Thursday, May 03, 2007

Are we really bored already with the presidential campaign?

John Fund looks at all the non-candidates, like Thompson, Gingrich, and Gore, who are getting so much attention even though they haven't announced that they are running for president. Although they would be behind in organization and money if they jumped into the race sometime this summer, they might be able to catch up. And meanwhile, they're benefiting from all the speculation. Nobody seems as appealing as the guy who is playing coy and isn't out there yet getting beaten up in the race.
Whoever runs, looking over this year's shadow candidates it is clear that they are changing the rules of American politics. "Americans love having more choices," says Peter Brown, an analyst with the Quinnipiac Poll. "They'll now even give noncandidates a real look to see if there's something there they're missing in the others."
In 2000, blogger Mickey Kaus refined the Feiler Faster Thesis, which holds that though news cycles are constantly getting faster, "people are comfortable processing that information with what seems like breathtaking speed." This rapid pace may be transforming presidential politics. Voters aren't waiting for pundits to tell them who is running for president, and shadow candidates can run low-cost guerilla campaigns using the Internet, talk shows and word-of-mouth. "Candidates have been running so long already it opens up opportunities for late entries," says Glenn Reynolds of "We may not like it, but voter boredom may now be a driver of politics."
The idea that we're already bored nine months before anyone casts a vote is really amazing. I suspect that it is only pundits and activists who are bored and fed up with the campaign. I bet that most people have only noticed the campaign on the periphery of their lives. If they're like most people I've talked to - they're waiting to make up their minds until things sort themselves out more and it gets closer to the actual date for voting. A few weeks ago Hillary Clinton was inevitable. And now Obama has passed her in the Rasmussen polls. Expect those numbers to bounce around the rest of the year.

We've seen all the excitement and speculation for Rudy Giuliani to possibly get in the race. His poll numbers were dominating. And then he got in. And since then, John McCain has seen a mini-resurgence in his numbers in some key states. A couple of weeks ago the conventional wisdom was that McCain was finished. Now he's back in the thick of things if these polls in New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina hold up. And I bet that there will be a dozen more changes in the polls as we get closer to the actual voting. Fred Thompson will probably jump in during the summer and that will shake things up. And then he'll get more scrutiny and those numbers may sink again. Few people now probably have any idea who Fred Thompson is. They may recognize his face from acting, but probably few Law and Order viewers even know that he was once a senator. I suspect that the great mass of Americans are like those people whom Jay Leno interviews on the street and have no idea who Condi Rice or Harry Reid are. If they do go out to vote in the primaries, they haven't devoted more than a few seconds to really thinking about whom they'd support.

It's not that people are bored with the candidates. It's that they're not paying all that much attention and haven't fully committed to anyone yet. So any news focus on one candidate or another can cause a swing in the polls. Those numbers are pretty soft. It will be time enough to worry about where these candidates stand in the polls when we have some indication that people actually are paying attention.