The respective campaign success and failure of Clinton and Dole with various constituencies emerges more clearly in the public’s assessment of each candidate’s personal character, attitudes and performance. In these measurements, Dole has lost ground or has not improved for the most part compared to seven months ago. For example, fewer voters now believe Dole, a man who spent a generation as a Senate leader, would use good judgment in a crisis, 37% vs. 42%. Since March he has dropped 10 percentage points among women on this measure and dropped 13 percentage points among voters 65 and older.
Clinton, on the other hand, has improved a great deal in one key performance measure, although the GOP campaign attacks on his character have also taken their toll. A majority now believes he has new ideas (51% vs. 43% last March). But his standing has dropped on the question of being honest and truthful (26% now vs. 32%) and on caring about people (46% now vs. 53%).
Beyond the trends, Clinton is evaluated better on most dimensions, often overwhelmingly, when the two candidates are compared directly in the latest Pew poll. Three times more voters say he is personally likeable, 66% vs. 20% for Dole; and by the same three-fold margin voters believe he connects well with ordinary Americans, 65% vs. 21% for Dole. Almost twice as many voters say he has new ideas (51% vs. 28% for Dole). Clinton is far better regarded than Dole in these respects among working class Independents and even among Republican-leaning Libertarians.
The President is viewed as a strong leader more often than Dole (47% vs. 36%) and credited with good judgment in a crisis by a similar margin. Only on whether he is considered honest and truthful does he lose big (26% vs. 42% for Dole), and marginally on whether he keeps his promises (32% vs. 36% for Dole).
The Race for Congress
Congressional voting intentions continue to divide closely, with 49% of registered voters saying they favor the Democratic candidate in their district, 42% for the Republican. The race is even narrower among likely voters: 48% for the Democratic candidate, 44% for the Republican.
At this point Democratic Congressional candidates seem to be benefitting from sex and age gaps in the electorate. The gender gap which has been so apparent in the presidential race is equally wide at the Congressional level. Women support Democratic Congressional candidates over Republicans by a margin of 54% to 36%, while men support Republicans over Democrats by a narrow 48% to 43% margin. In a generational divide, seniors favor Democrats over Republicans by nearly 20 percentage points. Among voters under 50, the race is a virtual dead heat.
The strongest supporters of Republicans for Congress are high income voters, white Protestant evangelicals, and white men — especially non-southern white men. The Democrats run strongest among blacks, low income voters and city dwellers.
While the Democratic Party holds a slight lead in the Congressional generic ballot question, other cross currents in the electorate favor Republicans. Voters are more inclined to say their vote for Congress will be cast on the basis of state and local issues than was the case in 1994. This could bode well for Republican candidates because it suggests a lopsided Clinton victory may not impact badly on GOP Congressional races.
In addition, anti-incumbency sentiment is not as prevalent as it was in 1994. Some 62% of registered voters now say they would like to see their own representative reelected. Only 19% say they would not, a large decrease from October 1994, when 30% said their Congressman did not deserve reelection.
Finally, a slim plurality of voters say that, assuming Bill Clinton is reelected president, they prefer that the Republicans control Congress rather than the Democrats. Even one-in-four Clinton supporters share this interest in keeping the executive and legislative branches of government in separate hands.
The Pew typology also suggests that Republican Congressional candidates may survive this election even if their standard bearer is roundly defeated. The two Republican groups that show only lukewarm support for Dole are considerably more enthusiastic about Republican Congressional candidates. Eight-in-ten Moralists say they would vote for the Republican candidate for Congress from their district; an unimpressive 66% say they will vote for Dole. Libertarians, who actually support Clinton over Dole by a narrow margin, say they would vote Republican at the Congressional level by a margin of 60% to 29%.
The greatest potential danger for GOP Congressional candidates is that these traditionally Republican voters, who either unenthusiastically support Dole or grudgingly support Clinton, may decide to sit out the election altogether.
If Clinton maintains his commanding lead going into election day, the Republicans must count on split-ticket voting to maintain control of the House. The ticket splitters are most likely to come from the ranks of Republicans, namely the Moralists and the Libertarians, and from Independents, especially New Economy Independents.
More than two-thirds of the registered voters (68%) said there is a difference in approach to Medicare between Clinton and Dole. Most favor Clinton’s plan, 39% to 24%. Among those who see a difference, Clinton’s approach is favored among every age group, particularly those 65 years old and older, and among all income categories except those earning $50,000 a year or more. Significantly, white evangelical Protestants who see a difference in the two approaches are about evenly split between those favoring Dole’s plan and those favoring Clinton’s (32% and 29%), suggesting that health care has provided an issue on which Clinton has made inroads in Dole’s popularity with this fundamentalist group. Along the same line, again among those who see a difference in approaches, more Republicans favor Clinton’s plan than Democrats who favor Dole’s plan, 15% vs. 5%. And among voters who said they might support Dole in the election, almost three times as many favored Clinton’s Medicare approach than favored Dole’s (37% vs. 13%).
Dole’s promise to cut taxes by 15% was, somewhat paradoxically, favored by most voters (54%) while at the same time most voters thought it was the wrong thing for the country (51%). The tax cut may have been the single proposal which backfired most on his candidacy, for it reversed his long-standing insistence that balanced budgets precede tax cuts, seems to have won over few voters, and was judged not in the national interest by most of the electorate.
All of the Republican and Independent groups among Pew’s typology favored the tax cut, led by the wealthy and conservative Enterprisers (83%) and middle-class Moralists (68%), as did a single Democratic group, the New Dealers (51%), an older conservative classification. The other three Democratic groups, including the Partisan Poor, a very poor and disadvantaged older category of voters, opposed it. Only the Enterprisers said the tax cut would be the right thing for the country. Almost one in three Republicans (32%) said it would be wrong, as did more than half of Independents. Among Dole supporters, 22% said it would be wrong, and among Dole swing voters, 52% said it would be wrong. 1
The electorate was equally divided on whether the person elected president can make a difference in dealing with rising drug use among teenagers: 48% yes, 48% no. But these gross figures mask major variations in attitude by age and sex. Young women were much more likely than young men to believe the president can make a difference: 52% vs. 39% of those under 30 years old. On the other hand, men 50 years old and older were more likely than women of the same age to believe the president can make a difference: 55% vs. 48%. Among religious denominations, white evangelical Protestants were more likely than non-evangelical white Protestants to see the President making a difference (53% vs. 44%). In partisan terms, Republicans saw the president making a difference more than did Democrats or Independents (55% vs. 49% and 42%, respectively), as did Dole supporters more than Clinton or Perot supporters (55% vs. 46% and 40%, respectively).
A strong majority of the electorate, 59%, is satisfied that important issues have been discussed by the Presidential candidates. One in three (35%), however, said important matters have been overlooked in the campaign. These are chiefly social issues, such as education and health care, followed by economic matters. Independents are less satisfied than Republicans or Democrats with the issues covered, as are Perot supporters compared to those favoring Clinton and Dole. Clinton supporters who are dissatisfied in this regard wanted to hear more about health care and education, while Dole’s supporters wanted more about foreign policy and a balanced budget, and Perot’s wanted more on education and foreign policy.
A huge majority of voters (67%) believe that among four leadership groups in the country, the news media exerts too much influence on which candidate becomes president, followed by business corporations (59%), labor unions (45%) and the churches (15%). All of the Republican and Independent groups of the typology cited the media most often, led by the Enterprisers, 85% of whom saw the press in this light. A majority of New Democrats (54%) joined in this implicitly critical judgment of the media, while the three other Democratic groups most often saw business corporations as having too much influence on presidential elections.
Less Anger At Government!
The electorate appears to have a less negative view of government as the election nears. A decreased majority feels the government is almost always wasteful and inefficient now compared to recent years (56% vs. 64% in October 1994). The public is now split between those who believe government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest and those who believe government regulation usually does more harm than good (45% vs. 46%), but this is a significant and steady improvement since 1994 when a majority of 55% felt regulation does more harm than good and only 38% said it was in the public interest. Somewhat more Americans now believe most elected officials care what people like them think (38%, up steadily from 29% two years ago). And finally, marginally fewer Americans believe that elected officials in Washington lose touch with the people pretty quickly, again compared to two years ago.
This gentler attitude does not extend to blacks. A majority of voters (58%) believe African Americans who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition, up marginally from 53% and 54% in the past two years; a comparably marginal drop was found in those who believe racial discrimination is the main reason why African Americans can’t get ahead (29% vs. 37% in October 1995 and 34% in October 1994).