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.
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.