Poll Says Americans Ignore Polls
Despite a steady stream of recent news stories reporting George W. Bush's lead over Al Gore in national opinion polls, most Americans claim to be unaware of these polls. Most Americans also claim not to have made a choice between the candidates.
According to the most recent Shorenstein Center weekly national survey, 71% of Americans claim to be unaware of any news stories about the candidates' standings in the polls. Of those who say they have read or heard about recent polls, nearly three-fifths claim, rightly, that Bush has the lead. But nearly one in five claims that Gore is leading while another one in five either say they are unsure of who is ahead, or claim that the two candidates are tied.
Most of those who are able to identify Bush as the leading candidate are unlikely to have a reasonably precise judgment about the size of his advantage. In fact, nearly as many respondents placed Bush's lead in the double digits as thought it was in the 5-7 percent range, where most recent polls have placed it. "As fascinating as the polls are to political junkies and pundits, they are not closely followed by the vast majority of Americans," says Thomas Patterson, Bradlee Professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project, of which the weekly Shorenstein Center poll is a component.
In fact, Americans have a tendency to impose their own preferences on the question of the candidates' standing in the race. Republicans are half again as likely as Democrats to believe that Bush is currently ahead of Gore in the polls.
Despite what these polls may suggest, most Americans have not made a choice between the two nominees. This result differs from those of most national surveys, which ask respondents whether they prefer Bush or Gore. The Shorenstein Center poll poses the question differently: "Thinking ahead to the November presidential election, which candidate do you support at this time, or haven't you picked a candidate yet." With 58%, "haven't picked a candidate yet" won decisively. Bush trailed with 24% and Gore with 17%. "A majority of Americans cannot name their presidential preference now," says Marvin Kalb, co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project and the Executive Director of the Shorenstein Center's Washington Office. "But most Americans, if given a clear choice between Gore or Bush, could name one or the other."
The results reported here are from nationwide telephone surveys of approximately 1,000 adults conducted November 14, 1999 June 4, 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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