The experience of 2000 hasn't soured most Americans on the mechanics of democracy, but still there are concerns: Just a quarter of likely voters are "very confident" that all votes across the nation will be counted properly.
Confidence, while not supreme, does exist: Despite the hanging chads of 2000 and this year's controversies over voting equipment, 91 percent are at least somewhat confident their own votes will be counted, and 70 percent have that level of confidence nationally.
It's in the highest level of confidence that doubt creeps in: While 91 percent are very or somewhat confident their own vote will be counted, 62 percent are "very" confident. And while 70 percent are very or somewhat confident all votes will be counted accurately, just 25 percent are "very" confident of that. Problems in some areas won't be a surprise -- especially to Democrats, among whom, given the 2000 outcome, confidence is lowest.
An accurate count matters especially in a close race, and the latest ABC News tracking poll fits the ticket: In interviews Sunday through Wednesday, 49 percent of likely voters support George W. Bush, 48 percent John Kerry and one percent Ralph Nader.
|Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.|
It was a similar division, 48-49 percent Bush-Kerry, in yesterday's tracking result. Kerry did particularly well in interviews last Saturday and Sunday, while Bush has done better in Monday through Wednesday interviews.
One difference is among "movable" voters, those who haven't definitely made up their minds. Movables are down to eight percent of all likely voters, from 14 percent at the start of the month. In tracking results Monday, they split by 42-41 percent between Bush and Kerry. Today it's 53-32 percent to Bush. ("Definites," by contrast, divide by 49-50 percent, Bush-Kerry, and have been quite stable in their preferences this week.)
Vote preferences among movables have shifted in the past; one key question is who gets them for keeps. Another is how many of them actually turn out, given their comparatively low attention to the contest.
The race is somewhat tighter among young voters, aged 18 to 29; Kerry still leads in this group, but by less of a margin than during the weekend. Young voters account for a disproportionate share of movables.
The contest is steady in other groups, with each candidate strong in his base. The gender gap is half its 2000 level; the reason is that Bush is doing better than he did in 2000 among married women, while Kerry is outperforming Al Gore among single men.
The division on issues remains, and is fundamental to the contours of the race. Among the two in 10 likely voters who say terrorism is the most important issue in their vote, 87 percent support Bush. Among those who cite another of the four top issues -- the economy, Iraq, health care or education -- 65 percent favor Kerry. And Bush comes back with two-thirds support from those who cite some other issue, in many cases pertaining to personal qualities, or religious or morality-based concerns.
While confidence in the vote count is one issue, another is the electoral college. If one candidate wins the electoral college this year, and the other wins the popular vote, likely voters by 54-40 percent say it's the popular vote winner who should become president.
That's less of an endorsement of the popular vote than existed just before the 2000 election, when 63 percent supported it in that year's ABC News pre-election tracking poll, and 32 percent preferred the electoral college.
There is now a deep partisan division on this question that did not exist before the 2000 election. Today 69 percent of Democrats say the winner of the popular vote should be the next president; only 35 percent of Republicans agree. Before the 2000 election, by contrast, most Republicans and Democrats alike preferred the popular vote.
Preference or Popular Vote
The change in assessments is very likely outcome-based. A good reason for Democrats to prefer the popular vote is that their guy won it in 2000; a good reason for Republicans to prefer the electoral college is because that's where they won. If those tables by chance were to turn this time around, partisan preferences well might follow.
Critics of a direct popular vote say it would induce candidates to focus only on the most populous states, and fly over the less populous ones. This survey finds that a popular vote system is preferred by 57-38 percent in the 10 most populous states, and also preferred, but by a narrower 51-44 percent, in the 25 least populous states.
As noted, there's also a sharp partisan division on the question of whether votes will be counted properly, again likely related to the 2000 experience. Seventy-five percent of Republicans are very confident their own vote will be counted accurately; this drops to 50 percent of Democrats.
Similarly, 87 percent of Republicans are very or somewhat confident in the overall vote count nationally; among Democrats this falls to 57 percent.
This poll was conducted October 24-27 among a random national sample of 2,422 adults, including 2,145 registered voters and 1,747 likely voters. The results have a 2.5-point error margin for the likely voter sample. ABC News and The Washington Post are sharing data collection for this tracking poll, then independently applying their own models to arrive at likely voter estimates. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.
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See previous analyses in our Poll Vault.