George W. Bush found some traction in the past week, gaining on key issues, painting his opponent as a big-government Democrat and persuading voters he offers a “fresh start.” Yet Al Gore still leads on experience and empathy — and the race remains very close.
Bush leads Gore by 21 points in public trust to hold down the size of government, his best advantage on any issue. And 54 percent of registered voters think Bush represents a “fresh start” for the country, compared to 33 percent who say that of Gore. Bush employed both those themes at the first presidential debate, and since.
The Race: Republicans Energized
In terms of vote preferences there’s a slight shift toward Bush in this poll, fueled by Republicans becoming a bit more energized to vote. Among likely voters, Bush has 48 percent support, Gore 45 percent. It was 46-48 last week and 47-47 a month ago.
Education Edge for Bush
Conventional wisdom held that Gore would benefit from a debate on the issues. But after the first round, it’s Bush who’s gained. He’s erased Gore’s lead on education and Medicare, improved his own position on taxes and even narrowed the gap on “helping the middle class.”
On education, one of the public’s top priorities, Gore led by 11 points a week ago, but it’s now Bush +1. That’s even though 55 percent of registered voters oppose government-funded vouchers, which are part of Bush’s education plan.
On helping the middle class and handling Medicare and prescription drugs, Bush has trimmed Gore’s 18-point lead to single digits. Gore has held his single-digit lead on Social Security — arguably smaller than expected on this traditionally Democratic issue.
Big Gain for Bush on Taxes
Gore’s efforts to paint Bush’s tax plan as a giveaway to the wealthy don’t look to have resonated. Bush now leads Gore by 10 points in trust to hold down taxes, compared to Bush +2 last week. A sizable group of voters thinks Bush cares more about serving the wealthy (41 percent), but that hasn’t budged in the last month.
Indeed, the public now splits evenly between the Bush and Gore tax plans. Forty-eight percent prefer a large, across-the board tax cut for all Americans (i.e., Bush-style), and 48 percent prefer a smaller tax cut targeted to lower and middle-income people (i.e., Gore-style). The Gore plan had the edge a month ago, 53-45 percent.
More Think Gore Would ‘Say Anything’
Substantially more voters continue to identify Gore as having the right experience, and he still leads on “understanding the problems of average Americans.” He’s also maintained his relatively newfound competitiveness on leadership.
The Bush campaign hasn’t gained any new adherents to its suggestion that Gore exaggerates or speaks untruths. But the charge does get some credence: Sixty-one percent of registered voters do say Gore would do or say anything to get elected. But 53 percent say Bush would, too.
The prospect of a “fresh start” looks to give Bush a better advantage. It’s the reverse side of Gore’s advantage in experience: While his two terms as vice president may give him the better resume, they also prevent him from credibly claiming to be an agent of change.
Voters Prefer ‘Smaller Government’
As noted, Bush holds the upper hand in the size-of-government battle. Nearly seven in 10 registered voters think Gore favors “larger government with many services.” By contrast, nearly six in 10 say they personally prefer “smaller government with fewer services,” and six in 10 think Bush does, as well.
Bush has gained ground here. The number of people who think Gore favors larger government has gained 10 points since midsummer, and the number who think Bush favors smaller government likewise has grown.
Gender Gap Remains Intact
Bush’s gains on issues may be helping boost his prospects in some voter groups. He’s doing better among older Americans (Medicare/drugs) and he leads Gore among parents with school-age children (education).
Among women, Gore’s lead is down from 18 points last week to nine now, with most of the change coming among white women. Men still favor Bush by a large margin, 17 points. This makes the gender gap about twice its average in the last five elections.
Even with Bush’s advances in these groups, the race is deadlocked among independents, ultimately the key swing voter group in this or any election. Bush is supported by 44 percent of independents to Gore’s 43 percent, similar to where it was a week ago.
In fact, vote preferences among Democrats, independents and Republicans haven’t changed; instead more Republicans are showing up as likely voters. In last week’s poll there were six points more Democrats than Republicans among likely voters; in this week’s poll, there’s one point more. (The average in the last three presidential elections was three points.)
A smaller but critical group is changeable voters — those who say they don’t have a strong preference and may change their minds, or are outright undecided. They account for 10 percent of all likely voters, and this week they split evenly between Gore and Bush.
This ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 6-9, 2000. The results are based on a random sample of 826 likely voters, estimating a 50 percent turnout. The issues questions are based on interviews with 965 registered voters. The results have a three-point error margin. Field work by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, Pa.