Jewish World Review Nov. 22, 2000 / 24 Mar-Cheshvan 5761
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
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
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
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
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
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
What does all this add up to? The electorate is balanced, divided and
ambivalent. But you already knew
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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