NEW YORK (Reuters) - Inundated with politics long before the 2008 presidential election, U.S. voters are in danger of suffering wearying bouts of the uniquely American affliction of “campaign fatigue” in coming months.
Experts say voters who follow the news closely are most at risk of the condition striking this year earlier than ever. It takes its toll with information overload, long hitches of unpaid work for campaign volunteers and the all-important undecided voters on the fence longer than usual.
Voter attention tends to wane in between the early debates, major primaries and conventions and, in a contest so long this time it includes two summer hiatuses before the November 2008 vote, fatigue is practically unavoidable, many of the experts said.
“It’s a reality. There’s going to be a lot of fatigue, come summer,” said Thomas Patterson, a professor specializing in government and the press at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. “People are thinking this has been going on a long time already.”
Eighteen months before the election, the race for the White House has a cast of 18 declared Republican and Democratic contenders, not to mention a handful of potential late entries.
Even some political junkies feel tired.
“I follow this stuff pretty closely and it’s starting to wear me out,” said Thomas Holbrook, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin.
“Here we are, in June 2007, nobody’s going to cast a vote for another six months, and I’m still having to check the election blogs every morning to find out what’s been going on,” he said.
Campaign fatigue will tend to hit the type of voter who likes to pay attention early, absorb the news and follow the issues, said John Aldrich, political science professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
“They’re the people who are going to fade out. That kind of worries me,” said Aldrich, who conceded he had not watched any of the season’s half-dozen presidential debates.
“It’s 90 degrees (32 C) here,” he said. “It’s not time for campaigning.”
He’s not alone. The debates have reached fewer than 3 million people, on average, so far. That’s a far cry from the 70 million viewers who watched the first-ever televised debate in 1960 between then-Sen. John Kennedy and then-Vice President Richard Nixon.
Fatigue tends to hit hard on campaign volunteers, Patterson said.
“It’s one thing to be active when people are excited and glad to see you on the street or knocking on their door. It’s another thing when they say, ‘Go away. It’s summer,’” he said. “I think we’re going to lose some of that impulse, some of that energy. I think it’s flagging already.”
Not all experts agree on a looming fatigue. “There are lots of viable candidates ... and there is a lot of uncertainty about who will win. This has the makings of a race that can hold voters’ interest,” said John Sides, political science professor at the George Washington University in Washington.
Those in the thick of politics may sense a fatigue that voters may not feel, said television news veteran Sam Donaldson, who hosts a daily “Politics Live” show on an online arm of the ABC News network.
“I don’t think the general public is fatigued,” Donaldson said. “They’re concentrating on Paris Hilton.”
Besides, the question of fatigue gives political experts a topic of conversation on slow days, said Douglas Muzzio, Baruch College professor of public affairs at the City University of New York.
“It allows us to talk about being tired of talking about it,” he said.