Al Gore has stepped out of Bill Clinton’s shadow and back into political contention, bouncing to a five-point advantage over George W. Bush among registered voters, 50-45 percent. It’s Gore’s first edge in the presidential race since March.
Gore’s gain — most of it among the key swing group, independents — more than erases the 14-point lead Bush built up at his own convention. It’s a bigger bounce than Bush himself managed, and bigger than usual in polls measuring convention bounces since 1968.
Gore achieved his advance on several fronts: He successfully distanced himself from Clinton. His appeal to working families has resonated. He improved his own leadership ratings. And he gained ground on several of the battleground issues — the economy, health care, education — enumerated in his nomination acceptance speech. Indeed, for the first time Gore leads Bush in public trust to handle the economy.
Gore’s appeal to populism (or class warfare, as the Bush campaign would have it) seems to have won him some support. Some 62 percent now think Gore understands the problems of average people, up 11 points; just 50 percent think Bush understands their problems. Gore leads Bush by 12 points in trust to help the middle class. And 42 percent think Bush favors the wealthy, while just 12 percent say that about Gore.
On Clinton fatigue, the number who say Gore is “too close to Clinton” to give the country a fresh start has dropped by eight points, to 39 percent. People who like Clinton’s policies but dislike Clinton personally now support Gore by a 20-point margin. And for the first time since the primaries, most now see Gore as a strong leader in his own right.
The question, as ever, is how long the bounce lasts. Bush’s was short-lived. This poll immediately follows Gore’s weeklong domination of the news. And Gore’s been here before: He inched into a slight numerical lead after the primaries, but it didn’t hold.
Conventions Good for Gore
Whatever the future holds, the convention season did work to Gore’s advantage, turning a three-point deficit before it began to a five-point edge. Among those most likely to vote that grows to eight points, with Gore up by 53-45 percent.
The four-way race, including Green Party nominee Ralph Nader and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, is tighter: Gore leads by two points among registered voters, and by four percent among likely voters. However, Nader and Buchanan’s support is extraordinarily soft, raising a question of what actual impact they may have. (Half their supporters say they’ll probably change their minds.)
Gore has consolidated his support among Democrats, moving from a 59-point lead two weeks ago to a 74-point lead now. But the key swing voter group remains independents; in this group the race is now essentially tied, as it was before the conventions began.
Beating the Fatigue
Gore long has been wrestling with the task of stepping out of Clinton’s shadow. In polls since last September, half or nearly half the public has said he’s “too close to Clinton to give the country the fresh start it needs.”
Gore tried to break free last Thursday night — “I stand here tonight as my own man,” he said — and it may have worked. For the first time, a majority discounts the notion that he’s too close to the president.
Clinton fatigue can be measured by looking at the people who support Clinton’s policies, but dislike him personally. It’s a large group — 28 percent of registered voters — and on the basis of policy preference it’s a natural support group for Gore. But before the convention Gore and Bush were tied among these voters. Now they favor Gore by 59-39 percent.
Breaking away from Clinton has helped Gore improve his image as a leader; 56 percent now see him as a strong leader, up nine points and the most in ABCNEWS/Washington Post polls to date (it hit 55 percent in March 2000). Bush still leads in this measure; 65 percent see him as a strong leader. But Gore’s cut the gap in half.
Gore did not move the personality gap — not surprising, since he addressed the issue by saying the election “is more than a popularity contest.” Now 51 percent say Gore “has an appealing personality,” while 65 percent say that of Bush.
Gore’s rating on having “the right experience to be president” advanced from 69 percent before the conventions to 74 percent now; Bush’s remained the same at about six in 10.
Gore’s biggest improvement on the issues is in public trust to handle the economy: He now leads Bush by nine points on this measure, a reversal of fortune compared to the end of July, when he trailed Bush by nine points.
Gore also has made significant gains on other issues. He now leads Bush by double digits on handling health care, education and Social Security, and helping the middle class. Bush still leads on taxes, but here Gore has cut what had been a strong Bush issue to a five-point margin.
Gore has gained 10 points in the last two weeks, which ties Jimmy Carter’s 1980 bounce as the largest for an in-power-party’s candidate in polls since 1968. Bush’s bounce was six points. (Previous polling wasn’t frequent enough to track the bounce.) The average is six points for in-party candidates and 7.5 points for out-party candidates.
Most of Gore’s bounce came after the convention, although it started the week leading up to it with his selection of Joseph Lieberman for vice president. In contrast, almost all of Bush’s six-point bounce occurred the week before his convention, after he selected Dick Cheney.
The trend so far is reminiscent of the summer of 1988: The out-party candidate Michael Dukakis led in the summer, through his own convention; but then-Vice President George H.W. Bush moved into the lead after his own convention and never looked back.
But bounces don’t always hold up that way. In 1992, then-President Bush moved up from a 21-point deficit to just a five-point deficit after his convention. But a week later he was down again by 19 points.
One positive sign for Gore is in his better strength of support: His support was considerably softer than Bush’s before the conventions, but he’s made significant gains since.
At the end of July fewer than six in 10 Gore backers supported him strongly or said they’d definitely vote for him; now it’s over seven in 10. Bush’s ratings are similar. (As noted, half of Nader and Buchanan’s backers say there’s a good chance they’ll change their minds.)
Public Still Supports Clinton
As for Clinton, his opening-night speech hasn’t changed public views of his presidency. About six in 10 still have a favorable opinion of his policies, but only about a third think favorably of him as a person. These numbers are unchanged from before the Democratic convention.
The public divides on whether or not Clinton should be charged with a crime in the Monica Lewinsky scandal after he leaves office, with 46 percent saying he should be charged and 51 percent saying he should not.
The public also splits on the motivation behind the grand jury investigation of Clinton, which became public on the last day of the Democratic convention. Forty-five percent see it as an impartial investigation, but 47 percent think it’s part of a political effort to hurt Gore’s chances in the upcoming election.
Along with independents, women have been moving between the two candidates this season. Gore now leads Bush by 16 points among women, after trailing among women two weeks ago. But Gore also has improved among men, cutting Bush’s 22-point lead to eight points.
These shifts push the gender gap to 24 points, the highest so far in the campaign and (if it were to hold) larger than in previous elections.
As noted, Bush’s 17-point cushion among independents, the key swing voter group, is now gone. Gore leads by 13 points among moderates and by nine points among white Catholics, also a swing group. Gore has improved his standing in every region; he leads in the East and West and is now running even with Bush in the Midwest and South.
This ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Aug 18-20 among a random national sample of 896 registered voters. The results have a 3.5-point error margin. Field work was done by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, Pa.