2016 Presidential Election Polls: More Attention, But Who Really Cares?

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FT LAUDERDALE, FL - OCTOBER 20:  Residents stand in line to on the first day of early voting at the Lauderhill Mall October 20, 2008 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Thousands of voters stood in line, some for hours, as Florida kicked -off the states early votiong polls.  (Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/Getty Images)

In one sense of the phrase, American interest in the 2016 presidential election polls has never been higher. In another, that statement might as well be considered absolutely meaningless. Try to follow us: May 2016’s overall hype for the 2016 race to 270 was about equal to its pitch for the same point in the lead-up to the 2008 and 2012 elections, according to Pew Research. My, how times change: this September’s overall attention paid by voters to both parties’ races at this point is notably higher than in previous election cycles. Over the summer, attention has ramped up to 27% of voters following the race closely, compared to typical ratings in the low 20s during the 2008 and 2012 build-ups.

Fascinating? Yes. Game-changing? Well…

 All About The Trump?

Let’s be a bit more honest: it’s a greater degree of interest in the Republican nomination race than ever before. At one point, a combined 17 hopefuls were vying for the GOP endorsement to run against, more than likely, either Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders. This was the most populous race since the 1976 Democratic primary, featuring candidates ranging from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s first announcement of the race to former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore rounding out the field on July 30.

August’s premiere Republican primary debate gathered 24 million record-breaking viewers to Fox News. Fewer people respectively watched the 2015 Women’s World Cup final and NBA playoffs respectively than tuned in to see how billionaire GOP phenom Donald Trump handled himself in his first-ever televised presidential primary debate. Of course, he had no problem taking to Twitter to pat himself on the back for the gargantuan 300-percent-plus viewer inflation.

Here’s the bad news: despite the overall bump, that was an anomaly. More than seven out of ten Americans still aren’t paying a great deal of attention at this point with four months remaining until the first primary. Week after week, Trump leads Republican polls while Hillary Clinton loses ground to Sen. Bernie Sanders among democrats and the push for Biden to step in gains strength.

The reality? With fourteen months to go until the general election, it’s far too early for the thousands of words spilled trying to make sense of the respective parties’ horse races to amount to much. After all, New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina’s early-bird primaries still leave an additional 97 percent of America that the candidates will have barely touched yet.

What Does It All Mean?

Right now, it’s fun to pay this much attention to 2016 presidential election predictions. The Trump fallout on the Republican party and the fact that three non-politicians are currently beating the tar out of career office-holders in the poll makes for compelling narrative. On the Democratic side, Clinton’s e-mail scandal is costing her support while Sanders electrifies the grassroots voters and Biden becomes almost a feel-good story. Be that as it may, Pew dictates that voters become far more captivated right around the winter and spring of a presidential election year.

A lot can happen in three months.

In Iowa and New Hampshire, voters are probably more focused on the candidates and campaigns — although we can’t say for certain since recent polls in those states haven’t asked a question about attention like Pew’s. But even in these states, primaries are notoriously difficult to poll, and again, we’re still four months away from any ballots being cast.

Until more of the nation is paying attention — which Pew’s historical data indicate will happen when primary elections get underway in the winter and spring of next year — caution is warranted. 2016 presidential election predictions tell us where opinion stands right now, but with little more than one-fourth of the Americans really following the campaign, that opinion is likely to be highly volatile.

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