September 15, 2000
JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner begins our politics coverage with a look at the polls.
MARGARET WARNER: Nearly every national survey is finding a significant change in the Presidential race. The "New York Times" poll in late July, for example, showed Bush leading Gore by a six-point margin, 44% to 38%. The new "Times" poll released Wednesday shows Gore leading Bush 42% to 39%, a shift of nine percentage points. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press is reporting a similar trend. In July, it showed Bush edging Gore 42% to 41%. The new Pew poll released yesterday shows Gore up by a six-point margin, 47% to 41%. Here to explain these trends is Andrew Kohut, the Pew Research Center's director. Welcome, Andy. What explains this shift? Let's first of all look at what voter groups is Gore now picking up more support from.
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, the remarkable trend toward Gore who had been trailing for a whole year is very much like Vice President Bush's comeback 12 years ago. It starts with unifying his base. As Republicans came back then to Vice President Bush, Democrats have come back to Vice President Gore. We have a slide showing in July a paltry 74% of Democrats were backing Gore. It's now at the 89% level, which I might add, is higher than the percentage of Republicans backing Bush.
MARGARET WARNER: And then what groups within this?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, the Democratic coalition, union members, African Americans, less affluent people, seniors, and women. Gender politics is such an important part of this election. There's another slide here where we show women at the 44%, 36% for Bush in July, a yawning 50 to 37 lead. Gore picked up support among men but not nearly as much as he did among women.
MARGARET WARNER: So you alluded to this. But how is Bush doing with his corresponding groups, his traditional supporters?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, we see less support for the governor among fluent people, among college, among whites, and even among some main line Republicans or core Republican groups, particularly the populist Republicans -- the Republicans who are socially conservative but they want government to do a little bit more than the old staunch conservatives. There we see relatively modest support levels for Bush. In fact, the strong support of staunch conservatives is masking the fact that some of these populist conservatives feel that maybe Gore might offer some interesting possibilities for them on issues that concern them.
MARGARET WARNER: And these populist Republicans, who are they exactly?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, they are less affluent Republicans. They are socially conservative. They have strong views about abortion, but you know they really feel the government should help them deal with the economic struggles that they face on a day-to-day basis.
MARGARET WARNER: Now you mentioned issues, and the Gallup organization had an interesting report this week, finding that what's driving voters has changed. In January, a majority of voters said they were looking for leadership qualities like strength or whatever, rather than issues. Now more voters say they are looking for issues to drive their vote. Does that sound right to you? Are you picking that up?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, it sure does. Of course, it's a combination of things. The balance has shifted. In July we had 38% saying the stand on issue, the reason they were picking or rejecting a candidate. It's now up to 46%. Gore has made issues work for him.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now which issues are the... are most voters saying are most important and who has the lead or the edge on those issues?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, the top issues are Social Security, fixing Social Security, improving education, dealing with health care, the problems of health care and of course the economy. And on issue after issue of these top issues, we see a Gore advantage, I mean, an advantage that has grown since the summer. And this graph we have 36% saying they have more confidence in Bush and 49% saying they have more confidence in Gore. And that's a larger number than we have seen in July. And Gore does better on education, which Bush has emphasized so much, even though actually Bush has made a little progress on education. Things aren't so bleak there. But on health care, and the economy, especially the economy, Gore has really picked...made some progress. And the economic one is particularly important because it deals with the whole issue of continuity versus change.
MARGARET WARNER: Explain that.
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, Gore hadn't been getting any credit for Clinton's good economy. All of a sudden out of nowhere pops up this perception after the conventions that maybe Gore might do a better job than Bush on the economy. And everyone has been puzzled why that hadn't happened sooner given the strength of this economy and the credit that the public gives Bill Clinton.
MARGARET WARNER: And then taxes, the last one there, that seems curious because that's what Bush is really emphasizing yet their dead even.
ANDREW KOHUT: They're dead even, and it's the centerpiece of his economic plan, and generally Republicans are seen as better on taxes than Democrats. And part of it has to do with specifics. When we ask people what kind of tax cut do you want, do you want a targeted tax cut or do you want an across-the-board tax cut, people say a targeted tax cut. Even 45% of Republicans say a targeted tax cut.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now let's go on to the leadership the personal qualities, several personal qualities because a lot of voters still say that's most important. Who is doing best with which ones?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, Gore has improved his personal image. He is seen as more likable than he was. A majority of people say they like him better than they did earlier in the year.
MARGARET WARNER: That's a flip, isn't it?
ANDREW KOHUT: That's a flip; that all stems from Lieberman. Lieberman gave people an opportunity to look at Gore a little differently. They saw him as more politically courageous, but on a crucial leadership dimension, we still have Bush, people saying they have more confidence in Bush and this is a poll that has Gore ahead.
MARGARET WARNER: One other personal quality we don't have a graphic but one Bush is trying to emphasize has to do with Gore's credibility, honesty and integrity. What do you find there?
ANDREW KOHUT: We find Gore has improved his credibility but people feel that Bush is more politically honest. He is more of a straight shooter.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Now, where is the wiggle room here? How solid is this, Andy, and which voters are up for grabs?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, the difference between now and 1988 is that independents are breaking just about even. 12 years ago they were going to Bush by this time. Independents are breaking even. We have 30% of the public saying they might change their mind and vote for the other candidate. And that doesn't even include the undecideds -- and the percentage of people saying they might change their mind is as large as it was in July. The party people have gone home but the independents remain on the fence waiting for the debates, waiting for the campaign to make that decision for one of these guys to make a sale.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thanks Andy, very much.
ANDREW KOHUT: You're welcome.
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