Interest soars due to concerns over the Iraq war and the ailing economy.
ALL EYES will be on the voter on Super Tuesday.
The US electorate, which appears to be more engaged in presidential politics now than it has been in many years, is expected to turn up in droves today, drawn by the drama of a tightly contested nomination race, and deep-seated concerns over an ailing economy and the Iraq war.
And if the turnout in the recent primaries is any indication, the larger number of people voting, especially in the Democratic contests, reveals the extent of opposition to President George W. Bush.
Dr Gigi Tseday, 40, a heart surgeon in New York City, was excited at the prospect of change this time.
“I want a Democrat and I would love to see a woman becoming president,” she said, telling The Straits Times that she would vote for former first lady Hillary Clinton. “I want the Republicans out. They have already done us enough damage.”
A recent USA/Gallup survey showed that 62per cent of those interviewed are more enthusiastic about this year’s election. That marks a 17- point increase from the 2000 figure, and six points more than in 2004.
In 1996, election turnout dipped to a historic low, with just over half of those eligible to vote casting their ballots. Clearly, there is now a reversal of that slide.
Stanford Professor Jon Krosnick, who studies political psychology, noted: “If things are going fine, people relax and carry on with their lives. But when the country is in trouble, they turn their attention to solving the problems.
“Lots of people in the country…are unhappy with the direction the leadership has been taking.”
A big pull factor for the voters is the star power of the candidates and their campaigns, fought with gusto and fury.
“Close races and attractive candidates mobilise people who normally don’t to do so,” said political scientist Fred Greenstein.
Ms Melissa Kulowitch, 35, the owner of an elevator renovation company in Lusby, Maryland, said she was drawn to Mr Barack Obama’s idealism.
“You won’t fall asleep listening to this guy’s speeches. He is able to connect with us in a way that the others can’t. He’s very interesting. The rest are old and boring, and sound no different to the man we now have in the White House.”
The Illinois senator stands a chance of becoming the first black US president and has been compared to charismatic former president John F. Kennedy.
But Mrs Clinton, the New York senator, is also drawing a lot of interest because she might well become America’s first woman leader.
The Republican field also has interesting contenders.
The front runner, Arizona senator John McCain, is a maverick war hero and Vietnam prisoner of war.
If elected, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney would be the first Mormon president, while Mr Mike Huckabee is an ordained Baptist preacher trying to win over evangelical Christians.
The personalities involved and intensity of the race are a draw for the young.
Harvard Professor Thomas Patterson, an expert on US electoral politics, says the young are showing interest in a way they never had before, spurred by extensive campaign coverage and the wide reach of the Internet.
“There is a discernible shift among young voters,” he said. “If we were to make a list of the things to explain this phenomenon, Iraq is by far at the top of the list and George Bush is second.”
Clearly, the US’ long-running involvement in Iraq, following Mr Bush’s decision to go to war in 2003, has riled not just the young, but voters across different age groups, who are also frustrated with an economy that appears to be heading into
Their concerns over these issues are reflected in the rising number of viewers watching the month-long coverage of the campaign on cable news channels and major network news programmes.
Viewers are far from showing signs of election fatigue.
CNN’s latest Democratic debate in Los Angeles last Thursday, featuring a face-off between Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama, averaged nearly eight million viewers, making it the highest-rated such event in cable TV history.