September 15, 1999

Too Much Money, Too Much Media Say Voters

Other Important Findings and Analyses

Hillary, Fatigue and Gore

Memories of the impeachment trial have begun to fade. Only 43% of Americans remember that Clinton’s Senate trial ended in 1999. This compares with 76% who knew in November 1991 that the Gulf War had ended earlier that year. Nonetheless, Clinton fatigue is still apparent. While Bill Clinton’s job approval ratings remain near 60%, fully 74% of Americans say they are tired of all the problems associated with the Clinton administration and only 31% say they wish Clinton could run for a third term.

Women, among Clinton’s strongest supporters historically, are even more tired of the current administration than are men. Fully 77% of women say they are tired of all the Clinton problems; 71% of men share this sentiment. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats (63%) are tired of the administration’s problems, as are 76% of Independents and 85% of Republicans. Clinton fatigue continues to dog Gore in the presidential horse race. Only 25% of Independents who say they are tired of the Clinton administration choose Gore over Bush in a hypothetical two-way matchup.

Hillary Clinton’s Senate run may be furthering this sentiment as 48% of voters say they have heard too much news about the first lady’s possible Senate run in New York, up from 40% in July.

Polls at this Time

While polls taken at this stage of the campaign cycle are not necessarily predictive of the eventual outcome, the trend in opinion is usually telling. A review of the polls conducted in the first quarter of the year preceding an election and the fall of that year found the trends in these poll numbers indicative of things to come. In the last five presidential elections, the winning side gained some ground over that period. In the current race, there has been no significant change in voter intentions since March 1999.

Public Inattentive

Not only is the public disengaged from news about the presidential campaign, growing numbers consider the press too influential and too intrusive. Increasingly, people say that news coverage of the 2000 presidential election is excessive, and a majority think the news media has too much influence over who is nominated president. Moreover, there is some criticism that the press is too tough on underdogs and, if anything, too easy on frontrunners.

At this point, 15% of Americans are following news about candidates for the 2000 presidential election very closely; 31% are following fairly closely. There is little change in those numbers since July. Additionally, about the same number are paying close attention now as were at this time in 1987 — the last “open” presidential race.

More Americans than at comparable times in recent presidential elections report they are tired of campaign coverage. Today, 28% say there’s too much coverage of the 2000 presidential campaign, up 10 percentage points from just two months ago. In comparison, 18% said there was too much coverage in October 1995, and only 12% thought so in October 1991; 21% made that complaint in November 1987.

In fact, leading newspapers have dedicated considerably more space to the campaign this year than in the same periods in either 1995 or 1991, according to a special content analysis conducted for this report. But the Tyndall Weekly Report, which measures air time on the three nightly network newscasts, says there have been fewer minutes devoted to the presidential campaign by television network news in the first eight months of 1999 than the same time period in 1995.

Too Much Money, Too Much Media

The public complains that the media as well as big contributors are too influential in presidential campaigns. An overwhelming 74% believe that large political donors have too much influence on which candidates become presidential nominees, and a solid majority (64%) says news organizations are too influential. However, 62% think the average voter has too little influence.

The public, however, sees little partisan bias in news coverage: 19% say there is bias towards the Democrats and 14% note Republican bias while more than half (52%) say there is no bias. But when asked about the coverage of Gore and Bush, one-quarter (26%) answer that news organizations are biased in favor of Bush; 14% see bias in favor of Gore. Three-in-ten Americans say the media is too easy on presidential candidates who are frontrunners; that number has doubled from 15% in 1987. On the other hand, nearly one-half (45%) say the press is too tough on female candidates and 39% think the media is too tough on African-American presidential candidates and candidates associated with religious groups.

People are also critical of the media’s scrutiny of political candidates. Since 1987, the percentage of Americans who say that close scrutiny of political candidates by news organizations is not worth it because it discourages too many good people from running for president has risen 10 percentage points from 32% to the current 42%.

Furthermore, Americans say that news editors care more about the opinions of politicians and political insiders than their audiences when deciding which stories to cover during an election. A plurality (36%) also believe that the press plays the most influential role in determining which issues and events are considered important.

Not surprisingly, few Americans have a positive opinion of the news coverage of the Democratic or Republican campaigns, so far. Less than half rate news about these races as excellent or good. Republicans and Democrats are equally critical in this regard.

Tax Cuts

Overwhelming majorities of Americans from all walks of life agree that the current GOP tax cut proposal will not help everyone equally — 82% of the public says that the tax cut will benefit some Americans more than others, only 12% say that the tax cut will be fair to all people. Among those who think that the tax cut will benefit some more than others, eight-in-ten say that the wealthy will be the main beneficiaries; 9% say the middle class and 6% the poor.

More Republicans (23%) than Democrats (7%) think the proposed tax cut will be fair; fewer than one-in-ten Independents say the same. Democrats in particular believe that the wealthy will benefit: 87% compared to 77% and 79% among Republicans and Independents.

A plurality (40%) expect their own federal taxes to go down by less than $100 with the proposed tax cut, with an additional 26% who say that they will save between $100 and $500 a year. Those with household incomes in excess of $75,000 see the greatest personal benefit from the tax cut; 22% from this group think their annual savings will be greater than $1,000. Half (49%) of Americans with household incomes between $30,000 and $50,000 say they expect their tax savings to be less than $100 a year.

Concern over the Environment Unchanged

Despite the drought and high heat throughout much of the East Coast in the latter portion of the summer, public concern over global warming has increased only slightly from 1997. Three-in-ten people say they worry about the greenhouse effect a great deal, up from 24% in November 1997.

Concern about an increase in the Earth’s temperature is highest on the East Coast, where 39% of those surveyed express a great deal of concern — fewer than one-third of the public in other regions of the country say the same (26%, 29% and 29% in the Midwest, the South and the West, respectively).

Worry over other environmental problems has changed little in the past two years. Pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs and contamination of soil and water by toxic waste are still the public’s greatest concerns — around six-in-ten worry about these issues a great deal. Half of Americans (49%) say they are very worried about air pollution, with 39% worried about damage to the Earth’s ozone layer. Alarm over these environmental problems is higher among Democrats than Republicans.

News Interest Index

The shootings at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles tops the list of late-summer stories followed by the public. Three-in-ten (29%) say they followed this story very closely, another 34% followed it fairly closely. Nearly as many people (27%) say they paid very close attention to news about last month’s earthquake in Turkey, more than those who said they followed very closely news about the 1995 earthquake in Japan (23%) or the 1990 earthquake in Iran (20%).

In other national news, recent revelations about the FBI’s actions during the 1993 standoff with Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas were followed very closely by 22% of the public. More men than women say they were very interested in this story (26% vs.19%). Fewer than one-in-five Americans (18%) say they followed news about the tax cut debate in Washington very closely, up only slightly from 14% in July.

Interest in the situation in Kosovo declined over the past month, with one-quarter (26%) of the public paying very close attention to news from the region, down from 32% in July. Less than one-in-ten people say they followed stories about the political instability in Russia very closely.