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Attention to U.S. Election Reverts to Pre-Primary Level

Attention to U.S. Election Reverts to Pre-Primary Level

Story Highlights

  • Percentage giving a lot of thought to election is down since February
  • Dip is similar among Republicans and Democrats
  • Voter enthusiasm shows longer-term decline

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- With former Vice President Joe Biden effectively securing the 2020 Democratic nomination in early April and the COVID-19 crisis eclipsing news about the election, Americans' attention to the presidential campaign has waned. Fifty-nine percent of U.S. adults polled April 14-28, down from 67% in mid-February, said they had given "quite a lot" of thought to the upcoming election for president.

Line graph, August 2019-April 2020. U.S. adults giving “quite a lot” or “only a little/no” thought to election for president.

Americans' attention to the campaign is now essentially back to the level recorded from last August through mid-January, before the presidential primaries got underway. At that time, about 60% consistently gave it quite a lot of thought.

The 59% of Americans who are currently attentive to the campaign is lower than Gallup found at a similar point in 2016 (75% in mid-May) as well as 2008 (75% in mid-April), but is on par with mid-April 2004 (63%). Far fewer were focused on the 2000 campaign in late April 2000 (39%).

By contrast, Americans' level of attention to the campaign in February 2020 was on the high end for that month in recent election years.

Attention to Campaign Down Among Both Parties

Since February, the percentage giving quite a lot of thought to the election has slipped among both major party groups, falling seven percentage points to 59% among Republicans (including independents who lean Republican) and nine points to 63% among Democrats and Democratic leaners.

Democrats' attention to the election is now similar to that group's level in January, while Republicans' is lower than in January and February.

Thought Given to the Upcoming Election for President, by Party ID
% Quite a lot of thought
Republicans/Leaners Democrats/Leaners
% %
2020 Apr 14-28 59 63
2020 Feb 17-28 66 72
2020 Jan 16-29 65 61
Based on U.S. adults

Enthusiasm About Voting Has Waned Since January

Meanwhile, Americans' enthusiasm for voting hasn't shifted much in the past two months but is down from earlier readings.

Fifty-six percent of U.S. adults in the late April poll said they are more enthusiastic about voting than usual, similar to the 59% recorded in February. The figure was above 60% in January and in October 2019, before ballots were cast in presidential primaries and caucuses.

Line graph, 2019-2020. U.S. adults feeling “more enthusiastic” or “less enthusiastic” about voting than in previous elections.

Enthusiasm has declined since January among both party groups -- down six points among Republicans (to 62%) and down seven points among Democrats (to 54%).

Relative Enthusiasm for Voting, by Party ID
% More enthusiastic than usual about voting
Republicans/Leaners Democrats/Leaners
% %
2020 Apr 14-28 62 54
2020 Feb 17-28 64 58
2020 Jan 16-29 68 61
2019 Oct 14-31 66 65
U.S. adults

Gallup does not have many readings on voter enthusiasm from April of prior election years, but an analysis of the available trends from February through June indicates today's level of enthusiasm is fairly normal. Enthusiasm tends to increase as the campaign progresses, with more than 60% typically feeling "more enthusiastic" than usual by the fall. The 2016 election was an exception, with historically low enthusiasm among both party groups.

Bottom Line

While far from disengaged in the 2020 presidential election, Republicans and Democrats are less tuned in than they were in February, when the Democratic primaries and President Donald Trump's election rallies were in full swing, and the coronavirus was still confined to certain areas of the world and not a global pandemic or a crisis for the U.S.

Gallup's "thought given to the election" question has historically been a valuable tool in predicting turnout levels, based on the final pre-election reading. If the election were held today, the measure would not point toward a turnout advantage for either party.

Rather than a turnout indicator, Gallup's enthusiasm measure has been more useful for indicating which party is likely to win an election, particularly in midterm years. Members of the party that ultimately wins the presidency or House majority often express greater enthusiasm about voting heading into the election than do members of the losing candidate's party. It's likely this is a result of partisans picking up on news coverage or other cues about who is projected to win. Here, Republicans hold the slight edge today, with 62% feeling more enthusiastic than usual about voting, compared with 54% of Democrats. However, both parties' enthusiasm is dampened from its recent highs and could continue to shift throughout the campaign, particularly if either Biden or Trump pulls way ahead in the polls.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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