December 21, 2000

Some Final Observations on Voter Opinions

Introduction and Summary

Overlooked amid controversies over hanging chads and divided courts were some important lessons from the presidential campaign. Here are previously unreleased findings from the Pew Research Center’s post-election survey, conducted Nov. 10-12:

There was more positive voting and less voting against candidates this time than in the three previous presidential elections. George W. Bush received about the same grades from his voters as his father did in 1988, while Al Gore earned the same kind of ratings from his backers that Bill Clinton received in 1996.

Abortion proved to be the sleeper issue of Campaign 2000 — it was volunteered as a decisive issue most often by Bush voters who said issues mattered most. It rated less important, but still highly, among Gore voters. For the vice president’s supporters, abortion was ranked nearly as important as the environment, and not much below Social Security and education.

An expected backlash from the Columbine massacre and other school shootings in favor of gun control never materialized. In fact, Bush voters who were motivated by issues cited his stance on gun control more often than issue-oriented Gore voters (14% to 4%).

Dick Cheney was a bigger plus for Bush voters than Joe Lieberman was for Gore supporters. More than one-third (35%) of those who backed the GOP ticket cited Cheney as an important factor in their choice, compared to 15% of Gore voters who said that about Lieberman. By contrast, neither Cheney nor Lieberman was much of a drag on their tickets.

Party was cited more often as a motivating factor by Gore voters (57%) than Bush voters (44%). This may be a reflection of greater GOP satisfaction with their candidate, which also surfaced in other ways throughout the campaign.

Still, Gore did not suffer much from the enthusiasm gap that was evident in many pre-election polls. The vice president’s support actually grew in the campaign’s final days and turnout was high among core Democratic constituencies.

Approximately equal percentages of Bush and Gore voters said they were urged to vote by the campaigns, but respondents in battleground states were contacted more often than those in less competitive places.

Fully 53% of voters in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Florida said they were contacted over the phone by candidates, campaigns or other groups urging them to vote in a particular way, compared to only 38% of voters in other parts of the country.1

Voters in the battleground states changed their minds more (or were persuaded to do so by the campaigns) than did voters in less competitive places. The horse race fluctuated dramatically in battleground states, but moved less in strong Bush and Gore states.

However, Gore may owe his popular vote victory win to strong support in Democratic states. Bush’s margin, on the other hand, fell in safe GOP states in the final weeks of the campaign.

  1. Battleground states are identified as the eleven states receiving the highest proportional levels of campaign spending on television advertising. The remaining states are divided based upon election outcomes. GORE STATES include: Hawaii, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York,Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, California, Illinois, Vermont, Maine, Iowa and the District of Columbia. BUSH STATES include: Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Alaska, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Mississippi, Indiana, Kentucky, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Colorado, Louisiana, Virginia, Arkansas, Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee, Georgia, and New Hampshire.