CBS Poll: Bush Leads Gore

Tourists watch as water comes out of the Krishna Raja Sagar (KRS) dam at Srirangapatana, about 95 miles south of Bangalore, India, Aug. 3, 2005. The gates of the dam were opened after water levels rose in the Cauvery river because of heavy rains. AP

The latest CBS News poll shows Texas Governor George W. Bush leading Vice President Al Gore in the race for the presidency by 49 percent to 42 percent.

The poll also finds that a majority of voters, perhaps because of Sen. John McCain's strong primary challenge to Bush, firmly support campaign finance reform. Though voters have concerns about Gore's 1996 fund-raising, his claim to have learned from past mistakes may give him an advantage on the issue. Most favor Gore's challenges to the Bush campaign and voters now view Gore as more likely to promote real reform in this area.

More than eight in ten Americans agree that the campaign financing system is broken and needs at least fundamental change. Forty-two percent would say it even needs to be completely rebuilt.

Gore's credibility on campaign finance reform comes in part from the fact that voters generally like his proposals and his challenges to Bush to eliminate soft money expenditures and hold twice weekly debates instead of airing advertisements on television. Just under two-thirds say each of those proposals is a good idea, and a majority of voters think Bush should accept both suggestions.

Perhaps because of these challenges, Gore is much more likely than Bush to be seen as really wanting change in the campaign financing system.

CBSNEWS Charts
Who is a real campaign finance reformer?

  GoreBush
Really Wants Change

41%

23%

Doesn't Want Change

39%

57%

CBSNEWS Polls


Bush's attacks on Gore for campaign fundraising improprieties in 1996 don't seem to be having the desired effect. Asked about his 1996 fundraising activities, 38 percent think Gore did nothing wrong - 29 percent say he did, but they are as likely to say it was unethical as illegal.

However, more voters this month think both candidates have made or changed policy decisions because of campaign contributions than thought so last month. Gore is more vulnerable here than Bush is: 43 percent say Gore has changed policy decisions because of campaign contributions, while 35 percent say that about Bush.

The public is fundamentally skeptical of any politician's claims. Would Gore work hard for change? Forty-two percent say he would, but 49 percent think he is basically just talking about it. And when asked directly which candidate would be better at campaign finance reform, 39 percent choose Gore and 38 percent choose Bush, who claimed the label of reformer during the primary campaign. But nearly one in four can't choose.

And in at least one way, voters are practical. Just a third think television commercials should be eliminated. Sixty percent admit these ads are necessary for candidates to get their messages out.

Voters give the two party's presumptive nominees -- Al Gore and George W. Bush -- similar evaluations on some characteristics. However, the Texas Governor still leads the Vice President as the current choice of registered voters. If the election were held today, 49 percent say they would vote for Bush, and 42 percent would vote for Gore.

Gore's supporters may be somewhat more enthusiastic than Bush's are about their choice. While just about two-thirds of both candidates' supporters say their minds are made up and won't change (67 percent for Gore and 63 percent for Bush), Gore voters are more likely to say they strongly support their choice (41 percent to 31 percent for Bush). Overall, just one in five voters say they have made a negative choice, voting more against the other candidate rather than for their choice.

Bush also leads in a possible three-way race with Pat Buchanan as the Reform Party's nominee: Bush 46 percent, Gore 41 percent and Buchanan 4 percent. Buchanan poses little threat to either of the major party candidates. He has never njoyed a positive image with much of the public, and he is now viewed unfavorably by 54 percent of voters. Only 7 percent view him favorably.

Just over half of Republican voters think McCain should endorse Bush, but 13 percent want him to run as a third party candidate. The rest aren't sure, or don't want him to do either. Among all registered voters, just a third want McCain to endorse Bush, and 22 percent would favor a third party run.

    WHAT SHOULD McCAIN DO?
   
  ALL REPUBLICANS DEMOCRATS
 


Endorse Bush 33% 54% 22%

Run on third party 22 13 23

Neither 31 24 36



Most Republican voters remain loyal to their own party's nominee, and only 7 percent of Republicans say they would vote for Al Gore in a two-way fall election. Many of those voters, however, were McCain supporters. Just over half of thoe who supported McCain say they will vote for Bush, and more than one in four now say they will vote for Gore.

McCain's overall image remains positive - especially with independents, a group he attracted to vote in the Republican primaries. Voters overall hold a favorable opinion of McCain, 38 percent to 26 percent, and independents are even more positive, 44 percent to 19 percent. Thirty-one percent of Independents would like to see McCain run as a third party candidate.

Voters give the two parties' presumptive nominees -- Al Gore and George W. Bush -- similar evaluations on some characteristics. And in the last few months, 11 percent of voters say they have become more favorable towards Gore, more than twice as many as say they have become more negative. Change in opinions about Bush have gone in both directions. Ten percent say they are more favorable towards Bush now, 12 percent are less favorable.

Overall, Bush still retains a more favorable assessment from the public and leads Gore on leadership. However, perception of Gore as a strong leader has grown in the last few months, up from just 44 percent last October to 56 percent now. Gore leads Bush on experience and maturity. But only a third say either candidate says what he really believes most of the time, and just half say they can trust either Bush or Gore to keep his word as president.

    CANDIDATE IMAGES
   
  BUSH GORE
 

  Yes No Yes No
 



Favorable opinion 32 34% 40

Says what he believes 32% 60 29% 64

Trust to keep word 52% 33 47% 38

Leadership qualities 68% 23 56% 37

Right experience 62% 28 70% 24

Maturity 70% 22 75% 20



Views of both Gore and Bush in their current jobs are favorable. By 42 percent to 16 percent, voters say their view of the job Bush has done as Governor of Texas is favorable. By 51 percent to 37 percent, voters say the same thing about the job Gore has done as vice president.

Voters say issues matter more than candidate's qualities - except when they get specific. Half the sample was asked whether a candidate's position on the issues or his personal qualities matters more in deciding their vote. By two to one (61 percent to 30 percent) they say issues matter more.

But when asked to choose among honesty, leadership abilities, and agreeing on policies with a candidate, policy agreement finished a poor third. Just 7 percent named policies, while 43 percent cited honesty, and 42 percent cited leadership. At the moment, Bush leads Gore in voters' minds as having strong qualities of leadership (though opinion of Gore has improved in the last few months). Both candidates are seen as not saying what they really believe most of the time.

Presidents eventually are judged by their legacy to the country. Half the public now views the Clinton presidency as one that has made the country a better place, and only 16 percent say it has made the country worse. (A third don't think it made much difference.) Just under six in ten Americans now approve of the job Bill Clinton has done as president, a percentage that has not changed much in the past year.

While its impact on the country is seen as generally positive, assessment of the Clinton administration might not be a factor in many voters' judgments this fall. Thirty percent do say that their vote this fall will be one to change Clinton administration policies - a percentage similar to the share of the public that has consistently expressed disapproval of his administration. Those voters are mostly Republican and conservative. Just 18 percent of voters overall say they will vote to continue Mr. Clinton's policies.

VOTE IN FALL TO:

  ALL DEMOCRATS REPUBLICANS
 

Change Clinton's policies 30% 11% 51%

Continue Clinton's policies 18 30 6

Not about Clinton's policies 43 49 36



But 43 percent say their vote won't have anything to do with their assessment of the Clinton years. This holds true even among Democrats, as half say their vote won't be about Mr. Clinton's policies. But among Democrats, Gore may reap some benefit -- 30 percent say their vote will be to continue the policies of the Clinton administration.

Despite the bruising primary battles, George W. Bush still retains an aura of invincibility, at least when it comes to the voters' expectations of what will happen in November. When asked whether a Republican or a Democratic candidate WILL win in November, voters divide evenly, with 41 percent thinking a Republican will win and 39 percent a Democrat. But when names are attached to the parties, the answers change -- 47 percent then say Bush will win, while 36 percent say Gore will win.

  WHO WILL WIN?
 
Republican 41%

Democrat 39


Bush 47%

Gore 36



Some of the biggest differences are in the perceptions of women voters, who are as likely to think a Democrat will win as think a Republican will, but by nearly two to one give the edge to Bush against Gore.

After Bush's visit to Bob Jones University in February, Catholic voters favored Gore over Bush by 49 percent to 36 percent. But now it looks as though those wounds may have healed. In this poll, Catholics divide evenly in their support for these two candidates, 41 percent for Gore and 43 percent for Bush.

Independent voters say they support Bush over Gore by 49 percent to 37 percent. But despite Bush's lead among these voters, there are signs that Independent support is not firm: 46 percent of Independents say that it is too early to say for sure who they will vote for, and only 25 percent say they strongly favor their candidate. These voters could be open to a third party candidate, as 59% wish they had other choices in November. But one current third party candidate, Pat Buchanan, holds no sway with these voters. Only 5 percent would vote for him in a race against Bush and Gore.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,221 adults interviewed by telephone March 19-21, 2000 There were 909 registered voters. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on both the total sample of adults and registered voters. For full question wording and poll findings, please contact the CBS Election and Survey Unit at 212-975-5554.

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