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The Attention Deficit

Gallup has some interesting data out on the percentage of Americans who pay a lot of attention to political news. Although the share of Americans following politics has increased substantially among partisans of all sides, it is considerably higher among Republicans than among Democrats:

This is not necessarily a new feature of the political landscape. News tends to be consumed by people who are older and wealthier, which is more characteristic of Republicans than Democrats and has been for some time. Nor is it clear that a measure like this has any sort of predictive value for upcoming elections. The “attention deficit” was fairly high in 2006, but Democrats nevertheless has a very good election. In 2004, by contrast, the attention gap had actually reversed itself — Democrats were watching the news more than Republicans — but John Kerry lost to George W. Bush and the Democrats failed to make any tangible gains in the Congress.

But this probably is important from the standpoint of day-to-day news cycles. If you want to “win the day” on the cable networks, you probably need a message that appeals to older people of a higher socioeconomic status. Republicans, recently, have tended to place more emphasis on winning daily news cycles where as Democrats — particularly the President — seem instead to go for “big” moments. Both parties are really playing to their strengths.

This may also be important from the standpoint of interpreting polls. It is hard to weed out response bias — people who are more interested in politics are more likely, maybe much more likely, to take a political survey. Although weighting for demographics can remove some of this response bias, it probably cannot remove all of it, or it may do so in weird ways that tend to cause the polling results to be less reliable. This is one reason why polls on policy issues tend to be less consistent with one another than polls on elections.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.