Bush, Gore push towards election
By ERIN LaRUFFA
Associate News Editor
Throughout the spring and most of the summer, many Americans – if they were paying attention to national polls – probably thought Republican nominee George W. Bush would be the next president.
Then came the Democratic National Convention. After trailing Bush for most of the campaign, Vice President Al Gore made significant gains in the polls.
"Going into the conventions, Bush should have been a landslide winner," said Notre Dame government professor David Leege.
Now, no one knows which candidate is ahead.
Although Bush — who labeled himself the "underdog" last Thursday — currently trails in all major national poll, the race is far from finished.
Polling the people
Newsweek's most recent poll showed Gore leading Bush 47 to 39 percent among registered voters, and 49 to 41 percent among likely voters. Many polls, however, show an even closer race.
Gore leads Bush 47 to 46 percent among likely voters in the Time/CNN poll while the latest Washington Post and ABC News poll has the two candidates locked at 47 percent among registered voters.
Statistical margins of error and other factors make predicting results complicated.
"There are two problems with the polls," said government professor Benjamin Radcliff.
The first, Radcliff explained, is some polls use data from registered voters, while others use data from "likely voters." Registered voters do not necessarily show up at the polls, even if they do support one candidate over the other.
"Even the polls among likely voters will differ depending on how [pollsters] determine who's going to vote," Radcliff said.
The second problem, according to Radcliff, is "the extent to which people have made up their minds" to support a particular candidate.
"This is an election where people will make up their minds later," Leege said.
Some voters, however, choose strictly along party lines.
"There are lots of people who were never going to vote Democratic or never going to vote Republican," American government professor Christina Wolbrecht said.
On the other hand, she pointed out, there are a lot of independent voters, many of whom have not decided which candidate to support.
Radcliff, however, believes most voters have made up their minds at this point in the race.
Past history indicates voters may make up their minds by early September. Over the past 50 years, the presidential candidates with a significant lead on Labor Day went on to win in November. However, that trend is not relevant in this election year.
"When one candidate is clearly ahead going into Labor Day, that maxim holds, but neither candidate had a clear lead," said Leege. "It's a very close race."
Of course, national polls do not determine the outcome of elections — the electoral college does. To win, a candidate must receive 270 electoral votes from the states.
Electoral College up for grabs
Experts disagree as to whether Bush or Gore are leading in terms of electoral votes.
"On that basis, at the moment, Bush looks somewhat stronger ... But Gore may have the edge on the issues and in his mastery of the rapid-response techniques that will dominate the endgame," according to a Sept. 11 U.S. News and World Report article.
"My own sense is that Gore is going to win," Radcliff said.
Radcliff argued Gore is certain to win a few states, such as California and New York, while Bush is certain to win other states, such as Texas. There are other "toss-up" states where the winner is still unclear.
He believes Bush will win the toss-up state of Ohio, while Gore will win the toss-up states of Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.
"The election is over if Gore can win Pennsylvania," the final toss up state, according to Radcliff.
A four-way race
Bush and Gore are not the only candidates running for president this year. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan are also expected to be on the ballot in November.
A four-way race is "much more difficult to predict," according to Leege. Nader may be pulling liberal voters from Gore's left, while Buchanan will be pulling conservative voters from Bush's right.
Currently, 4 percent of likely voters support Nader and 1 percent of likely voters back Buchanan, according to the Time/CNN poll.
Radcliff said Buchanan is not significantly effecting the race because divisions within the Reform Party prevent him from receiving money from the Federal Election Commission.
"He could become important later if he can get his hands on that large chunk of money," Radcliff said.
Similarly, Nader will have only a "marginal" effect, according to Radcliff. While Nader could take some votes away from Gore, Radcliff said Gore's move to the left since the Democratic convention will convince those voters to support Gore.
The convention appears to have been a major boost to Gore's campaign. Candidates usually go up in the polls immediately following their conventions and, right now, Gore appears to be holding onto his gain.
"Gore got a large bump out of the conventions and has been able to hold onto that," Radcliff said.
Radcliff explained the Democratic National Convention was designed to "electrify" traditional Democratic constituencies such as labor, women's and minority's groups.
The question now remains whether Gore will be able to maintain his new support.
Vice Presidents not secondary players
Voters will not simply be choosing between Bush and Gore on Nov. 7 – the candidates running mates will play a factor as well. Gore's choice to run with Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman and Bush's choice of Texas businessman Dick Cheney could be an important factor in deciding their vote.
Leege said he believes Lieberman is a positive addition to the Democratic ticket.
"Joe Lieberman helped him immensely because Lieberman brings credibility to the differences between Clinton and Gore," Leege said.
On the other hand, Bush may be hurt by Cheney, who served as defense secretary under Bush's father, Leege said.
"I think that Cheney actually hurt Bush," Leege said. "[It suggests that] he needed an old hand around to reassure voters."
The upcoming presidential debates will also shape the way voters view the candidates.
"I think George Bush has an opportunity to allay some fears people have about him," Wolbrecht said.
All News Stories for Tuesday, September 12, 2000