Chat Transcript: Polling Unit Director Gary Langer

With Election Day only two months away, Al Gore and George W. Bush are running neck and neck with voters, but Gore retains a slight edge on key issues, according to a new ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll.

Is Bush now the "underdog" in the race? What is behind Gore's post-convention momentum? And how do the candidates stack up on policy issues and personal qualities? Joining us to discuss the latest poll results was ABCNEWS Polling Unit Director Gary Langer. Below is a transcript of the chat.

Moderator at 12:14pm ET

Check out the latest ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll about the presidential race.

Moderator at 2:01pm ET

Welcome, Gary Langer.

Gary Langer at 2:02pm ET

Hellooo everyone and thanks for coming by! 47-47. Wow.What can I tell you?

Cam Davis at 2:02pm ET

The day-to-day "likely voters" and/or "registered voters" polls seem to be very shallow. I believe the bigger picture — the electoral vote count — could and would show a more "precise" view of what will happen in November. Is there a way to show the current standings in the electoral vote across the country? I feel this would show Bush in a commanding lead with Gore needing either Penn., Ohio, GA, or FL to stay competitive. What do you think?

Gary Langer at 2:05pm ET

Lot of people have posted similar questions, Cam, and it's a good one. I have in front of me five recent estimates of the electoral vote. The one I think is best, produced by the crack ABC News Political Unit and posted elsewhere on this site, has Bush ahead in states with 234 electoral votes, Gore with 201 (270 to win). We can agree that is close, no?

We've also done an entirely poll-based analysis here at the ABC News Polling Unit, calculating the probable leader in each state on the basis of the latest state polls. These polls are of spotty quality and they're not all recent. But here's what the analysis shows: Bush, 224. Gore, 219. Close, no? And our latest national poll, as you know, has the race at 47-47 percent. Close. No?

Gregory Dworak at 2:05pm ET

How big of an issue is Gore's and Bush's views on choosing new Supreme Court justices? If Bush wins and appoints new judges to the court, wouldn't Roe v Wade and affirmative action be overturned? Could it be the Gore team is waiting to get closer to the election before they start attacking Bush on this issue? How aware is the American public of this issue, and do they care?

Gary Langer at 2:06pm ET

It's not a determinative issue for most people, Greg. We last asked about appointing Supreme Court justices in mid-July; out of 17 issues we tested, it ranked 15th in importance (with 44 percent saying it was "very important" in their vote choice). In this week's poll we tested abortion itself, and it finished in the same place: fifteenth in importance out of 17 issues (at 43 percent).

In analyzing theses numbers we've found that abortion is of greater importance as a voting issue to those who oppose legal abortion, and less important to those who favor it. At the top of the scale, those most likely to call abortion "very important" in their vote are anti-abortion women, followed by anti-abortion men. Pro-abortion men are least likely to call it an important issue in their vote.

Paul Schrier at 2:07pm ET

Has Gore finally shed the stigma of "Clinton-Fatigue"?

Gary Langer at 2:10pm ET

Gore certainly has made significant progress there, Paul. The key group we look at is made up of people who dislike Clinton personally but like his policies. That's about 30 percent of the electorate and on the basis of policy it's a natural Gore group. Yet this summer he was only winning half of those people. Since his convention, though, he's turned that around — now winning this important group by about 20 points.

John Johnson at 2:10pm ET

What role are candidates such as Harry Browne and Ralph Nader playing in these poll results?

Gary Langer at 2:13pm ET

Not much of one. John. We have Nader at three percent, Buchanan at less than one percent. Don't have Browne, but another poll I saw today had him at one percent. Not big numbers.

mike duran at 2:13pm ET

Being a union member, I wonder how Mr. Bush's election could possibly have a positive effect on my life or any other union member's life.

Gary Langer at 2:15pm ET

It would seem that most union members — and their families — tend to agree with you, Mike, since Gore leads by 61-33 percent among likely voters in union households. That happens to be about the same as Clinton's margin in this group in 1996. It's a big group, too — about 23 percent of voters in 1996, according to our exit poll.

One interesting thing I'd note is this: Our poll finds that more than two-thirds of likely voters think that either Bush or Gore would probably be a good president. Given that, it could be a low-turnout election, in which case get-out-the-vote efforts become all the more important. And unions are good at that. Could it make a difference in some battleground states? I wouldn't rule it out. Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Jersey come to mind.

Moderator at 2:15pm ET

At one point, Bush had a slight lead over Gore among women. Why is there now such a wide gender gap, with the majority of women backing Gore and the majority of men supporting Bush?

Gary Langer at 2:20pm ET

It's a big gender gap, biggest we've seen: Gore +18 among women, Bush +20 among men — a 38-point gap. (The average in elections since 1980 is just 13 points. We'll see where this one ends up.)

I'd point to a couple of reasons. One cuts to political philosophy: women are somewhat more apt to favor a larger, more active government; men are more apt to favor smaller, less active government, and those roughly delineate the two major parties and the two candidates. Another is that Gore has aimed his campaign at the economic midmarket, and there are more women there.

Gail Milner from at 2:22pm ET

It occurs to me that it is possible that the tightening poll numbers reflect a growing perception out here in the real world, which has not been paying much attention to the presidential race until just now: it's not the issues, stupid — it's that the Repubs have nominated a candidate who is too weak to hold up under close scrutiny. What's your impression?

Gary Langer at 2:24pm ET

I don't think most people see it that way at all, Gail. In fact, as I noted earlier, in our latest poll more than two-thirds of likely voters say either Bush or Gore would probably make a pretty good president. As far as issues vs character, people divide evenly on which is more important to them — but vote preferences are about the same in both groups.

Ashley Vinsel at 2:24pm ET

I am a student at Centre College in Danville, KY, where the VP Debate has been scheduled for October 5th. George Bush has announced that his campaign will not participate. Will this apparent fear of debates affect his chances enough for him to lose the race?

Gary Langer at 2:28pm ET

I doubt it very much, Ashley. First of all, I imagine these guys will work out their differences and have a couple of debates, and this mini-controversy will melt away. Moreover, past experience indicates that debates usually don't change many minds — rather they reinforce pre-existing opinions. And vice-presidential candidates don't drive much vote.

You'd have to say Bush and Gore are so similar you can't decide between them before you got to the VPs, and not many people say that. Let me apply my usual caveat, though: In a close race, everything matters.

June Le Fevre at 2:29pm ET

How many people are in the sampling for polls, and how are they chosen? Neither I nor my friends have ever been asked.

Gary Langer at 2:31pm ET

June, we start with a computer program that produces a random sample of telephone numbers, listed and unlisted, across the country. Every residential telephone in the country has the same probability of being selected. That's what makes polls work — random selection. That's also why you haven't gotten a call — the odds are very, very slim. Stay by the phone, though. We'll get you one of these days!

Curtis at 2:32pm ET

Has Mr Bush's electoral vote count diminished as has his popular vote?

Gary Langer at 2:36pm ET

Sure, Curtis. There are a few states in which Bush had an significant lead where the race is now even, or where Gore now leads. Missouri is now roughly even in the latest poll there. A poll out of Pennsylvania gives Gore the lead there now. And we're watching for more state polls to see the post-Labor Day standings elsewhere.

Sean at 2:36pm ET

Gore leads on most issues, yet the race is more or less even. Does personality matter that much?

Gary Langer at 2:40pm ET

Gore actually also leads on several personal qualities as well, Sean. Of those we tested, Gore leads in six: compassion, knowledge, experience, clear stand on issues, empathy and "unites rather than divides" people. Bush leads in four others: strong leader, good commander-in-chief, would bring needed change and has an appealing personality. And in four more, they're tied.

The underlying issues and qualities are almost all looking better for Gore than they'd been before the conventions. The horse race is a dead heat, I think, because undecided and lightly-committed voters are still coming to their final decisions. These folks tend to be independents, tend to be moderates; I call them the "white stripe" voters — the middle of the middle of the road. Neither candidate has closed the sale with them. The one who does, wins.

Chris Bowers from at 2:41pm ET

On what basis do pollsters determine if you are a "likely" voter? Do all polls use the same methodology?

Gary Langer at 2:45pm ET

Every poll uses its own methodology, Chris. Basically they're all variations on a theme — ask people their interest in the race, their vote intention, their level of commitment to a candidate, their vote history, some demographic questions, and assemble your best estimate of who's most likely to vote.

A worthwhile bit of information is the turnout that any poll's "likely voter" scenario produces. If it projects to 65 percent of the electorate, obviously that's too many, because nowhere near that many people vote. Our own is around 50 percent.

Moderator at 2:47pm ET

Thank you Gary for chatting with us today.

Gary Langer at 2:47pm ET

Thank you all for looking in. I'm off to crank out a little data analysis... got to run!

Moderator at 2:48pm ET

Read some of our recent chats available in our Chat Archive. Thank you for joining us.