TOPICS > Politics

The Undecided Voters

February 19, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This past weekend, Republican pollster Linda Divall surveyed likely Republican primary voters and found Bob Dole winning 26 percent of the vote, Pat Buchanan 20 percent, Lamar Alexander 14 percent, and Steve Forbes 10 percent. 17 percent of those polled were still undecided just 24 hours before voting begins. Linda Divall is president of American Viewpoint and she was formerly with the Gramm campaign. She joins us now with her analysis of recent polls. Welcome. Who are the 17 percent undecideds?

LINDA DIVALL, Republican Pollster: Well, the undecideds at this point tend to be primarily female. About 60 percent of them are women, about a third of them are women over 60 years of age, and they also tend to classify themselves as moderates or liberals. So what you’re finding here is that the campaigns as they go to the final stretch–and it’s interesting that our poll corresponds with the 1992 exit polling data which show that 17 percent actually made up their minds on election day–so this is a very volatile election.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So the person in Margaret’s piece was not unusual, saying that he might decide or she might decide on that–

MS. DIVALL: I think Margaret’s interview was before that. We had a poll just last night. That’s correct. And I think they’re going to be looking for who is it that they think would stand the best job of defeating Bill Clinton, who has the experience and leadership necessary to be President, and the other thing is sometimes if you go into a situation like this, they tend to vote for the person they like the best. Lamar Alexander was able to get a lot of these late decision-makers in Iowa. He has the best favorable/unfavorable rating with these undecided voters, particularly with these women down the closing stretch.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So at this point many of those undecideds may go with Lamar Alexander?

MS. DIVALL: Well, right now, I think they’re split pretty much between Lamar Alexander and Bob Dole. But what we usually see, though, on the polling is that Bob Dole rarely gets more of a vote than what he has in these surveys going into the election. Lamar Alexander has a bit more room to grow because of his favorable/unfavorable ratings. Pat Buchanan has really polarized female voters. When you look at women overall, he’s got about a 55 percent unfavorable rating, so it’s hard to envision a scenario by which he gets a lot of these women who are undecided moderates and liberals. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not part of his coalition.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How strong is Dole’s support?

MS. DIVALL: Well, it’s interesting. Many people criticize Bob Dole for not having a base of support, but what is interesting is that his support with men and women is exactly identical. He has no gender gap. If you look at his vote with conservatives, moderates, and liberals, it is consistent across-the-board, so he is a very steady, solid performer.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And he’s strongest among Republican stalwarts, right, but not so strong among independents?

MS. DIVALL: Absolutely.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What is happening with the independent vote, and how big is it?

MS. DIVALL: Well, that’s what’s open to speculation here when you look at these polls. It’s a difference between people say they’re registered as independents or whether they consider themselves as independents. We have found that independent composition has declined from 24 percent two weeks ago to 12 percent today. As that independent composition comes down, that tends to be to the detriment of Lamar Alexander and Pat Buchanan and tends to be to the benefit of Bob Dole, and I say that because Lamar Alexander has excellent favorable/unfavorable ratings with independents, about 61 to 20. Pat Buchanan has better favorable/unfavorable ratings than he did two weeks ago. But Bob Dole’s strength is with Republican stalwarts. He’s got about a 10-point lead over Pat Buchanan. So if Republicans turn out, if independents are disaffected, not feeling good about the candidates and stay at home, that will hurt Lamar Alexander.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You’ve been working for Sen. Phil Gramm. Does the poll show where his voters will go?

MS. DIVALL: Well, it’s interesting. We asked whether people had a favorable or unfavorable impression of Sen. Gramm, and of those with a favorable impression of Sen. Gramm, they actually divided the vote fairly evenly between Bob Dole, No. 1, and Pat Buchanan, No. 2. So the ability of the Dole campaign to get Sen. Gramm to come in and endorse Sen. Dole on Sunday I think could have some significance with these late decision makers.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You asked people when they decided who they were going to vote for, and there is some significance to the, to the time that somebody makes a decision, right? Is there any clue to that, to that polling?

MS. DIVALL: Yes. If you’re looking at what we call a surge in the final days of the campaign, if you look at those who say they made up their minds in the last several weeks, about 25 percent of the electorate said they made up their minds in the last several weeks. Lamar Alexander won that vote only marginally but he did win that vote with 24 percent, while Buchanan and Dole each received 21 percent. If you look at those who say they made up their minds in the last several days, that’s about 21 percent of the electorate, and they tend to break about evenly for Lamar Alexander and Pat Buchanan. And we still have 17 percent undecided, so what we’re looking at right now is roughly 50 percent of the electorate saying they’ve made up their minds in the last two weeks or the last several days, with another 17 percent still waiting to hear what the candidates will say tonight and make their final determination tomorrow based on reservations they have about the candidates and what they think they’re looking for in the Republican Presidential nominee.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What stood out in the polling about Pat Buchanan?

MS. DIVALL: Well, a number of things. First of all is the fact that he has such a high unfavorable rating with women. The second thing is that he has done an excellent job of gaining some support with women over 60 exactly like Mr. Brady that we saw in Margaret’s piece a little bit earlier, the disaffected Republicans who have been a victim of downsizing, who feel that his economic theme is talking to them directly. He has gained a lot of votes with those men over 60. He has also done an excellent job of getting the conservative coalition behind him. Unfortunately for Mr. Buchanan, the conservative block of voters is not as pronounced as it is in Iowa. In Iowa, they tended to make up about 55 percent of the electorate. In New Hampshire, it’s more like 35 percent of the electorate. The other thing is that there are some very significant reservations that voters have about Pat Buchanan at this time. Chief among them is his position on abortion. New Hampshire is much more of a pro-choice state, and about 53 percent consider themselves pro-choice. Women, in particular, believe his abortion position is too rigid, isn’t flexible, and will be detrimental to the Republican Party. And the second thing is just how he affects the Republican Party overall. We found that 44 percent of our sample said that they had a major reservation and would be much less likely to vote for Pat Buchanan because his views would take the Republican Party in the wrong direction and send the wrong signal to the country and to the party. So that’s an image problem that he has to overcome.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Margaret asked Senator Dole why people were unenthusiastic, and the Senator replied this was true many years before too in many different campaigns, is that right in your experience?

MS. DIVALL: Well, Sen. Dole is correct, absolutely. In 1976, people were saying, oh, there’s only Reagan and Ford. You know, in 1980, they were complaining that Ronald Reagan was–could never be elected President, that he was too extreme. In 1988, with a crowded field, people were saying, is this all we have, and the same thing with 10 candidates in 1996. So it tends to be, unfortunately, I have to say, a traditional whining of the Republican electorate about the candidates, but what Iowa and New Hampshire do is they really do winnow out that field, and then I think people find it much easier to deal with two or three significant candidates than carefully scrutinize all ten, and at that point I think they will begin to focus on the common enemy in terms of the Republicans and that is Bill Clinton.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you very much for being with us, Linda.

MS. DIVALL: Thank you.