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September 13, 2000 Contact: Melissa Ring (617) 496-9761

Bush-Clymer Episode Gets Major-League Attention, But Changes Few Minds

Voter Involvement Index Survey Methodology

Except for the news stories announcing Bush and Gore's running mates, no campaign story of the past four months has been as widely noted by the American public as George W. Bush's off-mike description of the New York Times' Adam Clymer as "a major-league a____." However, the story appears to have had little impact on Americans' opinion of Bush.

In the most recent weekly Shorenstein Center national poll, we asked respondents whether they were aware of a news story involving a presidential candidate insulting a news reporter. Fifty-two percent said they recalled such a story. Of these respondents, 86% correctly identified Bush as the candidate involved and 70% said that Bush had used a profane word to describe Clymer. "So many Americans remember Bush's off-color remark because, unplanned, unscripted and personal, it's so different from everything else they've seen and heard during the campaign so, naturally, it registers with them," says Marvin Kalb, Executive Director of the Shorenstein Center's Washington office.

This recall level was substantially higher than the average for ten other top campaign stories that the Shorenstein Center poll has tracked since early May. Less than 40% of respondents have claimed awareness of the typical story, and only slightly more than half of these have been able to describe the story with reasonable accuracy.

  Voter Involvement Index
September 3-11 25%
August 30 September 3 34%
August 23-27 34%
August 16-20 42%
August 9-13 38%
August 2-6 39%
Source: Shorenstein Center Poll
Sampling error: ±6%

Although the Bush-Clymer story is widely known, it has apparently had little impact on Bush's image. Only 18% of those who were aware of the story claimed that it affected their opinion of Bush 7% said they felt more highly of Bush as a result of the story while 11% claimed to think less of him.

Most of the other major stories of the past four months have had a more substantial impact. In a Shorenstein Center poll a few weeks ago, for example, 42% of those who were aware of news reports about Bush's statements on military readiness claimed that the story had altered their opinion of the candidate. "Most people distinguish between trivia and substance," says Thomas Patterson, director of the Shorenstein Poll and Professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "A campaign gaffe may get their attention but a top issue is more likely to affect their view of the candidates."

The results reported here are from nationwide telephone surveys of approximately 1,000 adults conducted November 14, 1999 September 11, 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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