More of George W. Bush’s supporters than Al Gore’s appear certain to turn out Nov. 7, even though both candidates enjoy support from about the same number of voters nationwide, pollsters and analysts say.
They call it “voter intensity,” and it could provide the winning margin 22 days from now.
In the bipartisan Battleground 2000 nightly tracking poll, conducted by Democrat Celinda Lake and Republican Ed Goeas, the four measures of the intensity of commitment show Mr. Bush with:
A six-point advantage in what the pollsters call the “unaided ballot question,” in which respondents are not given a list of candidates when asked to name their choice.
A five-point advantage among voters who say they are certain to vote.
A five-point edge 87 percent to 82 percent among all self-identified Republicans who say they will pull the lever for Mr. Bush compared with self-identi- fied Democrats who plan to vote for Mr. Gore.
A two-point margin among his Republican voters, 90 percent of whom say they are certain to vote, compared with 88 percent of Gore Democrats who say they are certain to vote.
“Bush has the lead with people who say absolutely they are going to vote, which is why a low turnout benefits Bush and Republicans in general,” said Jeff Pollock, a Democratic pollster.
Mr. Goeas cited a fifth indicator in the Battleground survey a link in voters’ minds between Mr. Gore and President Clinton. “Clinton haters are more intense than the Clinton lovers, and those who approve of Clinton’s job performance but not of him personally are even more intense than the Clinton lovers,” Mr. Goeas said. “That’s a plus for Bush.”
Although some pollsters and partisan analysts aren’t eager to discuss the race factor publicly, they confide that it is a big reason behind the intensity disparity. While polling confirms that minority voters blacks and, to a lesser extent, Hispanics favor Mr. Gore and Democrats in general by huge margins, the groups have a lesser propensity to vote.
It also is why Gore advisers have chastised him for not raising the affirmative-action issue more firmly and more often in his debates with Mr. Bush. And it explains why Republicans are airing more Bush ads in urban markets than ever before.
“Bush has a weakness with Catholic votes and significant negative feeling toward him among African-American voters,” says Republican campaign strategist John McLaughlin. “So a large minority turnout helps Gore.”
“That’s why Democrats have worked hard to increase the turnout of minorities. And it’s why this time Republicans are sending a message to minority voters on urban campaign issues like Social Security, school vouchers and, for Hispanic voters, the help Bush’s proposals give to small business people.”
Some analysts note that the debates’ viewership has been heavily Republican, perhaps another indicator of voter intensity favoring Mr. Bush.
Others say the timing of the Middle East flare-up, immediately after the second debate, couldn’t have been better for Mr. Bush. “The second debate left people with the perception that he can handle foreign affairs at least as well as Gore,” Mr. Goeas said. “All the instant polls after showed that.”
But whether Mr. Bush will get a momentum boost is a question mark. “The Middle East violence and stock market are grabbing attention that otherwise would have gone to talking about the debate,” Mr. Goeas says.
Syndicated talk-show host Gary Nolan, a Libertarian Party enthusiast, reports that his callers, “liberals and conservatives, complain that the media are focusing exclusively on the Middle East crisis and neglecting how Bush did in the debate. I have to wonder why the media are doing that.”
Mr. McLaughlin says media neglect may be offset by concern over the volatility of the markets, which plunged nearly 400 points the day the USS Cole was attacked and Middle East violence swelled.
Given that half of the electorate is said to own investments, directly or indirectly, market volatility “doesn’t help Gore with the new investor class. Anxiety over home heating oil and gas prices doesn’t help him either,” Mr. McLaughlin said.