What accounts for political participation?

A viewer asked this question on 4/24/2000:

What are the most important factors shaping high or low rates of political participation?

JesseGordon gave this response on 4/24/2000:

I'd say the most important thing is the belief that there's a real choice to vote for; i.e., that it's not just tweedledum or tweedledee and it doesn't really matter which guy wins.

I can tell you in detail how interest in the primary campaign went (all based on statistics of viewership from my website,, which is a pretty good proxy for political participation in general):

1) Whenever there was a debate, the candidates' viewership doubled the next day, for 2-3 days. Alan Keyes, in particular, had his viewership triple after debates (because he was a good debater and not well known otherwise).

2) Whenever there was a big news story on a candidate, that candidates' viewership again doubled, for as long as the news stayed on the front pages. The first one I noticed was when Bradley got endorsed by Sen. Moynihan (made national news in September).

3) Most relevant to your question, my viewership skyrocketed when there was a real race between McCain and Bush. For the entire period from early March until McCain dropped out, my viewership was at least triple its normal daily average prior to that period. I believe people saw in McCain a real choice, and wanted to know all about him. McCain still holds the individual daily record for viewership (more than any one day's interest in Bush or Gore!).

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