November 14, 2000

Voters Side with Bush for Now

Introduction and Summary

By the weekend, George W. Bush was further ahead of Al Gore in the battle for public opinion than he was in the vote recount in Florida. A strong majority of voters, including many Gore supporters, think he will have legitimately won the presidency if he prevails in the Florida recount. And a comparable majority rejects the idea of conducting a new election in Palm Beach County Fla., even though many voters there may have been confused by ballots.

A nationwide survey of 1,113 voters by the Pew Research Center gave Bush and the Republicans slightly higher grades than Gore and the Democrats for their handling of the uncertain outcome of the election. But the poll, conducted Friday through Sunday (Nov. 10-12) as the two sides wrangled over vote-count procedures, finds a wide political gulf on these and other questions relating to the election’s aftermath.

Overall, 51% of voters say Bush has done an excellent or good job of handling the electoral outcome, compared to 46% who say the same about Gore. Not surprisingly, supporters of each man strongly endorse their candidate’s handling of the confusing situation; 76% of Bush supporters say the Texas governor has done an excellent or good job, while seven-in-ten Gore backers (72%) give the vice president top grades.

But a substantial minority of Gore voters (41%) say Bush will be the legitimate victor of the presidential contest if he wins in Florida and thus gains a narrow majority in the Electoral College; 51% of Gore supporters disagree. There is more unanimity on this point among Bush voters. Fully 95% of those who support the Texas governor say he will be the legitimate victor in the presidential contest if he wins in Florida.

Generally, voters who question the legitimacy of Bush’s victory, should he win Florida, do so because of concerns over the accuracy of the vote count rather than because of Gore’s lead in the popular vote. While 15% have doubts about the accuracy of the vote count, just 6% cite Gore’s popular vote advantage (which remains unofficial) as a reason to question the legitimacy of a Bush victory in the Electoral College.

Most voters (67%) believe that if Bush does win in Florida, Gore should concede the election. Democrats are divided — 42% think the vice president should concede while 47% say he should fight the results in court because of the voting problems in Florida. Again, there is a consensus among Republicans, with 93% in favor of Gore conceding.

Silver Lining?

If there is an upside to these events, it may be the positive effect they have had on perceptions of the importance of voting. Nearly three-in-four voters (74%) say the election’s razor-thin outcome has increased their belief that every vote counts, while only 23% say it has raised doubts in their minds about the importance of voting. Moreover, there is less of a partisan divide on this question — solid majorities of both Gore and Bush supporters feel more strongly about the relevance of their vote as a result of this process.

At the same time, many voters harbor doubts that the final tallies in Florida and other closely contested states will indeed be accurate. A 49% plurality is confident that the results will be accurate, while 42% disagree. Gore supporters are far more skeptical than Bush voters. Just 35% of the vice president’s backers believe the final count will be accurate, compared to 64% of Bush supporters.

Whatever doubts voters have, however, only a minority (36%) supports a new election in Palm Beach County because of alleged ballot irregularities. Gore voters favor a new election by better than a two-to-one margin (64%-30%), while Bush supporters reject the idea, 90%-7%.