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U.S. Attention to Political News Slips Back to Typical Levels

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After paying heightened attention to national politics in 2020 (42%) and 2021 (38%), the percentage of Americans reporting they follow news about national politics “very closely” has dipped to 32% — a more normal reading for nonelection years.

Still, the public continues to pay greater attention to politics than it did in the 1990s and early 2000s, when less than 30% were tuned in. Since 2006, the level of very close attention being paid to national political news has not fallen below 30%.

The latest results are from Gallup’s annual Governance survey, conducted Sept. 1-23, prior to Congress passing a short-term federal government funding measure to avoid a government shutdown. The news attention question has been asked on the Governance survey most years since 2001 (with the exceptions of 2010 and 2022) and had been asked on other Gallup surveys before that, starting in 1995.

In addition to the 32% who currently say they are paying very close attention, 41% follow national political news “somewhat closely,” 19% “not too closely” and 8% “not at all.”

The most notable aspect of the recent trend has been the spikes in public attention during presidential election years. The four highest readings in Gallup’s trend were all measured in presidential election years, including 43% in 2008, 42% in 2020, and 39% in both 2012 and 2016. The 36% paying very close attention in 2004 is the same or higher than all but one nonelection year, the 38% measured in 2021. On average, 40% of U.S. adults have paid very close attention to political news in presidential election years since 2001.

The 32% of U.S. adults paying very close attention to national political news this year is essentially what would be expected in the year before a presidential election, based on readings of 28% in 2003, 30% in 2007, 35% in 2011, 31% in 2015 and 32% in 2019.

Older, More Highly Educated Respondents Most Likely to Follow Politics Closely

There are wide differences in the amount of attention paid to national political news by age and educational attainment. In the current survey, 51% of U.S. adults aged 65 and older say they follow political news very closely, as do 40% of those between the ages of 50 and 64. Far fewer 30- to 49-year-olds (26%), and especially 18- to 29-year-olds (9%), are following politics very closely.

More than four in 10 college graduates (including those with and without a postgraduate education) follow political news very closely, while fewer than three in 10 adults without a college degree do.

There are modest gender differences in attention to politics, with more men (35%) than women (30%) following politics very closely. Republicans and Democrats pay similar levels of attention, but independents pay less than either of the two major party groups.

These subgroup differences are similar to what Gallup has observed since 2001, although the levels of attention measured in the 2023 poll are lower than usual for postgraduates and young adults and higher for senior citizens. Postgraduates typically pay the closest attention to politics, with an average of 51% doing so since 2001.

Bottom Line

Americans’ attention to national political news is cyclical, usually spiking in presidential election years. Outside of presidential election years, between 30% and 35% of U.S. adults typically say they follow politics very closely.

The level of attention being paid this year is back to what it was in 2019 and also typical of what it has been in the years before a presidential election. Gallup’s prior measure in 2021 was a bit of an anomaly, with a higher 38% paying attention then amid a spike in coronavirus infections and heavy media attention to the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan during Joe Biden’s first year in office.

Source: Gallup