PRINCETON, NJ -- Almost two-thirds of Americans already report giving "quite a lot" of thought to the presidential election this year, the highest such number recorded Gallup has recorded in January of an election year, including 2004, 2000, and 1992.
Some of this enthusiasm for the election this year may be a result of the early start of the caucuses and primaries.
In 2004, for example, only 45% of Americans said they had given quite a lot of thought to the election in early January, but by the end of that month -- when the primary season was getting under way in earnest -- the percentage giving quite a lot of thought to the election had jumped to 58%, not too far behind where it is today.
In 2000, the year in which Bill Clinton was leaving office, the percentage giving quite a lot of thought remained low throughout the month. It picked up only a little in early February (to 39%) following the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary that year, perhaps because Vice President Al Gore was largely a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, and Texas Gov. George W. Bush was a strong front-runner on the Republican side.
There are only slight differences by party in this "thought given" measure this year.
Independents, predictably, are slightly less likely to say they have given quite a lot of thought to the election than are Republicans and Democrats.
There are a number of plausible hypotheses about why Americans are paying more attention to the election this year, in addition to the early start. This year is the first election since 1928 in which neither a sitting president nor a sitting vice president is seeking his party's presidential nomination, leaving true "open" contests within both major parties. There is also the fact that the cast of characters this year is widely varied and interesting, including the first major runs of a woman and a black candidate for their party's nomination, and the first-ever candidacy of a former president's spouse.
These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 2,010 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 10-13, 2008. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±2 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.