October 4, 1996

Dole Can’t Cash In on Mixed View of Clinton

Other Important Findings

Little Commercial Appeal

The public has seen more of Dole’s campaign ads than Clinton’s but grades them lower. Fully 70% said they had watched Dole’s television commercials, compared to 63% who had watched Clinton’s ads. But when asked to rate the commercials “as being a convincing reason to vote for” each candidate, 24% gave Dole’s commercials good grades (4% A, 20% B) while 37% gave Clinton’s ads good grades (9% A, 28% B). Another indication that Dole’s commercials are not working for him was found in the fact that respondents who said there was a chance they might vote for Dole rated his commercials less positively than they rated Clinton’s ads: 26% A or B for Dole’s commercials, 40% A or B for Clinton’s.

A majority of all voters (56%) said they had seen the television commercials in which Dole attacks Clinton’s drug control efforts, with 41% saying they had not. Clinton’s supporters were more likely to have seen the drug ads than were Dole’s or Perot’s (62% vs. 51% and 54%, respectively).

Dole Too Critical

The Pew survey found that Dole’s attack strategy, including his commercials, could be backfiring. More than twice as many Americans said Dole was “too personally critical” of Clinton than the reverse: 53% vs. 21%. Those who had seen any Dole commercials were significantly more likely to say the Republican was too personally critical of Clinton than were those who had not seen his commercials (56% vs. 42%), and the same for those who had seen Dole commercials criticizing Clinton’s efforts to combat drugs than those who had not seen such ads (60% vs. 45%). 1

Further, Dole supporters are as likely to say he is too critical of Clinton as they are to complain that Clinton is too critical of Dole. But Clinton supporters are much more likely to see Dole as too critical. Swing voters who said they might vote for Dole found him too critical as often as swing voters who incline toward Clinton, and both were twice as likely to say Dole rather than Clinton was too critical.

In a test of how well electioneering phrases are being received, the survey found generally that about 60% of the public said they heard of the tested phrase but only about two-thirds of them correctly ascribed them to one or the other candidate. Specifically, 61% said they had heard the phrase “bridge to the future” and 38% correctly credited it to Clinton; 63% had heard of “just don’t do it” and 40% correctly ascribed it to Dole; and 61% had heard of “he’s too liberal” and 43% correctly credited it to Dole. Among ticket splitters (Clinton and a GOP Congressman), Dole’s “just don’t do it” was recognized most often, Clinton’s “bridge to the future” was second, and Dole’s “he’s too liberal” third (68%, 59% and 47%, respectively).

Clinton Wins Free Media

The public overwhelmingly expects Clinton to win. Asked who they think will be elected, regardless of who they support, 79% of respondents said Clinton, 12% said Dole, and 1% said Perot. By this measure, Clinton is up 7 percentage points and Dole down the same amount since July. The group most optimistic about Dole’s prospects were evangelical Republicans, but even among them only 30% said he would win. Also, the public has been seeing more of Clinton than Dole on the news. Asked which candidate they had heard most about in the media during the previous week, 47% said Clinton, 31% said Dole, with Perot registering 4%.

The public was most attentive to campaign stories about Dole’s plan to cut 15% off Federal income taxes: 57% followed it closely (including 16% very closely and 41% fairly closely). Next was the debate commission’s exclusion of Perot (53% closely) and Dole’s criticism of Clinton’s efforts to combat drug use (also 53%), then Democratic criticisms of Newt Gingrich (45%), Dole’s charge that the American economy is off track (44%), and finally Dole’s fall from the stage in California (36%, including 10% very closely). Women were less likely than men to follow all of these stories very closely except for Dole’s fall. Dole’s swing voters were less likely than average to have followed any of the campaign stories; they were particularly uninterested in stories on two of Dole’s important issues, his tax cut plan and his criticism of Clinton’s drug efforts.

The Media and the Campaign

More than half (51%) felt the media should have avoided showing the pictures of Dole’s embarrassing fall when a bannister collapsed, while 40% felt the pictures were “newsworthy.” Surprisingly, perhaps, Americans over 65 significantly more often approved of the pictures being published, while middle agers (30 to 49 years old) were almost two to one in favor of suppressing them, 60% vs. 32%. Little difference was found on the issue across political lines, with Republicans marginally more opposed to publication than were Democrats (55% vs. 49%).

Otherwise, public assessment of press coverage of the campaign so far was mixed. Of the top ten list of one word descriptions of press performance, half were generally positive and half negative.

Other Findings

The biggest problems facing families these days are similar to those of previous years but are seemingly less pervasive. By far most often mentioned was not having enough money (22%), which is roughly the same frequency as in the past four years. Those with college educations and income over $75,000 cited this complaint less often than average, with most other categories of education and income citing it more than the average. Other frequent mentions were:

If voters were choosing solely based on the vice presidential candidates, Al Gore would win handily: 49% vs. 36% for Jack Kemp and 3% for Pat Choate. His supporters were found among various groups. Proportionately more Democrats favored him than Republicans favored Kemp (84% vs. 73%), for example, as did Independents (44% Gore vs. 33% Kemp), ticket splitters (68% vs. 21%) and swing voters who said they might support Dole (53% vs. 22%).

  1. Dole has run several drug commercials including a few in which Clinton, appearing on MTV, indicated that he would inhale marijuana if he had it to do all over again.