CBS Poll: Primary Colors

The Right Words at the Right Time Volume 2 : Your Turn! (Hardcover) by Marlo Thomas (Editor)
Atria Books
Americans do not believe that primary voters had much say in choosing the two major parties’ nominees for president this year, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll. Instead, they feel that party leaders and contributors had most of the power. And when asked about reforming the nomination system, Americans express a preference for the most radical change – a national primary – over the plan currently being offered by the Republican Party.


Americans feel that neither Al Gore nor George W. Bush was really chosen by the voters this primary season. When asked whether voters, party leaders or contributors had the most say in choosing each nominee, the voters consistently came in last.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
Who's Most Responsible for Choosing the Nominee?




Party Leaders



Primary Voters




Forty-three percent of Americans feel that in the Republican case, contributors had the most say in making Bush the party nominee. In the Democratic case, 46 percent of Americans say party leaders were the most influential.

Perhaps as a result, voters are less than enthusiastic about the choice given them: 51 percent are satisfied and 48 percent are not.

While this is hardly a ringing endorsement of the two candidates, it is a decidedly more positive outlook than voters have expressed in the past. In May 1992, only 36 percent f voters were satisfied with the choice between Bill Clinton and then-President George Bush.

However, few Americans know whom they would prefer instead of the two current candidates. When asked whether Gore was the best candidate for the Democrats, 45 percent of Americans say he was while 38 percent say he was not. A majority of Democrats, 58 percent, think he was the best possible nominee. But among those who said Gore wasn’t the best choice, seven in ten had no alternative to offer, while 15 percent mentioned Gore’s former rival Bill Bradley.

Bush does not fare much better than Gore – only 46 percent of Americans think that Bush was the best candidate the Republicans could have nominated, while 43 percent say he was not. Like their Democratic counterparts, 58 percent of Republicans think their party’s choice was the best possible. Among those dissatisfied with Bush as the nominee, over four in ten mention that McCain would have been a better choice.


In terms of reforming the process that gave them these candidates, Americans express support for a system that would decide the nominees as quickly as possible.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
National Primary vs. Current System

National Primary


Current System



Three-quarters of Americans say they would prefer a national primary system to the system currently used, where states hold their primaries largely when they choose, within party guidelines. Only 19 percent prefer the current system.

In contrast, Americans would rather stick with the current system than switch over to one in which state size determines the primary date, and the voting spans four months (the Delaware Plan, which will be up for a vote at the Republican convention). Only 38 percent say such a system would be better than the current system, while 47 percent say it would not be better.

Americans express some dissatisfaction with the current nominating process: Half think that the states that vote earliest have too much power, while 36 percent say they do not. But while many politicians and party leaders are arguing that the primary campaign season should take longer, to give more people a say in the selection process, Americans don’t appear to agree.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
Length of the Primary Campaign This Year

 All States After 3/7
About Right



 All States After 3/7
Too Long



 All States After 3/7
Too Short




Nearly half of Americans think that the length of the primary season this year was about right, and 41 percent think the season lasted too long. Only 6 percent believe the primary season was over too quickly. Even among residents of states that held their primaries or caucuses after March 7 – when the nominees were all but decided – this past primary season was long enough, if not too long.

Reluctance to drag out the primary season may stem from boredom with this campaign: 57 percent of voters say the presidential campaign to date has been dull. Only 36 percent find that the campaign has been interesting so far.


Voters’ less than enthusiastic endorsement of the candidates and the primary process does not mean that they don’t care about the upcoming election. To the contrary, they feel that the presidential election is very important to them and their families: half of all voters say that who wins the election is very important to them and their families, and another 35 percent say the results are somewhat important. Only 14 percent think the election is not important.

Perhaps as a result, voters are paying some attention to the campaign: 72 percent of voters are paying at least some attention to the campaign – including 27 percent who are actually paying a lot of attention – while roughly a quarter are paying little attention. This is the highest level of interest in the race since the height of the primary season in mid-February when 74 percent of voters were paying attention.

This poll was conducted May 10-13, 2000, among a nationwide random sample of 947 adults interviewed by telephone. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample. The error for subgroups is larger.