The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted May 30-June 3 among 1,503 adults, finds that overall voter engagement in the presidential campaign remains somewhat limited, despite intense press coverage of the race. Just 33% of all voters say they have given a lot of thought to the presidential candidates, up only modestly from December (27%). However, Republican voters have caught up with the Democrats in campaign engagement, after trailing in previous surveys.
It is also why, as Ed Morrisey points out, the same questions are asked over and over of the same candidates during different debates.
Last night, I complained about the repetitive nature of the questioning at the debates. For the third straight debate, Rudy Giuliani had to state his position on abortion, and Mitt Romney had to answer for his change of position over the last two-plus years. As it turns out, though, CNN may have had a good reason to ask the same plodding questions over and over again, as Pew Research discovered that less than half of the voters have paid attention.
Indeed. And their antipathy reflects mine at this point in the process. Other than restating their positions and a good sound bite or two, not much is going to come out of these debates which is new or useful. And, as is obvious, its not even clear that all the candidates who are going to run are in the field yet.
Let's face it, these debates are for the activists. They are, for the most part, the only ones paying attention. And as we've pointed out many times, they are the ones who are going to vote in the primaries and have a large hand in picking their party's candidate.
That brings us to why candidates are so interested in engaging the "new media", especially now. It's why you see some of them putting guest posts on blogs, having conference calls will bloggers and frankly, pandering to them. It is because it is among the readers and writers of blogs that a preponderance of those who are paying attention are to be found and, one would guess, be inclined to participate in the primary process. Or said more simply, that's where the votes are.
But if you think these endless early debates in which positions are stated and restated are going to plow new ground or settle anything, well you're entitled to your opinion. I just don't see that happening until we get past some of the first primaries and the field thins. I also don't see that happening until all the candidates who might be candidates are in the race. Until then these debates keep the candidates visible to those who are paying attention and not much else. And for those who enjoy that ... well enjoy. Me? I'm watching baseball.