February 17, 2000

McCain Appeals To Pivotal Older Voters and Independents

Other Important Findings and Analyses

More Attention to Presidential Campaign

Attention to the presidential campaign is continuing to increase. More than six-in-ten (62%) Americans are paying some attention to the campaign, up from the 53% who were doing so only a month ago. The percentage of Americans who are following the 2000 election very closely has jumped to 26% this month from 19% in January.

Republicans are more attentive to the campaign than either Democrats or Independents. Among Republicans, 34% say they are paying very close attention to election news, compared to 22% of Democrats and 23% of Independents.

Women are not following campaign news as closely as men. Fully 29% of men are watching this story very closely compared to 22% of women. Young women, in particular, are not closely following the campaign. College-educated Americans are among the most attentive to campaign news, with 40% following very closely. Reflecting their gender and education profiles, Internet users are watching the 2000 campaign very closely. Fully 31% of those who go online are following election news very closely compared to only 20% of those who do not go online.

The New Hampshire primaries, however, have not garnered as much attention as the overall presidential campaign. Only 18% of Americans say they paid very close attention to the Granite State’s primaries; 27% paid fairly close attention. Less than half of the Pew Research Center’s respondents could name the winners of either race. Only 41% knew, without prompting, that John McCain won the Republican primary in New Hampshire. Slightly more, 46%, were aware that Al Gore won the Democratic primary. This is far less than the 62% who correctly named Pat Buchanan as the winner of the 1996 Republican primary in New Hampshire in surveys four years ago.

More Republicans than Democrats knew the winner of the GOP primary. Just over half (54%) of Republicans could name McCain as the GOP winner, compared to 38% of Democrats. Additionally, Republicans were slightly more likely than Democrats to know that Gore had won the Democratic primary (53% vs. 49%).

Hillary Interest Ebbing?

Even though Hillary Clinton recently announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in New York, interest in her campaign has fallen somewhat since last summer. Only 15% are watching that story very closely compared to 21% in July 1999. Democrats are slightly more interested than Republicans in the first lady’s race: 22% of Democrats are paying very close attention to Clinton’s Senate bid, against 16% of Republicans and 10% of Independents. Senior citizens are also more interested in the New York Senate race than younger Americans. A quarter of those over age 65 are paying close attention to this story compared to only 9% of those under age 30.

A strong majority of the public approves of the amount of news coverage the media has devoted to the presidential campaign. Fully 63% consider the coverage to be the right amount, an increase of 14 percentage points since the question was last asked in September. Only 22% say there is too much campaign coverage, down somewhat from September when 28% gave that answer.

Elian Top News Story

While attention to the 2000 presidential election is increasing, the plight of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez tops the news interest index for the second month in a row. Fully 37% are following this story very closely, similar to last month’s 39%.

Older Americans and blacks register strong interest in this story. Almost half (49%) of senior citizens are paying very close attention to this story; 24% of those under age 30 are doing so. Among African-Americans, 44% are very closely tuned into the story whereas 36% of whites report showing this level of interest.

The crash of an Alaska Airlines jet near Los Angeles is another story that garners strong interest. More than a third (35%) are following this story very closely, slightly more than the 30% who paid very close attention to the crash of an EgyptAir jet off the coast of New England last December. Interest was also higher in the Alaska Airlines crash than that of an American Airlines disaster last summer in Arkansas, when only 19% followed the story very closely.

Not surprisingly, Westerners are more interested in the Alaska Airlines crash than Americans living in other regions. More than half (53%) of Westerners have followed this story very closely compared to 28% of those in the South and the Midwest.

Another domestic story, the Super Bowl, received very close attention from almost a third (31%) of Americans, with younger men showing the strongest interest. About half (49%) of men under age 30 were very closely watching that story, compared to a quarter of women (26%) in the same age group and 36% of men age 50 and over.

News about the computer hackers who attacked online commerce sites received relatively little attention. Only 18% of Americans followed this story very closely, nearly the same percentage that is paying very close attention to the controversy over flying the Confederate flag over the South Carolina capitol (19%). Of those who go online, a quarter say they paid very close attention to the hackers story, compared to 11% of those who don’t go online.

The suspension of baseball player John Rocker gained the very close attention of 16% of the public. Roughly one-in-five men (21%) say they followed this story very closely compared to 11% of women. And 23% of blacks report paying very close attention, compared to only 14% of whites.

In international news, the furor over the inclusion of a right-wing political party in a governing coalition in Austria received the least attention of any story tested this month. Only 7% say they followed this story very closely. Among men age 50 and older, 14% paid very close attention to this story, compared to 7% of women in the same age group and 6% of men under age 30.

Don’t Tax Internet Purchases

Americans do not want Internet purchases taxed. When asked if there should be a sales tax on items bought over the Internet, a majority (52%) say no. That opposition increases to 60% when it is pointed out that there are currently no sales taxes on Internet purchases.

Online users, especially those who have bought goods over the Internet, are particularly opposed to such taxes. Fully 63% of those who go online say that Internet purchases should not be taxed; 39% of those who do not go online agree. And of those who have made online buys, 71% do not want a sales tax. Interestingly, roughly half (52%) of online users report they have made a purchase over the Internet.