Too Close To Call

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant tapes a scene with actor Jeremy Piven for the HBO series "Entourage" at the Staples Center before the Lakers basketball game against the Golden State Warriors Tuesday, April 11, 2006, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian
With less than a week to go until Election Day, the race for the White House remains a virtual dead heat. In a CBS News poll conducted October 29-31, 44 percent of likely voters say they will vote for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, while 43 percent will vote for Vice President Al Gore. Four percent of voters are supporting Green Party nominee Ralph Nader and 2 percent support the Reform Party's Pat Buchanan.

Nader does especially well in the Northeast and the West. While Gore has a clear lead in Northeastern states (47 percent to 39 percent) his margin over Bush in the West is just three points, well within the margin of error for that subgroup. The gender gap continues: Gore holds a nine-point lead among women, while Bush has an 11-point lead with men.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
PRESIDENTIAL PREFERENCE

 BushGoreNaderBuchanan

44%

43%

4%

2%

CBSNEWS Polls

The division in the vote reflects some of the divisions and ambivalences in the electorate about the role of government, something on which the two major candidates disagree. By 57 percent to 32 percent, registered voters say they want a smaller government providing fewer services. But most Americans reject the notion that the current federal budget surplus should be given back to taxpayers. By 50 percent to 38 percent, they favor using the surplus to solve problems the government hasn't been able to afford to solve before.

As the election draws closer, enthusiasm among both candidates' supporters has increased, especially for the vice president. For the first time all year, half of Gore's voters say they are enthusiastic about supporting him – up from just 39 percent less than two weeks ago. But Bush voters continue to be more enthusiastic. Fifty-nine percent of them describe their support that way, though that is an increase of just five points.

But voters on both sides think this is an important election. More than half of all registered voters – 59 percent -- say who wins is very important to them and to their families. That's higher than the percentage that felt this way four years ago.

But as for who will win, more voters expect it will be Bush, and not Gore - 45 percent say Bush will win, while 35 percent say Gore will. One in five voters, however, just aren't sure.

THE BETTER MAN FOR THE JOB?

The consistently tight race is somewhat surprising, given what voters say they want in a president. Hypothetically, voters express a preference for a president who is firmly in charge of the administration, and who is much more intelligent than the average person – traits they ascribe more readily to Gore than to Bush. Gore also retains his consistent advantage on the issue of preparedness for the job.

Despite Gore's perceived advantage on preparedness, voters have concerns about both candidates' abilities to deal with presidential problems. And they are only somewhat more likely to think Bush would make serious mistakes in office than Gore would.

Voters say they want a presdent who is smarter than average, and they downplay the importance of charisma.

Sixty-three percent of voters say they would prefer a president who is much more intelligent than average, and only one third say that it makes no difference to them. When it comes to the two candidates, nearly six in ten voters describe Gore as highly intelligent, while over half think Bush is of average intelligence. Among likely voters who value intelligence in a president, 49 percent support Gore while 39 percent support Bush.

CBSNEWS Polls
IS CANDIDATE SMARTER THAN AVERAGE?

 GoreBush
Highly intelligent

58%

38%


 GoreBush
Of average intelligence

37%

55%

CBSNEWS Polls

In contrast, relatively few voters admit wanting a President who they think they would personally like – only 42 percent say they would prefer such a president, while 57 percent say it doesn't matter. On personal favorability, Bush has a slight advantage – 48 percent view Bush favorably while 45 percent view Gore favorably. As a result, among likely voters who say they prefer a likeable president, the vote tilts slightly in Bush's favor: 46 percent support Bush and 42 percent support Gore.

Voters also would like to have a president who was firmly in charge of his administration, rather than having other people really running the government. Voters give Gore a slight edge on this issue: 48 percent think Gore would be in charge, while 45 percent think Bush would be. In both cases, voters think that being in charge is a good thing, while letting others run the government is not.

Gore also has an advantage in terms of preparation for the job of president: 70 percent of voters feel that Gore is well prepared to handle the job while only 25 percent think he might need more time. In contrast, 51 percent of voters find Bush well prepared for the job, while 43 percent think he might need some more time to prepare. These numbers have not changed at all over the course of the campaign.

Voters also think Gore has done a good job as vice president, while they are less sure about the job Bush has done as governor of Texas.

Nearly two-thirds of voters approve of the job Gore has done as vice president, while only 29 percent disapprove. Bush's Texas record is less known – 49 percent of voters approve of the job he has done in Texas, and 28 percent disapprove, but nearly a quarter do not know enough to say.

While Gore may be the more prepared in the voters' minds, voters have concerns about both candidates. Less than half say either candidate can be trusted to deal with the problems a president faces.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
CAN CANDIDATE DEAL WITH PRESIDENTIAL PROBLEMS?

 GoreBush
Trust to handle problems

48%

45%


 GoreBush
Concerned he'll make serious mistakes

45%

49%

CBSNEWS Polls

Forty-eight percent trust Gore to handle the problems a president faces, but 45 percent are concerned he would make serous mistakes. That is only a slight edge over Bush – 45 percent trust Bush to handle presidential problems, but 49 percent are concerned he would make serious mistakes in office.

As a result, voters express reservations about either candidate's election. When asked how they would feel if Bush were elected president, 12 percent of voters say they would be excited, and another 36 percent say they would be optimistic (but not excited). But half harbor concerns: 33 percent say they would be concerned, while another 19 percent say they would be scared if Bush were elected.

Gore's numbers are nearly identical. One in ten voters express excitement at the prospect of a Gore presidency, and 35 percent are optimistic. But at the same time, 32 percent say they would be concerned, and another 19 percent say they would be scared of a Gore presidency.

THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT

By almost two to one, voters this year say they want smaller government. Fifty-seven percent prefer a smaller government offering fewer services, and 32 percent want a larger government that provides more services. The desire for smaller government has increased since last year, when 48 percent said that was their preference.

But there is some inconsistency in voters' views of what the role of government should be; although they say they want smaller government, at the same time voters want the government to tackle big issues. By 50 percent to 38 percent, voters prefer that the current budget surplus be used to solve big problems the country hasn't been able to solve before, rather than given back to taxpayers whose tax money contributed to it.

And when asked which problems they want the government to address, voters have consistently placed Social Security, education, health care and Medicare, all of which involve large government programs, at the top of the list. Though 51 percent think the current tax system is somewhat or quite unfair to people like themselves, that's the lowest that this figure has been in recent years. Only 7 percent name taxes as the top problem for government to address.

Part of the reason voters are comfortable looking to government to address big problems may have to do with their increased faith in it. Currently, 40 percent of voters say they trust the government to do what is right always or most of the time, higher than at any time since 1988, the last time a sitting vice president – George Bush – ran for the presidency. One year ago, 30 percent said they trusted the government all or most of the time, and 25 percent felt this way just before the 1996 elecion. Fifty-seven percent now trust the government some of the time.

CONTINUITY VS. CHANGE

Voters have ambivalent feelings about the role of government, and also about the current situation in the country. Only a bare majority want the country to keep heading in the same direction, although those who want this to happen outnumber those who seek change. Fifty-two percent of voters like the direction the country is going and hope it continues like this, while 42 percent dislike what's going on and want to change direction. Not surprisingly, 78 percent of the vice president's supporters want the country to continue going in the same direction, while 61 percent of Bush voters want a change in direction.

According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted in 1988, 43 percent wanted the country to continue in the same direction, and 51 percent disliked the direction the country was headed and wanted change. That year, Vice President George Bush won the presidential election.

Although about half of voters want the country to continue in the direction it has been moving, President Bill Clinton has little to do with the current election in voter's minds. Sixty-five percent say their vote this year is not about Mr. Clinton's presidency. Nineteen percent say their vote will be against Mr. Clinton's presidency, and 11 percent say theirs will be a vote in support of his presidency. Even among those who support Gore (most of whom want the country to continue in the same direction), 71 percent say Mr. Clinton has nothing to do with their vote.

There is one aspect of the current government that voters like. Most say they prefer having different parties control the executive and congressional branches of government, as is now the case. Fifty-five percent say that a president from one party and a Congress controlled by another party is good for the country, because it provides checks and balances on the power of both arms of government. Thirty-four percent say having the president and Congress from different parties is bad, because it causes gridlock.

Nevertheless, few intend to vote a split ticket; only 6 percent of Gore voters say they will vote for the Republican candidate for House of Representatives in their district next week, and 11 percent of Bush voters will pull the lever for a Democratic House candidate.

WHO ARE THE UNDECIDED VOTERS?

Undecided voters in this poll are disproportionately older (65 years or over), politically independent, living in the West and the Midwest, and less likely to be paying a lot of attention to the campaign. They are less likely than voters who have made up their minds to say that who wins this election is very important to them and to their families. In fact, some are among those who aren't definite that they will actually vote on Election Day.

While just 6 percent of likely voters admit to being undecided, about 16 percent can be counted as not committed either by virtue of being undecided or because they admit their minds are not completely made up and could still change. And they admit there is plenty of time for that to happen. A third admit they won't make up their minds for sure until Election Day itself. Another third say they will know a few days before the election. But nearly all claim they will eventually vote for someone – they're just not quite sure who that will be.

Undecided voters look much like all voters when it comes to their ranking of issues, though Social Security and Medicare may rank higher than usual for them. Nearly one in five undecided voters cite Medicare, prescription drugs or Social Security as the issue they want the government to deal with first.

There is some room for movement in this election among the 4 percent of likely voters who now say they will vote for Ralph Nader. While Gore has been the clear second choice for many Nader voters, at this point not all of them would desert Nader to vote for Gore even in a close race. When asked what they might do if the election were close, half the current Nader voters say they would still stay with Nader. Twenty-eight percent would switch to Gore, 12 percent would vote for Bush.

THE PROBABLE ELECTORATE

Who is likely to vote on November 7? This CBS News poll has several ways of determining that. First, respondents must say they are registered at the precinct in which they now live (though exceptions are made, for example in North Dakota where there is no registration). Seventy-seven percent of respondents in this poll say they were registered.

Second, respondents who say they are registered voters may not be. They may have moved recently and not re-registered since then. Or they may not have voted in years, causing them to be eliminated from the registration rolls. About 15 percent of those who say they are registered don't meet registration criteria and are excluded from the probable electorate.

Third, the remaining respondents are weighted based on the likelihood that they will actually vote. Their weight is dependent on their answers to questions about intention to vote, past voting behavior, and attention to this year's campaign. Regular voters who are definitely going to vote and are paying a lot of attention to the campaign receive much higher weights than those who are paying less attention, have less regular voting patterns and are less sure they will vote.


This poll was conducted October 29-31, 2000, among a nationwide random sample of 1,396 adults interviewed by telephone. The sample includes 1,131 registered voters, and a proportionately weighted probable electorate of 708 likely voters (965 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.