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Jewish World Review Nov. 22, 2000 / 24 Mar-Cheshvan 5761

Morton Kondracke

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Some fascinating stories about how and why people voted -- The exit polls tell some fascinating stories about how and why people voted.

For one thing, the multiple scandals of the Clinton era obviously didn't help Vice President Al Gore, but Texas Gov. George W. Bush's (R)1976 drunken-driving arrest proved surprisingly damaging to him.

Exit polls showed that 28 percent of voters said Bush's arrest 24 years ago was either very or somewhat important in determining their vote - more than half as many as the 44 percent who said the same of President Clinton's scandals, including the one which led to his impeachment.

Voters who attached significance to Clinton's misbehavior voted for Bush by margins of 50 to 60 percent, but those who found Bush's onetime, long-ago arrest important sided with Gore by the same margin.

Surprisingly, the 20 percent who said Bush's arrest was "not too important" voted for Gore, 56 to 40 percent. A similar proportion of the electorate who said that of Clinton's scandals also favored Gore, 59 to 37 percent.

As Clinton tries to dictate the first draft of his historical legacy in various magazine interviews, the exit polls demonstrate that voters do not revere or respect him as a person, but they approve of his management of the government.

And in good times, at least, voters seem to want a president who will keep the trains running more than one who will set an example.

By 60 to 36 percent, voters said they disapprove of Clinton as a person. By 68 to 29 percent, they said Clinton would be remembered for his scandals, not his leadership. Yet, by 57 to 41 percent, they approved of his job performance.

Voters who said they like Clinton both as a president and a person - 34 percent of the total - supported Gore, 85 to 12 percent. The 39 percent who don't like him at all went for Bush, 89 to 7 percent. The two groups basically canceled each other out.

Among the 20 percent of voters who approve of Clinton's job performance but disapprove of him personally, Gore won 59 to 39 percent. This is one of many indications in the exits that voters take a utilitarian, not a moral, view of the presidency.

By 57 to 39 percent, voters said they believe the country is on the "wrong track" morally, but they do not seem to think it is the president's job to fix the problem.

When asked directly which was a more important duty for a president, 60 percent said he should manage the government and 34 percent said he should be a moral leader.

Unfortunately, there were no direct questions in the exit polls about the effect of Gore's involvement in 1996 campaign finance scandals.

However, the polls showed that voters basically thought both candidates are honest enough to be president. But when asked whether Gore would "say anything" to get elected, 74 percent said yes, compared with 58 percent for Bush.

On the other hand, Gore got the edge, 67 to 54 percent, for having the knowledge and experience necessary for the job.

If Gore suffered from the Clinton scandals, he also benefited from public satisfaction with the status quo. By 65 to 31 percent, voters said the country is "headed in the right direction" rather than "off on the wrong track."

Right-track voters favored Gore by 70 to 27 percent. Interestingly, they also favored Democrats in Congressional races - not incumbent Republicans - by 60 to 38 percent.

Asked what the country needs in the future, voters said by 56 to 41 percent that they wanted to "stay on course" rather than "get a fresh start." Stay-the-course voters favored Gore, 68 to 29 percent and Congressional Democrats, 65 to 34 percent.

Although Bush tried to claim that the Clinton-Gore administration deserves no credit for the nation's economic well-being, 68 percent of voters disagreed in whole or in part. And Gore carried those voters, as did Congressional Democrats.

In terms of political philosophy, by 53 to 43 percent voters said the government should do less than it does now, not more. Only 10 percent said the next president should be "more liberal" than Clinton.

More voters (43 percent) said Gore was "too liberal" than said Bush was "too conservative" (34 percent). Yet, Gore carried self-described moderate voters by 52 to 44 percent, while Bush carried independents (47 to 45 percent) and 1996 supporters of third-party candidate Ross Perot (64 to 27 percent).

What does all this add up to? The electorate is balanced, divided and ambivalent. But you already knew that.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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