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Survey Examines Voter Interest

April 27, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Voters would stay more involved in the presidential campaign if candidates hit the trail later and the primaries stayed competitive longer, a new survey suggests.

``It takes a while to bring the public into the process, then suddenly the campaign gets cut out from under them,″ said Thomas Patterson, co-director of the Vanishing Voter project, a yearlong examination of voter engagement in the campaign based on a series of weekly polls.

``Then there’s no place for that appetite to go.″ he said. ``We’ve seen nothing but declining interest and loss of information since Super Tuesday.″

Voter interest this year did not grow steadily until two weeks before the Jan. 24 precinct caucuses in Iowa, and it peaked just after the Super Tuesday primaries on March 7, when the Democratic and Republican nominees were all but decided.

Interest has dropped steadily since then.

While the result was predictable given the dynamics of a season that essentially amounted to six weeks of primaries in the winter, Patterson said the result also was undesirable.

``It’s not enough time to fully engage,″ said Patterson, a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. ``It gives voters too much time to drift away.″

Both political parties are looking at alternative primary systems and state secretaries of state have advocated a system of rotating regional primaries.

Patterson suggested that none of the options under discussion would address the problem. Ideally, he said primaries would begin in mid-March or early April and continue for nine to 10 weeks.

The Vanishing Voter project is being done by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard.

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