November 11, 1999

Retro-Politics

Section 4: The 2000 Elections

The campaign for the 2000 elections presents both parties with substantial political challenges. In the presidential race, the two Democratic candidates continue to lag behind GOP frontrunner George W. Bush. Vice President Al Gore, in particular, is struggling with an image problem — while most Americans see him as trustworthy, likable and caring, only one-third see Gore as a strong leader. But in face-offs between the two parties, the GOP enjoys no comparable edge over the Democratic Party, which has plenty of momentum of its own heading into the congressional elections. Indeed, one-in-five Bush supporters (20%) say they are likely to vote for a Democrat in their House district.

Favorable Views of Bush Widespread

Bush’s pool of potential support across the typology speaks to the Texas governor’s political strength at this point. Indeed, a majority of voters in all but two of the groups say there is at least some chance they would vote for Bush. While Bush enjoys the strongest support among the three Republican-leaning groups — more than 80% in each say there is a chance they would support him — he is popular among the two Independent groups as well. Some 81% of the New Prosperity Independents say there is a chance they would vote for Bush, and nearly two-thirds of the Disaffecteds (65%) say the same.

Notably, majorities in two Democratic-leaning groups also say they would consider a vote for Bush. Some 54% of the New Democrats and 53% of the Socially Conservative Democrats say there is at least some chance they will vote for Bush. Only among the two remaining Democratic groups — the Liberals and the Partisan Poor — does Bush fail to register positively with a majority of voters.

For most other presidential contenders as well, the base of potential support — and their name recognition — varies across the typology groups. Steve Forbes is viewed most favorably by the Staunch Conservatives, with half (51%) saying there is at least some chance they would support him. Some 41% of the New Prosperity Independents and 40% of Moderate Republicans also say they would consider voting for Forbes.

Notably, Arizona Senator John McCain draws the strongest support from two groups that agree on almost nothing politically — Staunch Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Some 39% of Staunch Conservatives would consider voting for McCain, while 32% of Liberal Democrats might vote for him. McCain was much less well known this summer across most other typology groups, although he tends to be viewed favorably by those who have heard of him.

Indeed, while Steve Forbes has wider name-recognition, McCain enjoys more widespread appeal among voters who are familiar with both candidates — especially among Independents and Democrats. Fully 61% of the New Prosperity Independents would consider voting for McCain, for example, while less than half (49%) say the same about Forbes. Another GOP contender, Gary Bauer, is known by only one-in-five voters (22%).

On the Democratic side, Bradley’s biggest challenge is also familiarity. Among voters who are familiar with both Bradley and Gore, the Democratic-leaning groups tend to like Gore better, while the Republican and Independent groups prefer Bradley. Indeed, 31% of Staunch Conservatives have heard of Bradley and would consider voting for him, while just 9% say the same about Gore.

Reform Party Potentials

Patrick Buchanan and Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura are both fairly well known, with more than 80% of voters saying they have heard of each. Among voters who were able to rate both, Buchanan was viewed — at least before his withdrawal from the GOP — more favorably by Republican groups, while Ventura rates slightly better among Independent groups. For example, 44% of Staunch Conservatives say they would consider a vote for Buchanan, while just 32% say the same about Ventura. Among the New Prosperity Independents, on the other hand, one-third (32%) would consider voting for Ventura, while 26% say they might vote for Buchanan.

Overall, Buchanan and Ventura draw slightly more potential support from young voters, especially young men. Fully 47% of men under 30 say they would consider voting for Buchanan, for example, compared to 32% of all voters.

The Bush Coalition

Although Bush’s lead in two-way matchups with Gore has fallen in some recent polls, Bush’s consistent advantage throughout the past year underscores an image problem that continues to burden the vice president. In the July survey of nearly 3,000 registered voters, Bush led Gore by a 53%-41% margin. A short follow-up survey of 1,100 of these same voters in October found little change, with Bush ahead 54%-39%.

Bush’s advantage stems in part from his strong support among Independents, coupled with defections among sizeable minorities in several of the Democratic groups. Bush not only draws solid support (91%) from Republicans and Republican-leaning voters, but he is favored by 21% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters. In contrast, Gore draws support from 75% of voters aligned with his party and just 6% of those who are Republican or Republican-leaning.

Notably, the Democratic defectors give different reasons than the Republican voters for supporting Bush over Gore. Among the Republicans, the top reason for not liking Gore is his stand on issues (43%), followed by his leadership ability (23%) and personality (20%). Among the Democratic voters who defect to Bush, the top reason for not liking Gore is his personality (32%), followed by his stand on issues (25%) and leadership ability (25%).

In the typology, Bush draws nearly unanimous support from voters in each of the three Republican-leaning groups: the Populist Republicans (87% say they would vote for Bush), the Moderate Republicans (88%) and the Staunch Conservatives (96%). While majorities in the four Democratic-leaning groups all support Gore, these voters do not deliver the overwhelming numbers the Republican-leaning groups give to Bush. Indeed, four-in-ten (42%) Bush supporters in the two-way matchup with Gore come from one of the Independent or Democratic-leaning groups.

While nearly three-in-four New Democrats (74%) support Gore, another 22% say they are inclined to vote for Bush. The Socially Conservative Democrats are even less enthusiastic about their party’s front-runner. Two-thirds (66%) say they will support Gore, 29% would vote for Bush. Equally important, Bush bests Gore within both of the Independent groups. More than half (56%) of the Disaffecteds and two-thirds (67%) of the New Prosperity Independents are Bush supporters.

Gore’s strongest support comes from the Liberals — 82% say they would vote for the vice president. Among the Partisan Poor, 78% support Gore.

Gore’s Leadership Problem

So far, Gore fails to draw overwhelming support even among those who voted for Clinton three years ago. This is particularly evident among swing voters. Among Independents who voted for Clinton in the last election, for example, nearly four-in-ten (38%) say they would now vote for Bush over Gore. Some 30% of young voters who supported Clinton in 1996 say they’ll vote for Bush.

Groups that have traditionally given the Democrats greater support also show signs of defection. More than one-in-four women (28%) who voted for Clinton in 1992 say they would choose Bush over Gore. Nearly as many Hispanic voters who previously supported Clinton say the same (25%). Among blacks who supported Clinton, Gore does slightly better — just 15% say they would support Bush.

The big problem for Gore at this point lies with his image as a leader. Fully two-thirds of Americans (68%) say Bush is a “strong leader” — more than twice as many as describe Gore the same way (33%). Gore is also seen less than Bush as someone with new ideas or as personally likeable. The vice president has a slight edge over Bush as someone who cares about people.

Indeed, voters across nearly all typology groups view Bush as a stronger leader than Gore — more voters describe Bush as a strong leader than Gore in every group except the Partisan Poor. The disparate views of the two front-runners’ leadership skills are especially noteworthy among the Independent groups, with more than two-thirds saying Bush is a strong leader and less than half as many saying the same about Gore.

Many voters also question Gore’s strength when it comes to having new ideas. Within the Republican-leaning and Independent groups, Bush is more widely seen as a candidate with new ideas, although Democratic groups give slightly more credit to Gore than Bush on this question.

Support for Gore and Bush within the typology groups has been relatively stable throughout the past several months. A follow-up interview to the main July survey, conducted with more than 1,000 voters in October, found little movement in the two-way matchup.

Bradley Comes As Close

Although Democratic voters prefer Gore over Bradley as their party’s nominee, Bradley does as least as well as Gore in a possible two-way matchup against Bush. Overall, voters prefer Bush over Bradley by a 54%-41% margin. That compares with a 54%-39% margin for Bush vs. Gore.

Although Bush now leads both Bradley and Gore across nearly every major demographic group, women divide much more narrowly between Bush and Gore than between Bush and Bradley. In a matchup with Gore, Bush leads by only 5 percentage points among women, with a notable 27-point edge among men. In a matchup with Bradley, however, Bush benefits from sizeable leads among both women (10 percentage points) and men (17 points).

Among Democratic voters, Bradley draws slightly less support than Gore does in two-way matchup against Bush (71% vs. 78%). But Bradley does slightly better among Independents (37% vs. 31%). Bradley also draws more support than Gore in the East (43% vs. 35%).

The potential for Bradley to do slightly better than Gore among Independent voters is underscored by the swing typology groups. For example, in a two-way matchup against Bush, Bradley draws roughly one-third of the vote from the Disaffecteds (34%) and the New Prosperity Independents (32%). This compares with lower support if Gore is the Democratic nominee — drawing 24% of the vote among Disaffecteds, and 22% among the New Prosperity Independents.

The Good News for Gore?

Perhaps the best news for Gore is that so far, few Americans have begun to focus closely on the next presidential election. Just one-in-ten (10%) say they are following news about the campaign very closely. More than half (55%) say they are not following campaign news closely. Interest in the campaign is higher among men than women (14% vs. 6% following very closely) and among senior citizens (17%).

Asked who is most likely to win the presidency, if the candidates are Gore and Bush, 70% of Americans pick Bush. Notably, even half (50%) of Democrats think Bush would win an election against Gore. But predictions this early do not necessarily have a strong track record. For example, an October 1991 poll — also conducted more than a year before the upcoming presidential election — found 76% of Americans predicting then-President George Bush would be re-elected in 1992.

The party’s strengths may be felt more, however, at other levels. The Democrats now lead the Republicans on the generic congressional ballot question — 49% to 43% — and the Democratic Party leadership seems to be more in sync with the public on many of the legislative and policy issues that have been in the forefront this year. The public continues to give the GOP leadership in Congress low marks for performance. In addition, Clinton continues to enjoy high approval ratings and most Americans think, in the end, his accomplishments will outweigh his failures.

While Republicans strongly dislike Bill Clinton, as many as one-third (32%) say they approve of the job he’s doing. Similarly, 32% think Clinton’s accomplishments will ultimately outweigh his failures; and 35% think he was right to stay in office when threatened with impeachment. Nonetheless, GOP loyalists are solidly behind Bush in the 2000 presidential race. Fully 70% say there’s a good chance they’ll vote for Bush; 77% say there’s no chance they’ll vote for Gore. Democrats are much less unified in their support for Gore: 48% say there’s a good chance they’ll vote for the vice president; as many (47%) say there’s at least some chance they’ll vote for Bush.

Independent voters, who now represent 39% of the electorate, will undoubtedly be the key to the 2000 elections. Their political attitudes seem to best capture the public’s current ambivalence toward the two major parties. Six-in-ten (59%) Independents approve of Clinton, and nearly as many think his accomplishments will outweigh his failures. Less than 40% approve of the GOP Congress, and a majority (56%) think the Republicans were wrong to impeach Clinton. Views on impeachment clearly affect Independents’ opinions about the Republican Party. Among those who think the GOP was wrong to impeach Clinton, 51% have an unfavorable view of the party; those who think Congress was right to impeach Clinton have a much more favorable view of the Republican Party (59% favorable, 33% unfavorable).

Any ill will Independents may feel toward the GOP is not translated into support for Al Gore in the 2000 presidential contest. They support Bush over Gore by a margin of 56% to 35%. Fully 74% say there is a chance they will vote for Bush; only 52% say there is a chance they will vote for Gore. Moreover, most (53%) want the next president to pursue a different policy agenda from the Clinton administration.

Demographic Trends in Party Affiliation

As has been the case recently, the Republican Party’s strength, demographically, continues to come from men (especially men age 30-49), college graduates, those with annual family incomes in excess of $50,000, and white evangelical Protestants. The Democratic Party’s most loyal supporters are women (especially women over age 50), blacks and those without a high school degree.

Age and gender continue to define the parties to some extent; and the Republican Party’s problems with young people and women persist. The decline in GOP affiliation among young people represents one of the most significant changes in party identification since the late 1980s. The decline has been steep and steady: In 1989, 37% of those under 30 identified themselves as Republicans, in 1994 it was down to 30%, today only 23% consider themselves Republicans. Young men have migrated toward the Democratic Party, while young women have become more independent.

The GOP had an opportunity to bring more young people into the fold in 1995. On average in 1995, 32% of those under age 30 identified themselves as Republicans. That number fell sharply in 1996 to 25%, and there has been no rebound. Much of the Gingrich-era falloff in GOP support can be traced to young people. Declines in Republican affiliation from 1995 to 1996 were much less pronounced among middle-aged and older Americans.

Those over 50 continue to be the most heavily Democratic age group on average. However, seniors show some movement away from the party. In 1994, 42% of those age 65 and over identified themselves as Democrats, in this survey 36% did so. There has been relatively little change in party identification among middle-aged Americans (those age 30-49) over this same time period.

The Gender Gap Persists

The partisan gender gap, which became a central component of American politics in the 1980s, remains a driving force today and a real asset for the Democratic Party. Many more women than men align themselves with the Democrats — 38% vs. 29%. The Republican Party draws in more men than women, though the gap is not nearly as large: 28% of men identify with the GOP compared to 25% of women.

Over the last decade, women have consistently favored the Democratic over the Republican Party. In 1999, 38% of women consider themselves Democrats, only 25% are Republicans, another 30% are Independents.

For most of the 1990s, the GOP has had a clear advantage among men. This pattern was most pronounced in 1995, when 33% of men aligned themselves with the Republican Party and only 25% considered themselves Democrats. However, as the percent of men identifying with the Republican Party has gradually fallen off, the parties have come closer to parity among men. In 1999, 28% of men consider themselves Republicans, 29% are Democrats and 35% are Independents.

The gender gap may be more beneficial for Democrats in Congress than for Al Gore. Fully 92% of Democratic women say they will vote for their party’s candidate from their congressional district, significantly fewer (75%) say they will vote for Gore over Bush. Republican men are much more consistent in their support. Fully 89% say they will vote Republican in their congressional district and 94% say they will vote for Bush over Gore.

Race and Party ID

Trends in party affiliation by race show very little change over the last 10 years. The GOP has failed to make any inroads with blacks, and it has lost support marginally among whites. At no point over the last decade have more than 10% of blacks identified with the Republican Party. In 1999, fully two-thirds of blacks consider themselves Democrats and among the 22% who call themselves Independents, the vast majority leans Democratic.

The parties are now at parity among whites. For most of the 1990s, Republicans had an advantage among whites — the gap was widest in 1995 when white Republicans outnumbered Democrats by a margin of 35% to 26%. Today whites divide evenly — 30% Republican, 30% Democrat.

Congressional Test Ballot

With party control of Congress potentially up for grabs in 2000, the Democrats now enjoy a slight lead over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot question. Among registered voters, 49% say they would vote for the Democrat from their district, 43% would vote Republican. Another 8% are still undecided. Democrats are much more firmly united behind their party in Congress than they are behind Al Gore. Fully 93% of Democrats say if the election was held today, they would vote for the Democrat from their district; 78% say they would vote for Gore over Bush. Republicans are more consistent in this regard: 92% say they would vote GOP in the House election, 93% say they would vote for Bush. Independents narrowly favor the Democrats for Congress — 45% to 41%, though many (14%) are undecided.

Looking at the independently oriented typology groups, New Prosperity Independents favor Republicans over Democrats for Congress by a better than two-to-one margin. This group also favors Bush over Gore by a wide margin (67%-24%) and will presumably be pivotal in the next election. The other Independent group, the Disaffecteds, divides more evenly: 46% say they would vote for the GOP congressional candidate, 40% would vote Democratic.

Conservatives Care More

These two Independent groups place little stock in party control of Congress, however. Fully 54% of New Prosperity Independents and 52% of Disaffecteds say they do not care very much which party wins control of Congress in the 2000 elections. Overall, 59% of the public cares a good deal which party wins control. The Republican-leaning Staunch Conservatives care more than any other group about party control of Congress: fully 78% say they care a good deal. They are much more concerned about party control of Congress than the other staunchly ideological group — the Liberal Democrats. Fewer than two-thirds of them (64%) care a good deal.

Bush Democrats?

One-in-ten registered voters plan to divide their loyalties in the 2000 election — by supporting Bush for president and a Democrat for Congress. Not surprisingly, this group is made up predominantly of Democrats and Independents (42% and 46%, respectively). Just 9% are Republicans.

Politically, these ticket-splitters largely mirror the general public. They approve of Clinton and disapprove of the GOP congressional leaders. Fully 43% of this group view the Republican Party unfavorably; in comparison, only 24% look upon the Democratic Party unfavorably. Six-in-ten voted for Clinton in the 1996 presidential election; 16% voted for Perot.

Looking at the typology groups, the two more conservative Democratic groups — the Socially Conservative Democrats and the New Democrats — are more likely than others to split their tickets in 2000. Roughly 20% in each of these groups prefer Bush for president and a Democrat for Congress. Gore enjoys more loyal support from the Partisan Poor (11% of whom say they will split their ticket) and Liberal Democrats (9%). Staunch Conservatives, at 3%, are the least likely to split their ticket in this way; they are the most likely to vote a straight GOP ticket — 86% will vote Bush for president and Republican for Congress.

Mixed Views of the Parties

Regardless of party affiliation, Americans overwhelmingly think the party leaders in Washington are bickering more these days. Overall, 68% say that Republicans and Democrats in Washington have been bickering and opposing one another more than usual this year. This represents a significant increase since August 1998, when 51% said the parties were bickering more than usual. Perceptions of party gridlock peaked in October 1995, during the contentious months leading up to the federal government shutdown. At that time, 72% said the parties were fighting more than usual. Since then, fewer people have held this view. In November 1997, only 45% felt this way.

There is little variation in opinion on this matter across party groups. Fully 65% of Republicans, 71% of Democrats and 67% of Independents say the party leaders are bickering more these days. This view is prevalent across all typology groups. With the exception of the Moderate Republicans, at least two-thirds of each group believes the parties have been opposing each other more than usual.

Just as GOP affiliation has fallen off marginally over the last decade, views about the Republican Party have become more unfavorable. GOP favorability ratings dipped sharply between December 1994 and October 1995 (from 67% favorable to 52% favorable). They reached a low of 44% favorable in early 1999 — during the impeachment proceedings. Since then, they have rebounded somewhat. They now stand at 53% favorable; 43% unfavorable.

The GOP-oriented groups have a largely favorable view of the Republican Party. Even among these groups, however, few characterize their view as very favorable. Only 14% of Staunch Conservatives, 21% of Moderate Republicans and 15% of Populist Republicans say they view the party very favorably. On balance, the New Prosperity Independents view the GOP in a favorable light (63% favorable, 33% unfavorable). The Disaffecteds are slightly less enthusiastic (52% favorable, 39% unfavorable).

Ratings for the Democratic Party have improved somewhat since 1994. In December 1994, following the GOP midterm election victory, 50% of the public viewed the Democratic Party favorably. The ratings rebounded in January 1997 (60%) and have remained near that level since then. Today 59% have a favorable view of the party.

The Parties and the Issues

The Democratic Party has a clear edge over the GOP when it comes to the pressing policy issues of the day. When asked what one issue the next president should focus on, Social Security and Medicare and education top the list. On each of these issues, the public has more confidence in the Democratic Party than the Republicans. The same pattern holds for two other top tier policy issues: the economy and health care. Again, the public favors the Democrats’ approach on these issues over the Republicans’ by wide margins.

The one important exception is morality. This issue, which ranks third on the public’s list of priorities for the next president, is one where the Republicans have a clear advantage. Six-in-ten of those who say morality should be the top priority think the GOP can do a better job handling this issue. Furthermore, the state of morality in this country now tops the “most important problem” list.

The poll also tested several specific policy issues and found strong support for several GOP initiatives. Strong majorities of Americans favor requiring parental consent for abortion, stricter treatment of juvenile offenders and reductions in capital gains taxes. In addition, the public favors federal funding for school vouchers by a margin of 57%-40%.

Still, Democrats have the advantage on several of the issues that have been in the forefront of this year’s legislative agenda. Overwhelming majorities of Americans favor increasing the minimum wage and allowing patients to sue their health insurance companies when treatments are denied or delayed. Nearly two-thirds (64%) think the federal government should create national standards to protect the rights of patients in HMOs and managed care plans. A majority (56%) favor banning unlimited soft money contributions to political parties.

The Importance of Party Further Declines

There has been a slight increase in the number of Americans who are willing to vote against their party in some elections, and increasing numbers say they don’t agree completely with their party’s positions. Fully 73% of Democrats say they sometimes support candidates from the other party, an increase of 10 percentage points since 1990. Among Republicans, 78% say they sometimes vote for a Democrat, up slightly over the past nine years.

A solid majority of Republicans — 81% — don’t agree completely with their party’s positions on issues, an increase of 6 percentage points since 1990; 76% of Democrats say this, an increase of 7 percentage points from nine years ago.

Notably, even African-Americans, who have been a strong source of Democratic support, say in growing numbers they support the other party at least occasionally. More than half (54%) of Democratic blacks now say they sometimes support a GOP candidate, up from 40% in 1990.

Democrats more than Republicans say that belonging to their party is more a matter of disliking the alternative. Among Democrats, 27% say being Democratic is more a matter of not liking Republicans; 20% of GOP members say this. These percentages have changed little during the past nine years.

Among the Republican-leaning typology groups, Staunch Conservatives are the most loyal party members. They are least likely to support a Democrat — though as many as 71% say they sometimes do. This compares with 81% of Moderate Republicans and 80% of Populist Republicans. Populists are the least involved in Republican Party activities; 39% say they involve themselves with what the party is doing, compared to 50% of Moderate Republicans and 55% of Staunch Conservatives.

Overall, Democrats are nearly as likely as Republicans to defect to the other party on election day. The Partisan Poor are slightly less inclined to vote Republican, though even among this highly partisan group, 65% sometimes support a Republican. About three-in-four Liberals, New Democrats and Socially Conservative Democrats say they sometimes vote for a GOP candidate.

Roughly 30% of Liberals and the Partisan Poor say for them being a Democrat is more a matter of not liking Republicans. Just 19% of Socially Conservative Democrats and 23% of New Democrats agree.

Third Party Support Resurgent

After a two-year decline, a 54% majority of Americans now say we should have a third major party. This is up from 46% in 1998. Almost 60% wanted a third party in 1995.

Democrats and Republicans see eye-to-eye on this issue with almost equal percentages — roughly half — agreeing that we need a third major party, significant increases for both parties in only one year. Last year, when support for a third party was at a five-year low, only 36% of Republicans said we need a third party. The current numbers reflect a 12 percentage point increase among Republicans in one year. The percent of Democrats saying we need a third major party has jumped 10 points since 1998. Almost two-thirds (63%) of Independents say the country needs a third party, an increase of only three percentage points in one year.

Partisan Values

The role of government, compassion for the less fortunate and attitudes towards politicians are among the issues that continue to divide rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats. The gap between the parties is greatest on the question of whether the government should do more to help needy Americans, even if it means going deeper into debt.

More than half of Republicans say that government regulation does more harm than good and that corporations make a reasonable profit, 56% and 54% respectively. Only about one-third of Democrats agree with either of these two statements. Independents reflect the middle ground.

Democrats value government assistance to the poor and openness toward homosexuals. Fully two-thirds (67%) of Democrats think the government should do more to help the needy even if it means going deeper into debt, and 52% believe poor people have hard lives. More than half (54%) say homosexuality should be accepted. In each case, a minority of Republicans agree.

Independents tend to be more critical of politicians than either Republicans or Democrats. A solid majority of Independents — 64% — believe most elected officials “don’t care what people like me think”; somewhat slimmer majorities of Democrats and Republicans agree (59% and 54%, respectively).

Republicans and Democrats do see eye-to-eye on the importance of religion while Independents are not as enthusiastic. Almost equal percentages of the two major parties consider religion very important in their lives (80% and 79%, respectively), while 69% of Independents say this.

Independents and Democrats a Lot Alike

Independents describe themselves much more like Democrats than Republicans. When asked how well 20 words or phrases describe them, Independents agree more with Democrats on 11 items, and more with Republicans on only four. All three groups agree on five other descriptors. Interestingly, Independents are almost as likely to say “Democrat” describes them perfectly as does “Republican.”

Almost half of both Democrats and Independents (46% and 47%, respectively) describe themselves as environmentalists compared to only one-third of Republicans. Fully 73% of Republicans say the word “patriot” describes them perfectly; slightly more than half of Democrats and Independents agree. But strong majorities in all three groups say the phrase “working class” fits them perfectly: 68% of Democrats, 67% of Independents and 65% of Republicans.

When asked about the term “Democrat,” 15% of Independents say it fits them perfectly; 12% say the same about “Republican.” Yet roughly 30% of Independents say “conservative” describes them perfectly as do 52% of Republicans and 22% of Democrats. Even Democrats are hesitant to adopt the “Liberal” label. Only 28% say this describes them perfectly.

Cite this publication: “Retro-Politics.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (November 11, 1999) http://www.people-press.org/1999/11/11/retro-politics/, accessed on July 23, 2014.