular news item “means” in the race for President. Every little statement and gaffe that a candidate makes will be magnified and rebroadcast, and there will be speculation about whether or not this means “the end” of a campaign that has barely really begun. Those of us who follow political news closely even when there isn’t an election approaching will eat this stuff up, of course, but the truth of the matter is that most Americans aren’t even paying attention to the race at this point, and won’t be until we get into 2016 itself. Indeed, many people will only be giving passing attention to the race until we get to the party conventions and we have our two major party nominees in the summer of 2016. Given that, the actual importance of things that happen in 2015 to how the primary races will go, not to mention the General Election campaign, is probably far lower than the coverage today would make them out to be. Unless one of those stories becomes something that sticks to a candidate and becomes an issue throughout the campaign, it’s likely to become something that will only matter to people who are unlikely to support that candidate to begin with.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Public Opinion Polls, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. al-Ameda says:

    The most important takeaway from this poll, then, is the fact that the vast majority of Americans aren’t even paying attention to the race at this point.

    Almost as many Americans do NOT vote as DO vote so it is hardly surprising that many observers would conclude that “the vast majority of Americans aren’t paying attention.” That outcome is nearly baked into this before the polling is undertaken.

    I think people are generally paying attention, however not in the way in which they’ll be paying attention a year from now. Right now it’s ‘NASCAR attention’ that is, people will notice now if there’s a reason to notice – a crash and burn, a spinout into the wall – Ben Carson says something bizarre every time he speaks (duly noted), Mike Huckabee says generically intolerant stuff (so noted), Hillary … (GOP flips out, so noted) .

    It’s early, at this point we’re paying attention to the spin outs.

  2. Good for most voters! I know I would be much happier if there was a treatment for this neurosis that causes me to really care about politics.

  3. DrDaveT says:

    Most Voters Not Even Paying To 2016 Race At This Point

    Most bloggers not even paying to copy editing at this point, either?

    (Yeah, I know, it’s the internet — but it IS the headline…)

  4. superdestroyer says:

    Why would people who not not very interested in politics be interested in an election when there is such a clear front runner and the other party looks so insignificant. The Republicans will have a long parade of candidate who have no chance of winning and there is still a question of whether any other Democrat will step up to run against Ms. Clinton

    As the U.S. moves to have one dominant party, it makes sense that people will pay less attention to election since elections are becoming more irrelevant.

  5. al-Ameda says:


    As the U.S. moves to have one dominant party, it makes sense that people will pay less attention to election since elections are becoming more irrelevant.

    When did the Republican Party become the dominant party?
    Better yet, why did the Republican Party become the dominant party?

  6. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Most Voters Not Even Paying To 2016 Race At This Point

    … and why SHOULD they pay ???

    Unless they liquefy all their holdings and then make a donation to a state race, they would not even register as a blip due to the big money coming in thanks to court decisions. Forget about the national races.

    Ironically, in doing so, they (those who donate) would then be penniless, likely needing the social services that those who would benefit from the donation detest the most.

    Ahhh… to be old, conservative and a billionaire in America !!!

    Inherited money is the sexiest of capital !

  7. mobloe says:

    How do I 2016 race?

  8. superdestroyer says:


    The Republicans have not been dominant in eight years (since the 2006 off year elections). Given that every trend is going the Democrats way, there is no way to believe that there will be more competitive elections in the future.

    What should be happening as more people running as challengers in the Democratic Primary (at all levels) but it looks the opposite. As the strength of the Democratic Party grows, I suspect that the establishment candidates and incumbents will become unbeatable.

  9. Tyrell says:

    @superdestroyer: This is a clear effort by the “news” media to divert the public attention away from.the real news to things like: the latest poll, Hillary’s email scandal, Republican sideshow meetings, Iran, and the new spring fashions.
    Just look at: Jade Helm 15
    Might be an interesting summer.

  10. de stijl says:


    Just look at: Jade Helm 15

    Tell us what you think!

    Why this passive-aggressive “just look at” wamby-pambiness?

    Do you actually believe that this lunatic dumb-ass fringe conspiracy theory that joint teams of US Special Forces will invade Texas and Utah and… – I don’t even know that the whole conspiracy idiots can elucidate what the supposed endgame is! Confiscate cars and thus declare Obama the Emperor of the Cars in Texas and Utah?

    If Agenda 21 and the Amero and the NAFTA Superhighway and FEMA camps had an orgy and birthed an extraordinarily stupid red-headed stepchild, it would be the Jade Helm 15 conspiracy theory.

    Why are bringing this up repeatedly? Why do you think it is important? Why don’t you start your own damn Jade Helm 15 blog and talk about it all you want?

    I have a bet for you: if Jade Helm 15 turns out to just an ordinary training exercise, you have to write every comment you make to OTB as if you were Yoda (Look silly, you will. Hmm?); if Jade Helm 15 involves the declaration of martial law, or any confiscation of property or cars or the internment of any American citizen, I will write every comment as if I were a Pirate (Aaaarrrrgggghhhh! Shiver me timbers! Been bested by a old salt seadog named Tyrell? Blimey! I’m a bilge-sucking buccaneer!) I will do this unto the end of my days if you are right.

    Will you accept my wager? You can even be the Pirate and I’ll be Yoda, if you are correct.

    Or, once pushed, are you just to going to retreat to your default to your standard home-spun, corn-pone, salt-of-the-earth, know-nothing Babbittry?

  11. al-Ameda says:


    Just look at: Jade Helm 15
    Might be an interesting summer.

    Finally, President Obama – with the assistance of the United States Armed Forces, the United Nations, and squadrons of Black Helicopters – will be taking away our guns. Yay.

  12. Dave says:

    Slowly, voters will pay less and less attention to any political race because they already saw many of these races before and they had enough.
    Anyway, they cannot choose their own favorites, they must choose from a group of people selected by others, so who can blame them that they do something wrong?