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Believe It or Not, Poll Says Voters Distrust Gore More

As poll after poll is being released so many they often blur together into meaninglessness a new Harris Interactive Election 2000 survey should give pause to the presidential campaign of Vice President Al Gore. This poll is important because it addresses the perceptions the public has about Gore and the presumed Republican presidential nominee, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas. The survey suggests the public tends to believe allegations about Gore much more readily than similarly bad assertions about Bush. In a campaign that’s sure to be full of charges and countercharges, the public’s tendency to believe the worst about Gore may end up being a problem for the Gore campaign. The survey, conducted between April 4 and April 10, asked questions of 15,331 respondents, including 13,224 registered voters, randomly picked from among Harris Interactive’s 6.2 million-respondent Internet panel. The panel is composed of Internet users who have volunteered to be polled by Harris. The poll asked respondents questions about allegations that have been made against Bush: that he is anti-Catholic, racially insensitive, and “twists the truth like Bill Clinton,” a reference to a campaign ad Arizona Senator John McCain ran against Bush during the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina. Only 11 percent of the respondents believed that Bush was anti-Catholic, a charge some opponents leveled against him after he spoke at Bob Jones University, a school that has promoted anti-Catholic sentiments. In addition, just 29 percent of the respondents believed Bush is racially insensitive, even though he refused to condemn the flying of the Confederate battle flag over the statehouse in South Carolina and fought against passage of the James Byrd Jr. Hates Crime Act in Texas a bill named after the black man who was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas. Doubting Gore’s honesty Finally, only 35 percent of the respondents believed that Bush “twists the truth like Bill Clinton” reflecting that most respondents viewed Bush as being more trustworthy and honest. On the other hand, many respondents tended to doubt Gore’s honesty. Forty-nine percent of those polled believed Gore has exaggerated his role in events like the development of the Internet and the investigation of Love Canal. Sixty-eight percent of respondents who identified themselves as Republican said Gore has a propensity to exaggerate, which is not surprising. What is surprising is that almost a third of Democratic respondents agreed. But here’s an even bigger problem. Forty percent of respondents believed that Gore, to quote from the Harris questionnaire, “engages in illegal campaign fund-raising.” This is a staggering number of people who think that Gore at this very moment is raising campaign money illegally. For those who have argued that Gore’s fund-raising improprieties at the Buddhist temple in California will have no effect on the upcoming campaign, this poll appears to show the opposite. Some critics have questioned the accuracy of Internet polling, suggesting, for example, that one person could submit a variety of e-mail addresses to join an Internet respondent pool. The polls also might under-represent demographic groups that have less access to computers and the World Wide Web. Harris said it has compared numerous Internet polls with similar polls conducted using totally random samples and found that both methods produce the same results. What the Harris poll suggests is clear enough. If Gore intends to win in November, it is time for his campaign to stop its internal bickering and map out a strategy for victory. Tensions in Gore camp For weeks earlier this year, high-ranking members of the Gore campaign tried to force campaign manager Donna Brazile to move to the Democratic National Committee. While this battle appears to have ended with Brazile staying, as she said publicly she intended to do when the squabbling started, tensions seem to be lingering. Now, a new controversy has erupted concerning campaign Chairman Tony Coelho, who is fighting off various allegations of financial wrongdoing. Instead of dealing with internal problems, the Gore team needs to focus on Bush, who will mount a formidable campaign in the fall. If Gore’s behind-the-scenes players do not work out their problems soon, the public will form more or less permanently the impression that Bush is the morally superior candidate and Gore is flawed by fund-raising illegalities and a tendency not to tell the truth, whether either of these perceptions is accurate. And in politics for better or for worse perception is all that matters when voters go into the voting booth. Paul Alexander is a columnist with Bloomberg News.

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