Campus & Community

Study: Most Still Undecided On Presidential Candidate

4 min read

The front-runner in this year’s presidential campaign is no one at all, says a new survey conducted by the Kennedy School of Government’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

According to a weekly national survey by the Vanishing Voter Project at the Shorenstein Center’s Washington, D.C. office, a full two-thirds of Americans don’t currently claim to have chosen a candidate for president despite the excitement of the New Hampshire primary which boosted support for all the major presidential candidates. Many Americans, the survey concludes, have since backed away from their candidate preference.

This finding is at odds with many national surveys, which show only a small percentage of uncommitted voters. But these surveys nearly force respondents into a choice by reading them a list of candidates and asking them to select one.

The survey results are from a nationwide telephone survey of 1,011 adults conducted February 9-13. The survey has a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percent.

The Shorenstein Center polls pose the question differently, asking, “which candidate do you support at this time, or haven’t you picked a candidate yet?” The landslide winner, with 68 percent, was “no candidate yet.” George W. Bush was next with 11 percent, followed by Al Gore (9 percent), John McCain (5 percent), and Bill Bradley (2 percent).

The number of Americans who are undecided on a presidential candidate had fallen to 54 percent during the week immediately following the New Hampshire primary. However, the increase in the number of uncommitted voters during the past week has taken the level back to where it was before the contest.

“These results are extraordinary for two reasons,” said Marvin Kalb, codirector of the Vanishing Voter Project and executive director of the Shorenstein Center’s Washington office. “One, they show that the excitement of New Hampshire was exceptional but fleeting, and two, the American people seem more discriminating and slower to choose a candidate now than ever before.”

According to the Shorenstein Center, voters are often assumed to align with individual candidates in ever-larger numbers as the November election approaches. While that may or may not be true later in the campaign, the weekly Shorenstein surveys have revealed a sharply different pattern in the early months of the 2000 campaign. The proportion of aligned voters has shifted up and down in much the same pattern as the public’s attention to the campaign. When attention rises, as it did around the New Hampshire primary, so does the number of Americans who claim to have a preferred candidate. As attention slides downward, the number of aligned voters also decreases.

“What we are seeing in this early stage is a lot of ‘top-of-mind’ response,” said Thomas Patterson, codirector of the Vanishing Voter Project and Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at the Kennedy School. “The notion that voters latch onto a candidate, and hold onto that choice, describes only some citizens. For many, candidate preference is fleeting. They have a candidate in mind one day and then it’s gone. The tendency reflects the fact that most Americans are only somewhat interested in presidential politics at this point in the campaign.”

Interest in the campaign has receded from its high point the week of the New Hampshire primary. In the latest Shorenstein Center weekly poll, only 24 percent claimed to have been paying “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of attention to the campaign, in contrast to 27 percent in the first week of February. Only 2 percent said they had discussed the campaign during the past day, down from 33 percent. The Voter Involvement Index, a composite measure of Americans’ interest in the campaign, fell from 38 percent the week after New Hampshire to 34 percent last week – slightly higher than it was before the Iowa caucuses.

More survey results are available on the Vanishing Voter Project’s Website at .