Campaign is sending America to sleep

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The Independent US

Less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the first formal stage in the selection of the main parties' presidential nominees, nearly all American voters are neither excited, nor even mildly interested in the election, according to a recent poll.

Less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the first formal stage in the selection of the main parties' presidential nominees, nearly all American voters are neither excited, nor even mildly interested in the election, according to a recent poll.

Conducted by Harvard University, the poll found that "boring" and "uninformative" were the adjectives most commonly used to describe the 2000 campaign, especially among younger voters. More than 50 per cent of those asked said they had paid no attention whatever to the presidential campaign in the past week and 89 per cent said that they had done "no thinking" about it in the past day. Asked whether they could recall a particular news story about the presidential campaign that they had read or seen in the previous 24 hours, 81 per cent replied: "No." The Harvard professor who co-ordinated the survey, Thomas Patterson, said that the recent spate of televised candidates' debates had done little or nothing to spark the voters' interest. Those polled, he said, called one recent Democrats' debate "boring" and a Republican debate "a non-event that was just a bunch of soundbites".

The study offered statistical confirmation of subjective impressions gained from the campaign trail in recent weeks. Although candidates' meetings, especially with the four leading contenders, Al Gore and Bill Bradley for the Democrats and George W Bush and John McCain for the Republicans, are well attended and the rivalries, especially on the Democratic side have grown increasingly bitter, the proportion of potential voters currently engaged in the campaign is very small.

Even in the state of Iowa, whose voters are currently the focus of intensive lobbying by all the main candidates and political adverts pepper the airwaves, apathy is widespread. The caucus system, where voters gather to cast their votes in town halls, schools and private houses, may have been designed to give grassroots voters a voice in the nomination procedure, but many voters have grown cynical even here.

"Most people feel like they don't make a difference anymore," one local café owner said, reflecting a common view. The campaign adverts, another said, had become so familiar, that "I kind of tune them out".

The Iowa caucuses take place on 24 January, a full three weeks earlier than in previous years, and the New Hampshire primary, the next contest, a week later, on 1 February.

While the Harvard poll held out some hope that public interest was growing - the number of people who said that they had thought about the campaign in the previous day had risen from 11 per cent to 34 per cent in the week before the poll was taken - the danger is that the nomination train will have departed before most of the voters have even reached the station.

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