As primary day approaches, time may be running out on Bill Bradley, who has lost his lead over Al Gore in all of the New Hampshire tracking polls. Four years ago, insurgent Pat Buchanan’s poll numbers in the Granite state were beginning to move in his direction as the final weekend approached. Bradley trails Gore by about 10 percentage points in the surveys of likely voters this week — far more than Buchanan’s midweek deficit before his narrow triumph over Bob Dole in 1996. (Tables 1 and 4.)
The former New Jersey senator’s big defeat in Iowa has not set him further back, but it may be preventing him from recovering lost support. Personal qualities matter most to voters, according to respondents in the Gallup and Newsweek New Hampshire surveys, and these polls find voters rating Gore much more highly than Bradley for effectiveness and electability. According to the Newsweek poll, Gore supporters tout his experience, qualifications and leadership ability when asked why they support the vice president. Bradley gets less credit on these dimensions, even from his own supporters. Furthermore, the Gallup Poll finds that Gore bests Bradley by a better than two-to-one margin as the candidate better able to get things done in Washington (60% vs. 25%) and the one with the better chance of beating the GOP candidate in November (66% vs. 26%). Losing Iowa by such a wide margin has done little to assuage voter doubts about Bradley’s electability.
George W. Bush trails John McCain by a smaller margin than the Bradley deficit (Table 2). However, Bush has an equally daunting image problem and may have to worry that Bradley’s recent sag could prompt some Independents who might have voted for the former NBA star to participate instead in the GOP primary where they can vote for McCain. Republicans echo Democrats in saying that personal qualities will matter more to them than issues when they vote next Tuesday. McCain’s advantage over Bush continues to be the “genuineness” factor, but it is also the “common touch” factor according to the Gallup Poll. Twice as many New Hampshire Republicans choose McCain over Bush for being someone they can trust (50% vs. 26%) and being in touch with the average American (58% vs. 26%).
At this point, it is unclear where the Independents will come down. The Newsweek poll, which was the first to find Bradley’s fortunes sagging, has shown no significant movement of Independents to the GOP primary since Gore took the lead (Table 3).