Source: Pew Research Center
But most say campaign has not focused on important issues
As candidates in both parties prepare for the next round of presidential debates, a new national survey finds that the public is highly engaged by the 2016 campaign. Fully 74% of Americans say they have given a lot or some thought to the candidates, higher than the shares saying this at comparable points in the past two presidential campaigns.
The presidential debates clearly have been a hit with the public. Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) say they have watched at least some of the televised debates between the candidates. In December 2007 – the most recent election in which there were contested nominations in both parties – just 43% reported watching any of the debates.
The latest national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted Dec. 8-13 among 1,500 adults, finds that nearly two-thirds (65%) of those who watched the debates say they have been helpful in learning about the candidates. And about half of debate watchers (51%) say they have found the debates “fun to watch.”
Yet the public has mixed impressions of the campaign so far. Two-thirds (67%) describe the presidential campaign as interesting – far more than did so before the first primary contests in the 2012 and 2008 campaigns (36% and 37%, respectively). About half (48%) say the campaign is informative, which is identical to the share that described the campaign as informative in January 2012.
Moreover, only about a third (34%) say the campaign has “focused on important policy debates,” while 58% say it has not. Democrats and independents are more likely than Republicans to say the campaign has not focused on key policy debates. By roughly two-to-one, Democrats (63% to 29%) and independents (62% to 32%) say the campaign has not focused on important policy debates. Republicans are divided – 46% say the campaign has concentrated on important policy debates while 44% say it has not.
With the election still close to a year away, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they have given at least some thought to the candidates. Currently, 86% of Republicans say they have given a lot or some thought to the presidential candidates, compared with 75% of Democrats and 72% of independents.
And Republicans are substantially more engaged in the current campaign than they were at this point in the 2008 campaign; in December 2007, 74% of Republicans had given a lot or some thought to the candidates running for president.
While large majorities in both parties – and across nearly all demographic categories – say they have watched the debates, 77% of Republicans report watching at least some of the debates, compared with 69% of Democrats and 67% of independents.