As a political junkie, I have spent the last 22 months or so waiting for Nov. 4, 2014. That the big day is only 29 days from now makes me giddy with happiness. If you are like me, I have some news for you: We are in the minority. Big time.
Just 15 percent of Americans said they were following the 2014 midterm elections "very closely" in the past week, according to polling released Monday by the Pew Research Center. That's less than half the number that said they were tracking the Ebola virus (36 percent) story or the reports on the U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (31 percent). It's also less than the 21 percent of people paying close attention to the problems at the Secret Service.
Not surprisingly, the people paying the least attention to the midterms are 18 to 29 year olds -- just five percent(!) of whom said they were monitoring the story closely. (More young Americans were paying close attention to the Hong Kong protests than the elections.) Attentiveness toward the election increased, marginally, within each increasingly-older age group; one in four voters over 65 said they were paying close mind to the midterms. (Yes, the stereotype that older voters are the only ones who pay real attention to midterm elections is based on a whole lot of truth.
What does the Pew data tell us? A few things.
1.Most people do not care about midterm elections. Like, at all. I can't emphasize this strongly enough. The election is in one month from tomorrow and it remains a back-of-the-mind story for most people. Midterms are largely battles between the two party bases, the most energetic partisans who follow this stuff as closely as, well, me. The amazing thing is that despite the lack of interest in the elections -- Bloomberg Politics has a nice chart about how few people will decide who controls the Senate -- the midterms will haver major consequences for our nation's politics, particularly if Republicans do retake the upper chamber.
2. It's incredibly hard for any story to be THE story in a world of fractured media consumption. While you can't watch five minutes of cable TV without seeing a picture of the Texas hospital where the Ebola patient is being treated, lots and lots of people -- brace yourself -- don't watch cable TV. Many don't watch any TV at all. (This Bloomberg Businessweek piece on the growth of You Tube content providers is totally fascinating.) While the midterms aren't even in contention to be the big story, even Ebola -- a scary virus that has killed more than three thousand people in West Africa -- is only drawing close interest among three in ten Americans.
There will be lots and lots of media coverage of the election in its final month. And, the number of people paying attention is likely to increase. But remember that for most people, the midterms are a non-event in their lives. No matter how much they matter to people like us.