These results are not much different from those of the CBS News/New York Times poll conducted before the first presidential debate, which suggested a small Gore lead, although one still within the poll's three point margin of error.
Each ticket took home a victory in last week's debates, and the performances had an effect on at least some candidate perceptions. Among both viewing and non-viewing voters, Gore was the clear winner in the first presidential debate, with little change from voters' immediate post-debate assessment. That debate, which most viewers found interesting, may also have given Gore an edge in how voters view both candidates in their ability to manage foreign crises.
But Republican vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney gained more from his encounter with his Democratic counterpart Joseph Lieberman. Nearly twice as many of those voters who watched the vice presidential debate say Cheney won as say Lieberman did, and Cheney's favorable rating has jumped dramatically in the debate's aftermath. He would narrowly beat Lieberman, 44 percent to 39 percent, if there were a separate election for vice president.
The tightness of the presidential contest is underscored by how close the candidates run in some key voter groups. Gore continues to lead among women, Bush among men. Bush holds a small lead with people who have college degrees, and Gore has a large one among those who never graduated from high school. But high school graduates and those with some college education divide evenly. Bush leads in the South, Gore in the Northeast and West, with voters in the Midwest (where the outcome might finally be determined) split. The candidates are within a point of each other in the vote-rich suburbs. Bush has a narrow lead with independent voters, while Gore has a small edge with people who call themselves moderates.
But there are distinct differences in enthusiasm and expectations. Forty-seven percent of likely Republican voters say they are paying a lot of attention to the race these days, compared with just 40 percent of likely Democratic voters. And while more than eight in ten of each candidate's voters say their minds are made up and won't change before the election, Gore's voters are less enthusiastic in their support: 43 percent of Gore voters describe their support as enthusiastic, while 54 percent of Bush's voters now feel that way about their candidate. Bush's voters have consistenty been more enthusiastic, but rarely has the gap been this large.
Gore still leads when it comes to expectations. By 45 percent to 34 percent, likely voters say they expect Gore to win, continuing the expectations voters have held since mid-September.
THE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE
Last Tuesday's debate appears to have changed little in the way voters view the candidates overall. But there are distinctions between the candidates on individual traits.
Bush's apparent nervousness with foreign policy questions in the debate may have hurt him. For the first time, Al Gore has opened up a clear lead on the question of whether voters have confidence in each candidate's ability to deal wisely with an international crisis. Fifty percent say they are confident about Gore's ability, while just 40 percent say they are confident about Bush's. In early September, 46 percent of voters had confidence in Bush's foreign policy abilities.
|Could deal wisely with international crisis|
|Is well prepared for the presidency|
The Texas governor's debate performance also did not help him shake the public image that he's somewhat unprepared for the presidency. Just 48 percentof voters say Bush has prepared himself well enough for the job of president, while 70 percent feel Gore has. This shows no change from before the debates when the numbers were 49 percent and 71 percent respectively.
One week after the fact, Gore remains the winner of the debate in the minds of both viewers and non-viewers. Among viewers, 43 percent say Gore won, 30 percent say Bush did, and 19 percent say it was a tie. Non-viewers give Gore a similar lead, 32 percent to 18 percent, with 13 percent saying it was a tie. However, a third of non-viewers can't say who won.
On the whole, viewers were happy with the debate, finding it interesting and positive. 59 percent of voters tuned into the debates, and by a margin of 58 percent to 37 percent they say the debate was interesting. And 49 percent think the candidates spent most of their time explaining their positions rather than attacking one another. Roughly a third thought the candidates were on the attack.
What effect, if any, the debate had on vote decisions is less clear. A third learned something new about the candidates from the debate, but just 8 percent say it changed their mind about how to vote. In addition, the candidates' overall images are unchanged: 46 percent of voters view Gore favorably, and 44 percent view Bush favorably. Before the debates, 49 percent viewed Gore favorably and 43 percent viewed Bush favorably.
But viewers still plan to come back for more: 61 percent of those who watched the frst debate say they're very likely to watch the second. Overall, 48 percent of registered voters say they are very likely to watch the second debate tomorrow night, and another 30 percent are somewhat likely to watch.
THE VICE-PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE
The public also saw a clear winner in the debate between the vice-presidential candidates last Thursday. Though fewer report watching the vice-presidential than the presidential debate, those who did watch say Cheney beat Lieberman - 47 percent to 22 percent; 25 percent of viewers think it was a tie. Most non-watchers can't say who won; but those who do narrowly choose Cheney - 20 percent to 15 percent.
Perhaps as a result of their debate, which has been portrayed as one of the best VP debates in recent times, both running mates have made gains in personal popularity. Currently, 41 percent of voters view Cheney favorably, compared to 29 percent in the week before the debate. Lieberman's image has also improved, although not by the same margin - 39 percent of voters view Lieberman favorably, up seven points from before the debate.
THE DEBATE OVER TAXES
Much of the presidential debate was spent on the candidates' competing tax cut plans. Despite that, the poll suggests that many voters are dubious about getting a tax cut, let alone getting one they consider fair. Just 25 percent say Gore is likely to reduce taxes, while 63 percent say he is not. Bush does relatively better, but still only 42 percent of voters think he would be likely to reduce taxes if he is elected; 46 percent think he is unlikely to reduce taxes.
Voters see little difference between the two on the issue of tax fairness. By 46 percent to 41 percent voters say Bush, if elected, would be likely to make sure the tax system is fair. Gore performs only slightly better - 49 percent say he is likely to make sure the tax system is fair, but 39 percent still disagree.
Despite this, there is a distinct perception that the Bush and Gore tax cut plans would benefit very different people. Fifty-three percent of voters think the rich would benefit most from Bush's plan, perhaps in reaction to Gore's oft-repeated argument in the debate that the wealthiest 1 percent would get most of the benefit. In contrast, voters feel the middle class has the most to gain from Gore's plan.
While taxes was the focus of much of the first presidential debate, it ranks only fourth in voter's minds when asked what issue they would most like the government to address. As has been the case throughout the course of the campaign, social issues dominate voters' concerns. Education is the number one priority, volunteered by 13 percent of voters, followed closely by Social Security and health care. These priorities have changed little over the past few months.
| MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE FOR GOVERNMENT TO ADDRESS |
Voters' priorities - social issues such as education, health care and Social Security - provide Gore with a clear advantage, as most voters think Gore is more likely than Bush to do a better job dealing with each othem.
Majorities of voters think both candidates would do a good job improving the education system, but Gore has a slight lead over Bush. Gore has a more sizable lead on likeliness to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for the elderly: 57 percent say Gore would do so, while 42 percent say Bush would.
When asked how they would like to see the budget surplus used, voters have consistently favored using it to strengthen Social Security and Medicare. In this poll 47 percent express this view, while less than one in five want it used to reduce taxes, and still fewer would like to use it to pay down the national debt.
Gore leads Bush on this issue as well: 49 percent choose Gore as the candidate who would do a better job dealing with Social Security, while 40 percent name Bush.
However, the candidate's positions on Social Security alone probably won't influence many voters - 68 percent say it is an important issue, but so are other issues. Only 12 percent say it is the single most important factor influencing their vote, and 18 percent say it won't affect their vote at all. Although this issue is more important to older than to younger voters, still only 18 percent of voters age 65 and over say Social Security is the single most important factor in their vote, and 57 percent say it is just one of many important issues.
Likely voters who say Social Security is the most important factor in their vote are overwhelmingly supporting Gore over Bush - 64 percent to 21 percent. Those who say Social Security won't influence their vote at all favor Bush by 51 percent to 33 percent.
Voters' opinions on one solution, partial privatization of Social Security, are somewhat divided and have been so for the past six months. 50 percent think allowing individuals to invest portions of their Social Security taxes on their own is a good idea, while 42 percent think it is a bad idea.
Younger voters are more supportive of privatizing Social Security than are older voters - a majority of those under age 45 think privatization is a good idea. However, among voters age 45 to 64, who are closer to retirement, opinions are divided: 46 percent think it is a good idea and 46 percent think it is a bad idea. Only 34 percent of voters 65 and older think privatizing Social Security is a good idea.
For the most part, voters' views on privatization align with the proposals offered by the candidate they support. 60 percent of likely voters who favor privatization are supporting Bush, and 61 percent of likely voters who oppose it say they will vote for Gore.
The recent FDA approval of RU-486 (dubbed the "abortion pill") for use in the United States gets mixed reviews. Forty-four percent of voters favor the FDA's action, and 45 percent oppose it.
As would be expected, attitudes toward abortion are influential in shaping views on RU-486. Those with the most lenient view of abortion are most likely to favor FDA approval f the drug: 84 percent who think abortion should be permitted in all cases favor the approval of RU-486. Among those who think abortion should be available but restricted, 60 percent favor approval of the drug. But a majority of those who think abortion should be available only in the case of rape or incest, to save the woman's life or not permitted at all, oppose the FDA approval of this drug, by 73 percent to 21 percent.
THE CAMPAIGNS AND THE CANDIDATES
Voters continue to view each candidate's campaign as generally positive, although they rate Gore's more so than Bush's. More than six-in-ten voters say Gore's campaign is spending more time explaining his positions than attacking Bush. Half of voters say Bush is spending more time explaining than attacking.
When asked whether either candidate has attacked the other unfairly, quite a few believe that Bush has. Thirty-six percent think Bush has attacked Gore unfairly, while only 28 precent think Gore has been unfair to Bush. Forty-one percent think neither candidate has attacked the other unfairly.
On various candidate qualities, little has changed over the past week. Gore has retained his edge on the issue of caring - 61 percent of voters think Gore cares about the needs and problems of people like themselves, and 52 percent think Bush does.
The candidates remain relatively even on leadership qualities and trust, with voters rating each candidate much stronger on the former than the latter. Sixty-one percent of voters think Gore has strong qualities of leadership, while a few more - 65 percent - think Bush has. But fewer than half think each candidate can be trusted to keep his word if elected.
This poll was conducted October 6-9, 2000, among a nationwide random sample of 1,498 adults interviewed by telephone. The sample includes 1,178 registered voters, and a proportionately weighted probable electorate of 687 likely voters (999 unweighted). The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the samples of both registered and likely voters. The error for subgroups may be larger.