November 16, 2000

Campaign 2000 Highly Rated

Introduction and Summary

Even with an uncertain conclusion, Campaign 2000 gets better grades from the public than most recent presidential contests. Fully 83% of voters say they learned enough from the campaign to make an informed choice — a larger percentage than expressed that view in surveys conducted in the days following the three previous presidential campaigns. There was less mudslinging, more discussion of issues, and the debates were more useful than four years ago, said a sample of voters in the Pew Research Center’s quadrennial “weekend after” poll.

The poll, conducted Nov. 10-12 among 1,113 voters, also finds a greater number of respondents satisfied with the choice of candidates this year than in 1988, 1992 and 1996 — although most were only fairly satisfied with this year’s slate. Voters also are more generous in grading themselves this year, as 60% award themselves a grade of A or B for their performance, up from 43% in Pew’s survey following the 1996 campaign. But the public’s negative view of the press is unchanged from previous elections. Just 29% give the press top grades, while nearly four-in-ten (39%) graded the media D or F.

Media miscalls of the outcome of the presidential race on Tuesday have only intensified voters’ long-standing criticisms of press performance. Seven-in-ten voters (69%) voice anger or disappointment with the networks’ premature calls that George W. Bush had won the presidency. More than half of voters (52%) believe the networks’ earlier mistake of calling Florida for Gore may have had an effect on how people in other parts of the country voted (with as many as 58% of those in the West supporting this view). Little wonder that the perception that the media had too much of an influence on the outcome climbed to 53% in the current survey from 47% in 1996 and 46% in 1992.

Roughly nine-in-ten respondents (87%) want the networks to wait to announce winners until nearly all the votes are counted on election night rather than predicting a winner when they feel confident based on early returns. Almost as many (81%) think news organizations make projections in order to be the first to call the winner, rather than because they think it’s important that their audience know the outcome as soon as possible.

More GOP Satisfaction

In keeping with the enthusiasm advantage Bush enjoyed during the campaign, Republicans were more satisfied than Democrats with the choice of presidential candidates this year: 81% of Republicans vs. 66% of Democrats say they were very or fairly satisfied. This represents a dramatic increase in satisfaction on the part of Republicans, only 39% of whom were content with their choices in 1996. Independents were less satisfied this year than partisans — only 58% liked their choices.

By overwhelming margins, voters say they learned enough about the candidates and the issues to make an informed choice. Again, this represents a significant improvement from recent presidential elections. Men and women, young and old, Republicans and Democrats agree on this point. No major demographic group subscribes to the view that it was difficult to choose among the candidates because they didn’t learn enough from the campaign. The widely publicized indecision on the part of voters this year was not due to a lack of information about the candidates or the issues.

The presidential debates were quite influential in helping voters decide which candidate to support. Nearly two-thirds of voters (62%) found the debates helpful — up from 41% in 1996. More women than men say the debates helped them make up their minds (66% vs. 58%). Young voters were more influenced by the debates than older voters — 74% of those under age 30 vs. 57% of those age 65 and older say they found the debates instructive. Bush and Gore voters evaluate the debates about equally. Not only were the debates helpful, but a sizable minority of voters (20%) say they made up their minds definitively during the debate period, up from only 3% in 1996.

On balance, voters say there was more discussion of the issues in this campaign compared to past presidential elections — 46% vs. 36% who say there was less discussion of issues. Again, that is a significant improvement from 1996 when 65% of voters said there had been less discussion of issues.

At the same time, voters saw less mudslinging in this campaign compared to past presidential elections. By a margin of 46%-34%, voters say there was less, not more, negative campaigning this time around; another 16% said there was about the same amount this time. In both 1996 and 1992, voters said negative campaigning was on the increase. Bush and Gore voters have similar evaluations of the campaign in this regard — 49% of Gore voters saw less mudslinging this year. Among Bush voters, 43% said less.

As was the case in both 1992 and 1996, the candidates’ commercials were not well received by the voters. Two-thirds say the commercials were not helpful to them in deciding which candidate to vote for, down only moderately from 73% in 1996. Young voters are among the most critical of the candidates’ commercials — 72% say they were not helpful. Democrats judge the commercials as slightly more helpful than do Republicans (37% vs. 27%). Still most deemed them to be of little importance.