PRINCETON, NJ -- Seven in 10 registered voters say the outcome of this year's U.S. presidential election matters to them more than in previous years, similar to voter attitudes just before the 2008 and 2004 elections. Voters were significantly less likely to say the outcome was especially important just before the elections of 2000 and 1996.
The difference in response to this question between the most recent three elections and the two before that is dramatic. In an October 1996 survey, 41% of voters said that the presidential election mattered more than in previous years, and in 2000, 47% held that view. These lower saliency measures may reflect the lack of major, pressing national concerns in those two elections. In 1996, the economy was rapidly improving. In 2000, the nation was still enjoying the last vestiges of the dot-com boom. No major wars or international issues dominated the campaigning in either of these election years.
By the time of the 2004 election, the nation had suffered from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush had responded to the attacks with the major military efforts that eventually came to be called the war on terrorism -- including the introduction of U.S. forces into Afghanistan and the initiation of the war in Iraq in March 2003. All of this may have increased voters' sense of consequence about the presidential election. In 2008, not only was there continuing political rancor over the Iraq War, but the nation was just sliding into the worst recession since the 1930s.
In this year's election, the major concern of voters has returned to the economy, although Americans' confidence in the economy is not nearly as low as it was in October 2008. Americans are also less likely to name an international issue as the country's most important problem than they were in 2008.
Republicans More Concerned About Outcome Than Democrats, Reversal From 2008
The salience of the election outcome at this point is higher for Republicans (85%) than for Democrats (66%). This is a flip from 2008, when Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say that the outcome mattered to them.
This change in partisan concern about the election may correspond most directly to the party of the sitting president. Although George W. Bush was not running for re-election in 2008, many Democrats may have felt the outcome was important to change his policies, particularly internationally, and also may have felt that Barack Obama's youthful and charismatic candidacy brought something new to the table. In this year's election, Republicans may be more likely to say the outcome matters because of their interest in removing a Democrat from the Oval Office.
As has been the case for the past two elections, a significant majority of voters say that the outcome of this presidential election matters more to them than in previous election years. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to believe the outcome matters this year, possibly reflecting their interest in keeping Obama from having four more years in office. It is unclear whether this will translate into relatively higher Republican turnout in this year's election.
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Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily Election Tracking Nov. 3-4, 2012, with a random sample of 1,406 registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each daily sample of 750 national adults includes a minimum quota of 375 cell phone respondents and 375 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, having an unlisted landline number, and cell phone mostly) and population density. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized U.S. population. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
View methodology, full question results, and trend data.
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