Today’s US presidential campaign is twice as interesting as the last, but not any more informative

The cast of characters.
The cast of characters.
Image: Reuters/Darren Hauck
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Many colorful words have been used to describe the 2016 US presidential campaign thus far—”spectacle,” “parade,” and “circus” among them—and the entertainment-themed vocabulary may have a point.

While Trump & Co. are certainly livening up headlines and newsreels right now, they aren’t exactly increasing the American public’s understanding of political issues, according to a survey conducted last week and published Monday (Dec. 14) by the Pew Research Center. Two-thirds of respondents in Pew’s study described the 2016 campaign as “interesting,” compared to just 36% in the lead-up to the 2012 election and 37% in the lead-up to the 2008 election.

The percent of people calling the campaign “informative,” on the other hand, has not budged.

Pew didn’t ask respondents why they find the current campaign so interesting, but the reasons may be obvious: This time around, between Donald Trump’s begging-for-outrage antics, Hillary Clinton’s drawn-out email battle, and debates about debates, viewers and readers have more than enough to chew on. In the four years since the last presidential campaign, the digital news industry has also ballooned, with many sites churning out content designed to draw people in but not necessarily educate them—stories focused on candidates’ gaffes, odd personal histories, and minor squabbles with one another, for example.

The emphasis on intrigue over information is not solely because of media, though. Nearly two-thirds of Pew respondents said they think the 2016 campaign has not focused on important policy issues, indicating that candidates themselves could be doing a better job of making themselves heard as politicians and leaders—and not as entertainers.