Registered Partisans Rally Behind Candidates
Independents Still Volatile
Although Labor Day, the unofficial kick-off of the general election campaign, has passed, more than one-third of all Americans and one-quarter of registered voters have not yet picked a presidential candidate.
According to the latest Shorenstein Center weekly national poll, 34% of all adults and 26% of registered voters claim they haven't picked a candidate yet and do not lean towards either Bush or Gore. This finding is at odds with many national surveys, which show only a small percentage of uncommitted voters. But these surveys push respondents to choose from a list of candidates, not offering them the option of remaining undecided. The Shorenstein Center poll poses the question differently: "Which presidential candidate do you support at this time, or haven't you picked a candidate yet?" The respondents who said "no candidate yet" were then asked whether they leaned towards one of the presidential candidates. "It is more that one third of Americans haven't yet thought about or focused on their presidential preference than that they haven't chosen a candidate," says Marvin Kalb, co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project, for which the Shorenstein Poll was conducted, and Executive Director of the Shorenstein Center's Washington Office. "As the campaign intensifies and debates begin, most Americans will focus and decide on their choice."
The number of uncommitted voters has dropped significantly in recent weeks. Just before the conventions, 37% of registered voters had not selected a candidate, compared to 26% in the most recent weekly survey.
Gore was the primary beneficiary of this change. Approximately 83% of registered Democrats are now committed to a candidate compared to 63% before the party conventions. The large majority of them support Gore. Bush has similarly strong backing among the 89% of registered Republicans who have now chosen a candidate. 80% of these voters had made their decision in the days before the GOP convention.
Self-identified independents remain up for grabs. The conventions only slightly reduced the proportion of registered independents who are undecided, from 50% to 45%. The Shorenstein Poll finds registered independents almost evenly divided between Gore and Bush, and there is no clear indication that they will eventually move strongly towards one of the candidates. "Our survey suggests further volatility to the vote between now and November," says Thomas Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and director of the Shorenstein surveys.
The results reported here are from nationwide telephone surveys of approximately 1,000 adults conducted November 14, 1999 September 3, 2000. The surveys have a sampling error of ±3%. The Vanishing Voter Project is a study by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Funding for the project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The project is co-directed by Thomas E. Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government & the Press at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard, and by Marvin Kalb, Executive Director of the Shorenstein Center's office in Washington.
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