CBSN

Poll: Close Race Expected

Texas Gov. George W. Bush still leads in voter preferences for the 2000 presidential election, but there are indications in a new CBS News/New York Times poll that whomever the parties nominate, the eventual result could be close.

Bush's overall image remains positive. He is viewed as more moderate than the Democratic frontrunner, and he demonstrates crossover appeal. Bush dominates the field of contenders for the Republican Party nomination, but his general election campaign lost some ground over the past week after he received negative publicity following an interview on foreign policy.

Currently, Bush leads Vice President Al Gore by nine points among registered voters: 50% to 41%, down from 52% to 37% last week. Bush leads former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley by 51% to 39%, also narrower than his lead last week. The tightening in the race has been especially dramatic among those paying the most attention to the campaign.

THE GENERAL ELECTION VOTE

Bradley
  NOW 10/28-30
 

Bush 50% 52%

Gore 41 37

-

Bush 51% 53%

39 31

Both Democratic contenders lead Arizona Sen. John McCain in a general election match-up. Gore leads McCain 47% to 36%, and Bradley leads McCain 47% to 30%.

Adding a Reform Party candidate to the equation has relatively little impact; in fact, voters are very negative about both announced candidates and the party overall is unfavorably viewed.

BUSH'S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

A good part of Bush's consistent (although shrinking) lead is his appeal to Democrats and liberals. Currently, one out of every five Democrats say they would vote for Bush against Gore, and one in four liberals would choose Bush. Bush does even better among each of these groups when pitted against Bradley in the election.

Bush's widespread appeal, however, does not carry over to another Republican, John McCain. In a horse race against Gore, only 61% of Bush's general election voters say they would support McCain. With Bradley as the Democratic nominee, the figure drops to about half. Many of the defectors are the Democrats, liberals, and women to whom Bush has crossover appeal - they go home to the Democratic party when he is not in the race.

But the news is not all positive for Bush in these match-ups. Among voters who are paying a lot of attention to the election at this point, Bush fares much less well than he does with the entire electorate. Among this group, the general election trial heats with both Bradley and Gore are even. The overall opinions of Bush among the most attentive are equally divided, with 36% favorable and 34% unfavorable. Registered voters as a whole hold positive views of Bush.

In addition, McCain also draws even with both Gore and Bradley in the general election vote among those who are paying a lot of attention, which is much better than he does among all registered voters. Those who are paying a lot of attention to the race are more active voters, however: They do not differ substantially from other voters in their partisan affiliation.

Currently, only 19% of registered voters are paying a lot of attention to the campaign - compared to the 17% who were paying a lot of attention in December of 1995. By election time in 1996, however, almost half of all registered voters said they were paying a lot of attention to the campaign. If this trend in preferences continues as more voters begin to focus on the race, Bush may have a more difficult road to the nomination and beyond.

Indications of a closer race can also be sen when voters are asked whether they would vote for a Democrat or a Republican in the presidential election, without indicating names of nominees: 41% say they would vote for the Democratic candidate and 40% would vote for the Republican if the election were held today.

IN THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

  Democrat Republican
 

Who would you vote for? 41% 40

Who do you expect to win? 32% 52

Most voters, however, reflect conventional wisdom when asked which party will win the White House in 2000. 52% of voters expect the Republican party to take over the White House. Only 32% say the Democrats will.

THE CANDIDATES - INCREASING NEGATIVES

As the primary campaigns heat up, images of the candidates have grown increasingly negative. Among four major presidential contenders - Bush, Bradley, Gore and McCain - unfavorable views of each have increased by around 5 points since the end of October.

OPINIONS OF THE CANDIDATES

  Now 10/99
 

George W. Bush:

Favorable 34% 31%

Unfavorable 22 17

John McCain: -

Favorable 14% 18%

Unfavorable 10 4

Al Gore: -

Favorable 24% 23%

Unfavorable 36 30

Bill Bradley: -

Favorable 17% 19%

Unfavorable 13 8

Bradley and McCain remain relatively unknown nationally. 69% of the public cannot rate Bradley either favorably or unfavorably, and 74% cannot rate McCain.

Most of the other Republican presidential contenders are even less well known, with the exception of Steve Forbes. 57% of adults nationally have no opinion of Forbes, or have not heard enough about him to form an opinion, but those who do have an opinion are predominantly negative: 31% unfavorable compared to 11% favorable.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch is viewed unfavorably by 19% of adults, and favorably by 6%, but 74% cannot rate him either way. Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes are even more unknown, but those with opinions are more negative than positive.

Of the four leading presidential contenders, Bush and Bradley are seen as the most ideologically moderate candidates. 35% of voters believe that Bush is a moderate, and another 38% think he is a conservative. Similarly, 32% of voters see Bradley as a moderate, but, even though many of his positions are to the left of the vice president, only 25% label him a liberal.

In contrast, 45% of voters see Gore as a liberal, and only 24% call him a moderate. McCain, known by fewer voters, is seen as moderate by 23% of voters and conservative by another 23%.

These ideological perceptions are also reflected in voters' responses to the question of who - between Gore and Bush - would better represent their views in Washington: 49% say Bush would while 42% say Gore would. Even one in five Democrats say Bush would better represent their interests.

All four candidates are seen as having clear ideas bout what they would like to accomplish as President. Gore leads the pack with 65% of voters saying he has a clear idea of what he would like to accomplish. 54% of voters say Bush has a clear idea of what he would like to accomplish, and 53% say the same of Bradley. Here again, McCain is relatively unknown: 40% of voters don't know how clear McCain's ideas are, but 37% say he has a clear idea, and only 23% say he does not.

Voters like each of these candidates for various reasons. Voters who like Bush are most likely to cite his experience - 18% - and his father - 16% - as their reasons for liking him. But even though Bush's image is tied closely to his father, most voters believe that the younger Bush is working hard to become president, rather than riding on his father's coattails: 55% say Bush is working hard to earn the presidency, compared to 36% who say he expects to win without working hard because of his family connections.

Voters who like McCain say it is his honesty and integrity that they like: 32% point to this, and another 18% mention his image as a war hero. 29% of those who like Gore say they like him because of his experience, and another 9% specifically cite the current administration's accomplishments. Another 17% say they like Gore's honesty and integrity.

Those who like Bradley point to his honesty and integrity - 23% - their agreement with him on the issues - 16% - and his experience in government - 14%. Only 5% of voters who like Bradley say they like him because of his career with the New York Knicks.

THE PRIMARIES

Bush continues to dominate the Republican primary nationally, with 68% of the likely vote. McCain is Bush's closest competitor, with 8%. Despite Bush's commanding lead, however, only one quarter of Republican primary voters say they have made up their minds, a drop from one third just last week. In fact, those who now support Bush for the nomination are less committed than his supporters were last week. Only 28% of Bush's supporters say their minds are made up, compared with 43% who said the same one week ago.

McCain does slightly better among those Republican primary voters paying a lot of attention to the race: he receives 14% of the Republican primary vote among this group.

Gore maintains a sizable lead over his competitor for the Democratic nomination, Bill Bradley. Gore currently receives 56% of the likely Democratic vote, compared to Bradley's 30%. Among Democratic voters, too, there is room for change: Only 36% say their minds are made up, and 63% say it is still too early to tell.

THE PARTIES

The Democratic party continues to have an advantage when it comes to party image. 52% of adults have a favorable impression of the Democratic party, while 39% have an unfavrable impression. Republicans are slightly less popular: 48% view the Republican party favorably and 43% view it unfavorably. That is, however, an improvement from the party's negative image during the impeachment and Senate trial of President Clinton.

On a host of issues, especially those that Americans most want the government to address, Democrats are given the edge over Republicans. When asked the most important problem for government to address, adults most frequently cite health care (13%), and Social Security and Medicare (12%). On dealing with both of these issues, people give the Democrats huge advantages.

WHICH PARTY IS MORE LIKELY TO ...?

  Democrats Republicans
 

Improve health care 54% 28

Protect the environment 54% 25

Make right Medicare decisions 50% 32

Improve education 49% 33

Make right Social Security decisions 49% 33

Care about problems of people like you 46% 30

Ensure fair tax system 46% 37

54% of people say Democrats are more likely to make the right decisions about health care. 50% and 49% say the Democrats are more likely to make better decisions about both Medicare and Social Security respectively. People also prefer Democrats on issues like the environment and education, and they perceive them as caring more about people.

Perhaps as a result, Democrats currently hold the edge in generic congressional voting. 45% of voters say they would vote for the Democratic candidate in their House district today, compared to 38% who would vote for the Republican candidate.

WHICH PARTY IS MORE LIKELY TO ...?

  Democrats Republicans
 

Have better ideas for 21st century 44% 37

Ensure strong economy 43% 39

Balance the Budget 42% 40

Reduce taxes 39% 42

Have more honest candidates 31% 33

The public is more divided over fiscal and other issues. Democrats have a slight advantage on leading the country into the new millennium. But the public divides over the issues of the economy, balancing the budget, and cutting taxes. Some of those issues have been traditionally Republican. The public also divides on the relative honesty of each party's candidates. In fact, 17% say that neither party has more honest candidates.

WHICH PARTY IS MORE LIKELY TO ...?

  Democrats Republicans
 

Reduce crime 32% 38

Uphold traditional family values 30% 49

Ensure srong Military 27% 57

Have higher ethical standards 23% 46

Republicans have an edge on crime, military and moral issues. They are given a thin edge on reducing crime, and roughly half of the public thinks that Republicans are more likely to uphold traditional family values. 57% say the Republicans are more likely to keep the military strong. And finally, people believe that the Republican party has higher ethical standards than the Democratic party by 46% to 23%.

THE REFORM PARTY

Only 26% of adults nationally have a favorable impression of the Reform party, while 53% have an unfavorable impression. This lack of popularity may reflect in part the unpopularity of two of the Reform party's current presidential contenders: Patrick Buchanan and Donald Trump.

Roughly half of Americans have an unfavorable view of Pat Buchanan, the one declared Reform party candidate. Only 10% have a favorable impression of Buchanan. Buchanan's unpopularity pales, however, in comparison to Donald Trump, his potential rival for the nomination. Two-thirds of Americans have an unfavorable view of Trump, while only 7% say they view him favorably. Trump's image appears to have worsened since last week when 58% of adults had an unfavorable impression of him.

Reform party primary rules allow any registered voter to participate in the primary by requesting a mail-in ballot. Just 10% of voters say they are very likely to take part in the Reform party's primary next summer. Buchanan finished first among those voters though too narrowly to say he is clearly leading given the small sample size.

Twenty-three percent chose Buchanan, followed by 17% for Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura. Party founder Ross Perot is in third place with 15%. Trump currently garners only 8% of the likely Reform vote while a substantial 17% of likely Reform voters choose none of the options offered.

In general election match-ups against Bush and Gore, and against Bush and Bradley, Buchanan polls only 6%.

The Reform party is not currently meeting people's hopes or expectations for a third party. In 1996, 41% said that a third party would produce better candidates for political office. Faced with the reality of the Reform paty, however, only 19% say it is doing just that.

Also in 1996, most people - 58% - said that a third party would raise issues that the two major parties failed to address. When asked specifically about the Reform Party now, only 41% say it is addressing such issues. 36% of adults in 1996 though a third party would give them more say in government, but only 19% now feel the Reform party offers them that benefit.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,162 adults interviewed by telephone November 4-7, 1999. There were 953 registered voters. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the total sample of adults and the sample of registered voters. For full question wording and poll findings, please contact the CBS Election and Survey Unit at 212-975-5554.