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September 17, 2000

Gore Well-Positioned on Most Issues
Vice president maintains modest lead as Olympics prepare to steal spotlight from presidential race

by Frank Newport


PRINCETON, NJ -- Given a choice, Americans continue to be slightly more likely to choose issues rather than leadership skills as the most important determinant of their choice for president this year, and Al Gore now is favored by Americans over George W. Bush on almost all issues tested in recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup polling. Gore’s issue strength coincides with a continuing, albeit modest, lead for Gore over Bush among likely voters -- as the campaigns of both candidates prepare to enter a phase in which they will be required to share the media spotlight with the Sydney Olympics, which start today.

Issues More Important Than Leadership
In January, as the election year began, voters were more likely to say that it was leadership skills and vision that mattered to them, rather than the candidates’ stances on the issues, by a 51% to 36% margin. This pattern persisted through the spring. By the end of July, however, as the conventions were about to get underway, the issues dimension moved up. By August, issues had surpassed leadership in terms of importance to voters. Now, in the most recent three days of polling, issues were selected as most important by 44% of likely voters, compared to 38% who chose the "leadership skills and vision" side of the equation.

This shift in voters’ priorities towards issues coincided with Al Gore’s own decision to emphasize issues at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles in August. Now -- about a month later -- likely voters are more likely to select Al Gore as doing a good job on most issues tested than they are to select George W. Bush.

The chart below compares Gore’s advantage or disadvantage on the set of issues tested in this week’s polling, and compares them where appropriate to the same measures from the last survey conducted in July before the conventions of both parties began.


Gore’s Advantage or Disadvantage Compared to Bush on Selected Issues


Before conventions

Now (Sept 11-13)

Net change: Before conventions to now

Overall Ballot -- Among Registered Voters




The economy








Social Security








Health care








Handling budget surplus




Prescription drugs




Raising children in today’s culture




Rising price of gasoline and fuel oil





Gore’s overall gain over Bush on the trial heat ballot since the late July poll is 18 points (Gore went from a 50% to 39% deficit to his current 49% to 41% lead). Everything else being equal, we might expect that the voters’ choice of Gore or Bush on these issues would change at the same rate that the ballot changes.

As can be seen, there were two issues whose change over this period exceeded the average, or expected, change:

  • The economy -- Gore gained 25 points over Bush in terms of being chosen as best able to handle the economy, the largest gain on any of the measures included in both surveys
  • Handing the budget surplus -- Gore gained 22 points

On the other hand, there were three issues on which Gore gained less than would be predicted by his movement on the ballot between late July and now:

  • Health care -- Gore gained 11 points
  • Medicare -- Gore gained 12 points
  • Education -- Gore gained 14 points

The remaining two issues were more nearly in line with the expected gains:

  • Taxes -- Gore gained 20 points
  • Social Security -- Gore gained 15 points

In summary, Gore does best vis-à-vis Bush in terms of prescription drugs, Medicare and health care. Bush’s relative strengths are in terms of the rising cost of gasoline and fuel oil and in terms of taxes.

Gore Maintains Small Lead
Over the last six days -- Monday, September 11 through Saturday, September 16 -- Gore has averaged 49% of the vote, while Bush has averaged 41%. By way of contrast, Bush led Gore by an average of eight points, 48% to 40%, in Gallup polls conducted in June and July.

Al Gore’s most significant gains coincided with the Democratic convention in mid-August. Gore averaged 46% of the vote in two late August polls. Now, as noted, he is up to 49%, while Bush has dropped from an average of 48% in June and July to 41% now.

The Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia begin officially on Friday, and the conventional wisdom has it that the presidential election will become a clear back-burner issue for many Americans during the Olympic period. Barring high-visibility gaffes or revelations, it is the period immediately after the Olympics -- which will now include three presidential debates -- that will most probably offer the next opportunity for a significant realignment of this year’s presidential race.

Survey Methods
The results reported here are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,008 adults, 18 years and older, conducted September 11-13, 2000, and surveys of randomly selected samples of likely voters from September 11-16, 2000. For results based on these samples, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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