- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cliffhanger, drama, comic operetta — and maybe an absurdist play. The 2008 election is proving to have enough entertainment value to engage all comers, but its running time is a drag, at least according to a new Pew Research survey.

Overall, 57 percent of us agree that the White House race is dragging on too long, according to the poll of 1,005 adults released yesterday. The respondents have a point. By the time Nov. 4 finally arrives, the election season will have stretched out to almost two years: Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, announced his intent to run for president in December 2006.

But Americans are a forgiving, if not enthusiastic audience.

“The public remains highly engaged in the presidential campaign, and strong majorities say the campaign is important, easy to follow, interesting and informative,” the Pew survey said.

Indeed: Ninety percent of the respondents deemed the campaign important and 70 percent said it’s interesting. Another 65 percent call it informative, 80 percent said the political bout is easy to follow. Only 28 percent complained that the race had turned too negative.

“There is no discounting the entertainment value of an election,” said Joe Marbach, a political science professor at Seton Hall University.

“If we were to go back 120 years, we’d find that American politics was considered a form of near theatrical entertainment — and one which could profoundly influence voter turnout,” he continued. “In many ways, we’ve come full circle. Politics is still entertaining because of interactive technology, blogging, specialized media. Politics can now be easily accessed on a very unique and personal level. And that’s entertaining.”

This enchantment has yielded encouraging numbers.

Voter turnout in 24 states on Super Tuesday was deemed “historic” in accounts from CBS News and the Associated Press, exceeding the 2006 midterm elections in some states.

In New Jersey, for example, astonished officials discovered that 35 percent of eligible voters went to the polls — the highest percentage in 67 years and a sharp contrast to the 9 percent who turned up in the 2004 primaries. About 40 percent of Alabama’s registered voters turned out, breaking the previous primary record of 29 percent set in 1992.

In 20 states, primary-vote turnout among the under-30 crowd doubled or more when compared to 2004 and 2000, according to exit poll tabulations made by the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

Gallup also confirmed increasing voter fascination. A Feb. 5 survey of 2,020 adults found that 71 percent said they were intensely interested in the election, a finding the pollster characterized as “extraordinarily high for this time in the election cycle.”

Still, some people are more entertaining than others, particularly among Democrats.

With his trademark dramatic soliloquies, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has earned top billing in news coverage, with many journalists pronouncing him a “rock star.” With her first name only-designation in the press, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has also achieved star status.

Others don’t rate such applause. The Pew survey found that among Democrats, 66 percent said that a candidate endorsement by former Vice President Al Gore would have no impact whatsoever on their vote. More than three-quarters said former Sen. John Edwards’ endorsement would have no influence.

Some, meanwhile, wonder whether politics is entertaining enough.

Andrew Hamner, an occasional political writer for the University of Miami’s newspaper, the Miami Hurricane, suggests that the 2008 election be run like a World Wrestling Entertainment fight, with clearly designated heroes and villains.

“Certain candidates would be cast as the spawn of darkness,” the 18-year-old journalism student suggested.

In reality, the Connecticut-based producers of Wrestlemainia and other ringside entertainment have already joined up with Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, the University fo Virginia’s Institute of Politics and assorted interest groups to launch “Smackdown Your Vote,” a get-out-the-vote initiative aimed at the 18- to 29-year-old crowd.

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