February 29, 1996

Class Collisions in Response to Buchanan, Nationwide

Other Important Findings

Buchanan: First or Second Choice of 48%

Within the ranks of the GOP itself, Buchanan still trails Dole by a 39% to 24% margin as a first choice for the nomination. But nearly half (48%) name the former broadcaster as either their first or their second choice for top of the ticket. Alexander places a distant third as a first or second choice, followed by Steve Forbes.

Buchanan’s favorability rating among the public at large has also improved. His overall rating (45% favorable, 44% unfavorable) is poorer than Clinton’s (55%, 43%) and Dole’s (55%, 39%), but better than a Whitewater-tarnished Hillary Clinton’s (42%, 54%). On a trend basis, public evaluations of Buchanan are more positive than they were at the end of his ’92 campaign, but not quite as good as they were four years ago just after he had made a strong showing against George Bush in the New Hampshire primary.

But the More You Know …

The poll results suggested that attitudes toward Buchanan may be a work in progress. Nearly half the public were not aware of his positions on many of his most high profile issues. Further, the survey found that those who know less about his positions have a more favorable opinion than those who know more about his stands.

Among those familiar with his positions, more disagreed than agreed with him on issues ranging from free trade to homosexuality. Only on the issue of religion and morality did a majority say they sided with Buchanan’s point of view.

Almost one-third of respondents (31%) said Buchanan’s victory has made them more interested in the presidential race (4% said less interested, 63% said no difference). He may in fact be energizing his opposition as well as his supporting groups, however. Democrats were almost as likely as Republicans (32% and 37%, respectively) to say they are now more interested in the race due to Buchanan’s New Hampshire triumph.

The Public’s Soundbites …

Most respondents were able to easily provide one word evaluative descriptions of Clinton (80%), Dole (68%) and Buchanan (59%). “One-worders” for Alexander were harder to come by (33% responded).

Clinton was lightly praised most often. Dole was most frequently characterized by his age. Descriptions of Buchanan emphasized his ideological extremism. Alexander descriptions were not sharply drawn.

               Bill Clinton's "Top 25"

                              Frequency

          1.  Good            38

          2.  Trying               21

          3.  Okay            20

          4.  Fair            14

          5.  Honest               11

          6.  Wishy washy          11

          7.  Leader               10

          8.  Liberal              10

          9.  Dishonest       9

          10.  Great               9

          11.  Alright             7

          12.  Likeable       7

          13.  Bad            6

          14.  Competent      6

          15.  Jerk           6

          16.  Nice           6

          17.  Politician          6

          18.  Slick               6

          19.  Caring              5

          20.  Crook               5

          21.  Excellent      5

          22.  Friendly       5

          23.  Intelligent         5

          24.  Liar           5

          25.  Sincere             5

               Bob Dole's "Top 25"

                              Frequency

          1.  Old             66

          2.  Conservative         31

          3.  Too old              22

          4.  Good            16

          5.  Okay            14

          6.  Honest               13

          7.  Dislike              12

          8.  Fair            9

          9.  Arrogant             8

          10.  Experienced         8

          11.  Dull           7

          12.  Wishy washy         7

          13.  Moderate       6

          14.  Nice           6

          15.  Politician          6

          16.  Bad            5

          17.  Boring              5

          18.  Good man       5

          19.  Leader              5

          20.  Pineapple      5

          21.  Too conservative    5

          22.  Competent      4

          23.  Negative       4

          24.  Bold           3

          25.  Crook               3

               Pat Buchanan's "Top 25"

                              Frequency

          1.  Extreme              35

          2.  Radical              27

          3.  Conservative         18

          4.  Ultra-conservative   18

          5.  Good            15

          6.  Racist               12

          7.  Okay            11

          8.  Scary           11

          9.  Fair            9

          10.  Distrust       8

          11.  Dislike             7

          12.  Honest              7

          13.  Interesting         7

          14.  Jerk           7

          15.  Religious      7

          16.  Bad            6

          17.  Crazy               6

          18.  Nuts           6

          19.  Dangerous      4

          20.  Frightening         4

          21.  Politician          4

          22.  Right wing          4

          23.  Trying              4

          24.  Aggressive          3

          25.  Arrogant       3

               Lamar Alexander's "Top 25"

                              Frequency

          1.  Good man             13

          2.  Moderate             13

          3.  Okay            11

          4.  Fair            9

          5.  Intelligent          6

          6.  Confusing       5

          7.  Honest               5

          8.  Who             5

          9.  Alright              4

          10.  Mediocre       4

          11.  Nice           4

          12.  Arrogant       3

          13.  Bland               3

          14.  Conservative        3

          15.  Enthusiastic        3

          16.  Interesting         3

          17.  Ambiguous      2

          18.  Calm           2

          19.  Charismatic         2

          20.  Crook               2

          21.  Dislike             2

          22.  Great               2

          23.  Hopeful             2

          24.  Inexperienced       2

          25.  Mysterious          2

Interest In New Hampshire Up

Americans were more attentive to the New Hampshire primary campaign last month than four years ago. A total of 57% said they followed it closely (22% very closely, 35% fairly closely) compared to 50% in February 1992 (19% and 31%, respectively). The electorate, besides being more attentive, is also more knowledgeable about the issues , more pleased with press performance, but more bothered by negative campaigning than at the same time in the last presidential election cycle.

Issues: Whether because the 1996 issues resonate better with the electorate or are better phrased to catch attention, 46% of respondents correctly associated Forbes with the “flat tax” idea. Four years ago, only 9% identified Clinton with a middle class tax cut and 6% associated Bob Kerry with universal health care, his main issue. Forbes was identified by 61% as the candidate who is spending millions of his own money to finance his campaign. Fully 62% knew that Buchanan won the New Hampshire contest and 37% associated him with his protectionist (anti-NAFTA, anti-GATT) theme this year; four years ago, only 13% identified him with his chief “America-first” theme. Almost one-third (31%) of respondents knew that Alexander has been campaigning in a red and black flannel shirt. Four years ago, only 21% knew that the main Democratic contender, Paul Tsongas, had cancer.

In every instance, men were much more knowledgeable than women about campaign themes and issues, with Republicans understandably more knowledgeable than Democrats or Independents. Buchanan’s supporters were more likely than most respondents to know that their man won in New Hampshire, but they were generally less knowledgeable than supporters of other GOP candidates on the range of substantive issues. In fact, they were less likely to associate Buchanan with one of his chief themes, protectionism, than were Alexander and Forbes supporters.

          What they knew in '92

          21%   knew Tsongas had cancer.

          13%  identified Buchanan with "America first" theme.

          9%   identified Clinton with middle class tax cut proposal.

          6%   associated Kerrey with guaranteed health insurance.

          6%   associated Tsongas with public-private partnerships.

          What they know in '96

          62%  know Buchanan won the New Hampshire primary.

          61%  identified Forbes as spending his millions.

          46%  associated Forbes with the flat tax.

          37%  identified Buchanan with protectionist trade themes.

          31%  know Alexander campaigns in red and black flannel shirts.

Press: 16% said the press is doing an “excellent” job of covering the presidential campaign so far, compared to 11% four years ago; another 45% gave it “good” grades both now and in 1992. Democrats were more likely to give the media high marks (22% said excellent) than were Republicans and Independents (14% and 13%, respectively). Registered voters in early primary states, on the other hand, were among respondents most critical of the press; nearly one in five rated coverage as poor in these areas where coverage has been most intense.

“On-line” computer sources, a new but growing competitor of traditional media, were used by 2% of respondents as a main information source for the 1996 campaign. Twice as many (4%) said they go on-line at least every few weeks for campaign information. In another usage measure, as many as one in ten respondents (10%) go on-line at least every few weeks for current events information, which is almost half of the 21% who go on-line with their computers.

Negative campaigning: 60% said they were bothered “very much,” another 17% were bothered “somewhat,” by the growing practice by politicians of attacking competitors’ faults rather than extolling his or her own virtues. In an open-ended question, negative advertising — the usual form of negative campaigning — was the most common complaint volunteered by respondents: 32% now, up from 25% in a July 1994 survey [Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, Washington DC]. Another 12% complained that candidates don’t talk about issues and/or where they stand, up from 4% in the 1994 survey. On the other hand, considerably fewer respondents complained about interest groups and PACs having too much influence: 3%, down from 12% two years ago.

Large majorities of the public also expressed concern about the amount of money politicians spend on campaigns (56% said they were “very much” bothered, 17% “somewhat” bothered) and by what politicians say to get elected (53% very much bothered, 25% somewhat bothered). While these numbers are disturbingly high, they are lower than two years ago when politicians’ spending bothered 69% of respondents “very much” and politicians’ statements bothered 61% of respondents “very much”.

Vote By Mail

The public has not yet decided whether voting by mail rather than at the ballot box is a good idea. Most preferred the traditional way (54%) with a significant minority (43%) opting to mail in their vote during the weeks leading up to election day, as in a special Oregon contest last month. However, when asked whether laws should be changed to permit voting by mail, respondents split evenly (48% in favor, 47% opposed). Moreover, when the pros and cons of the practice were outlined in a series of questions put to a split sample of respondents, opposition to the new idea increased. Specifically, 69% agreed that arguments in favor of voting by mail were good, and an identical 69% agreed that arguments against the idea were good. But then, “all things considered,” a majority of these respondents came down against changing the election laws (51%, with 44% in favor) to permit voting by mail.

Voting by mail is particularly favored by those who usually do not vote and by young people who have not yet developed the voting habit. Among registered voters, 62% preferred the traditional way, while among non-registered voters, 63% preferred the vote by mail option. By age groups, 59% of respondents under 30 years old would like to vote by mail, while 66% of those over 50 want to stay with the traditional method.

News Interest at New Low

Americans paid record-low attention to news during the survey period. The New Hampshire political story, which was of limited interest to most Americans, dominated the media while at the same time there were few other major stories to compete for air time and print space. For the first time since the Center began the News Interest Index surveys more than a decade ago, no story attracted more than one-in-four of the public. Top draw was a brace of stories, followed “very closely” by 24% of the public, about train crashes in three states. The previous record low of attentiveness was in the April 1990 News Interest Index when the top story (about Lithuanian declaration of independence from Moscow) was followed very closely by 29%.

In February 1996, after the train crashes and the Granite State primary (22%) came the situation in Bosnia, which was followed very closely by 21%. The interest level in Bosnia reached a record level of 37% one month earlier, when U.S. troops were being deployed as United Nations peacekeepers amid very high media coverage. Only twice before during the four-year conflict has the attentiveness level in Bosnia topped 20%, however. Otherwise, Magic Johnson’s return to basketball was followed very closely by 16% of the public, which was more attention than the IRA bombings in London (13%) and the stock market’s recent gyrations (12%) received.