Through a long Tuesday evening and early Wednesday morning of counting popular and electoral votes state by state, the election kept the nation transfixed about which man would emerge as victor.
The final outcome narrowed to a handful of states, with Florida ultimately deciding the election. By early Wednesday morning Vice President Al Gore had a narrow lead in the popular vote with less than a one-point margin.
Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth on Wednesday said there would definitely be a recount of U.S. presidential ballots cast in the state, and it should be completed sometime later in the day.
Despite the concerted effort of the Gore campaign to focus the campaign on policy issues and experience, voter choices were strongly influenced by perceptions of character and leadership ability.
Voters considered "honesty and trustworthiness" to be the defining qualities for the next president, and in a stunning blow to the vice president, Bush won their confidence by significant margins. In fact, more voters cited honesty as the factor most influencing their vote than named any single policy issue.
Overall, one-fourth of voters said honesty was the personal quality that mattered most to them, and Bush captured more than three-fourths of their support. Bush also succeeded in securing two-thirds of votes cast by the 13 percent of Americans seeking a president who would demonstrate good judgment in a crisis. Among the 15 percent of voters who ranked "experience" as the quality that mattered most to them, Gore was the stronger candidate.
No single policy issue dominated the presidential election in the way that honesty and leadership qualities seem to attract Bush support.
Overall, 18 percent of voters said the economy was foremost in their choice for president, 15 percent cited education, 14 percent cited social security, 13 percent named taxes and 12 percent named international affairs. Healthcare (8 percent) and Medicare funding for prescription drugs (7 percent) - two prominent issues for the Gore campaign - were ranked lowest among voters nationwide.
The Texas governor was the dominant choice among voters naming world issues and taxes as their most important issues, while the vice president secured the votes of those ranking the economy, education and social security as key.
White males (60 percent), wealthy Americans (54 percent of those with incomes exceeding $100,000) and married couples with children under the age of 18 (56 percent) also cast the decisive votes for Bush in this election.
Nevertheless, if elected Bush will face considerable challenges gaining the confidence of many other groups in the population who opposed him in significant numbers. Gore was the preferred candidate amonwomen (54 percent), senior citizens (51 percent), blacks (90 percent), Latinos (62 percent), Asians (55 percent), and Jewish (79 percent) and Catholic (50 percent) voters. Abortion rights proponents, 56 percent of the electorate and strong supporters of Gore, will also be keeping an exceptionally watchful eye on the Bush administration.
Bush and Gore received support from their traditional party bases, but split the vote among Independents, 45 percent to 44 percent, respectively.
Even though Ralph Nader drew only two percent of the popular vote, three points less than pre-election polls predicted, the impact of a two percent vote in Florida could strike the fatal blow to Gores candidacy.
At the national level, exit polls found nine percent of liberals casting their votes for Nader, as well as six percent of Independents. Nader also had appeal among voters who believe Al Gore has been too conservative on the issues.
The results also clearly indicate that Nader gained support from younger voters, which clearly came at the expense of Gore. Among those 18 to 29, Gore edged out Bush, 48 percent to 46 percent, and five percent went to Nader. Notably, Gores vote with this age group was five points lower than Clinton received in 1996.
Maureen Michaels is president of Michaels Opinion Research, Inc., a public opinion research firm based in New York City. She provides research counsel to Fortune 1000 firms and leading foundations. Michaels has served as an election night exit poll analyst for CBS News since 1994.
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