CONTACTS: ARTHUR MILLER
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0011; fax (319) 384-0024
Heartland Press Release
Gore Has Deeper Problems Among Iowans
than His Stiffness
The University of Iowa Social Science Institute
Arthur H. Miller
Three months before the Iowa caucuses Vice President
Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush hold a commanding lead over their
respective party rivals according to the latest Heartland Poll conducted by
the University of Iowa Social Science Institute. The Vice President enjoys
the support of a larger percentage of Democrats (61%) than Governor Bush receives
from Republicans (52%). Yet, when asked about who they would support in the
2000 general election, a cross section of registered Iowa voters favor Bush
over Gore by 14 percentage points in a two party race and 11 percentage points
in a three party race. This substantial lead for Bush is a dramatic turnaround
for a state that supported the Clinton/Gore ticket in both 1992 and 1996 (they
received 43.3% and 50.3% of the general election vote in each year respectively
as compared with 37.3% and 39.9% for Bush and Dole in each respective year).
Despite the growing media coverage of the Bradley
campaign, former Senator Bill Bradley remains unknown to 20% of Iowa Democrats.
His campaign has yet to stir much enthusiasm thus only 21% of Democrats likely
to attend the caucuses indicated that they will support him at their local
caucus (see Figure 1).
Steve Forbes, after running in 1996 and spending millions
on the August 1999 straw poll in Iowa, still runs well behind George Bush
(see Figure 2). Indeed the 13% of support found in the recent Heartland Poll
is lower than the support that Forbes had in the Heartland Poll at roughly
the same time in the 1996 campaign when he ran second to Bob Dole.
While Democrats as a whole say they would remain staunchly
loyal to Al Gore in a general election contest with George Bush (85% say they
would vote for Gore), Bush would handily win that election among Iowans if
the vote were held today (see Figure 3). Bush would win that contest because
93% of Republicans and 53% of Independents would support him. Bush would also
win a three-way contest that included Buchanan as the third party standard
bearer (see Figure 4). Having Buchanan in the race does, however, narrow the
difference in support for Gore versus Bush. One of the most surprising findings
in the preferred vote choice for the 2000 general election is the virtual
absence of a gender gap. Ever since the 1980 election Democrats have enjoyed
a gender gap with women voting significantly more Democratic than men. While
Iowa women do prefer Gore slightly more than Iowa men, the difference is only
3% in a two-person race between Gore and Bush and 4.7% in a three-way race
that includes Buchanan. But in both situations, a larger percentage of women
prefer Bush to Gore (47% prefer Bush in a two person race, 41% in a three-way
race as compared with 37% and 36% for Gore in each respective race).
Why does Bush lead Gore so decisively? Part of the
explanation arises out of weaknesses associated with the Vice President. In
large part, it is these same weaknesses that make him vulnerable to a challenge
from Bill Bradley; a topic we explore next. But in part the Bush lead also
reflects some doubts about the future and a desire for change regardless of
how positive Americans are about Bill Clintons performance as president.
It is this yearning for change that brings many citizens to project certain
desired characteristics onto George Bush, while many others are expressing
a preference for a third party candidate. After discussing the Gore versus
Bradley contest, we turn to a comparison of Gore and Bush and then analyze
the potential third party threat.
Gore vs. Bradley
Although Gore appears to be having trouble when pitted
against Bush in a direct contest, he maintains a strong lead against Bill
Bradley among Iowas Democrats. (See Table 1) Approximately 60% of Iowa
Democrats say they would like Gore to be the Democratic nominee in the 2000
election. Although about 18% of Democrats still remain undecided, less than
20% would like to see Bradley capture the nomination. For all of Gore's apparent
weaknesses, one wonders why Bradley is not a stronger candidate in Iowa.
It appears that Bradley cannot capitalize on Gores
weaknesses as a candidate in his attempt to wrest the nomination away from
the vice-president. Although feelings about Bradley are perceived as warmer
than Gore among the entire sample (see Table 2), Democrats feel slightly warmer
towards Gore (63) than Bradley (58).
Among Democrats, Bradley is also perceived as less effective
than Gore , especially in the key area of economic effectiveness (See Table
3). When questioned about effectiveness, 34% of Democrats feel that Gore would
be much stronger than Bradley in dealing with the economy and 21% feel the
Vice President would be better at reforming campaign finance. Conversely,
only 14% of Iowa Democrats feel that Bradley would be stronger than Gore in
dealing with the economy although he is perceived as slightly more effective
than Gore in dealing with an international crisis.
Gores strength relative to Bradley among Iowa Democrats
does not appear to derive from ideology, though (Table 4). In fact, 31% of
Democrats perceive Bradley as being closer to them on a liberal-conservative
scale as opposed to 26% who see themselves as closer to Gore . The two candidates
are not perceived as very far apart ideologically (See Table 5), but Democrats
do perceive Bradley as being slightly more liberal than Gore, with mean ratings
of 3.71 and 3.98 respectively (see Table 6).
As a candidate, Bradley is strongest among Democrats
who feel that the economy has gotten worse during the past year and those
who feel the economy will get worse in the future. He does not seem to benefit
from perceptions that crime is increasing, however. (See Table 7)
Bradleys main problem in Iowa appears to be
a lack of recognition. Among respondents, 20% of respondents answered "don't
know" when asked to give him a thermometer rating. The recognition level drops
even more dramatically when respondents were asked to rate his effectiveness.
Although he is perceived as close to Democrats ideologically and effective
in the international arena, Bradley needs to become more visible in Iowa if
he is to become a legitimate contender with Gore.
Comparing Gore and Bush
Why does Governor Bush hold such a commanding lead
on Vice President Al Gore at this point in the campaign? In many respects
the lead is surprising. Yet, we should not forget that in 1988, once he became
the standard bearer for the Democratic party, Michael Dukakis, then Governor
of Massachusetts also held a significant early lead over then Vice President
George Bush, Sr.
Bill Clinton currently receives higher approval ratings
for how he is handling his job as president than did Ronald Reagan at this
point in his second term. Some 57% of Iowans approve of how Clinton is handling
his job as president, 71% approve of his handling of the economy and 51% approve
of how he is handling foreign affairs (on this latter item 10% say they dont
know and 39% say disapprove). Yet this performance success does not spill
over to benefit the Vice President. What does influence evaluations of the
Vice President are Bill Clintons personal shortcomings. In part this
arises because Al Gore is often seen on television answering questions about
Clintons indiscretions, but rarely is he seen answering questions about
the administrations policy successes. Because hes been burdened
by negative associations with Clinton, even many Democrats (35%) say that
while they approve of Clintons job performance, they want a drastic
change for the future administration (see Table 8). Likewise, some 40% of
Independents say that they approve of Clintons performance but want
a major change in administration. Some of this desire for a dramatic change
in administration is driven by fears that the economy will get worse in the
future. Perhaps when the economy is as good as it has been in the past few
years, it is natural for a significant percentage of people to believe that
it can only get worse. Roughly one-third (34%) of Iowans expressed this view
(46% said it would remain the same and 20% said it would get better in the
next year). These fears are hurting Al Gore. Among the Democrats who believe
that the economy will worsen in the coming year 67% want a dramatic change
in administrations despite the fact that 82% of them give Bill Clinton high
praise for his personal handling of the economy. In short, these economic
successes are not spilling over to boost Al Gores future potential.
In fact, among Democrats worried about future economic
conditions getting worse, Gore is perceived as less effective in handling
the economy in the future than is Bush (42% said Bush would be more effective,
23% said there would be no difference and 35% see Gore as more effective).
Among Democrats in general, Gore is perceived as more competent to deal with
the economy than is Bush (see Table 9). Yet, the impact of concern about the
future economy worsening, that is found among Democrats could be a clue as
to why Independents also tend to see Bush as somewhat more effective in dealing
with the economy. In short, Clinton, not Gore, gets credit for the current
economic boom, thus Gore fails to benefit from this outstanding performance
while he suffers due to concerns about a future downturn (34% of Independents
and 40% of Republicans think the economy will get worse in the next year).
Even more surprising than the lack of perceived effectiveness
for Gore in dealing with the economy, is the finding that a majority of Iowans
believe that Bush would more effectively deal with an international crisis
(see Table 9). Even among Democrats, Gore is not perceived as particularly
more effective in dealing with any future international crisis than is Bush.
A preponderance of Republicans and Independents, on the other hand, perceive
Bush as more effective than Gore when it comes to dealing with international
crises, despite the Governors lack of international experience. Given
recent indications of Bushs lack of knowledge of foreign leaders and
political situations around the world, one might expect these comparisons
to change in the future. Shifts in these comparisons, however, will only occur
if the public comes to see Al Gore as relatively accomplished in the international
arena. In short, Bush is not hurt if the public knows little about Gores
Moving on to another visible topic, campaign finance
reform, neither Bush nor Gore are perceived by the public as particularly
effective in dealing with this issue (see Table 9). Republicans see Bush as
more effective than Gore on this issue, but that appears to be primarily a
reflection of partisan enthusiasm. Independents perceive little difference
between Gore and Bush on this issue. Thus neither candidate gains an advantage
from this issue, but the perception that neither of these candidates would
do a better job on this issue may be adding to the desire of Independents
for a third party, a topic discussed below.
Given that Gore is not perceived as particularly more
effective than Bush in dealing with the economy or an international crisis,
it would not be surprising to find that Bush is also more likely to be seen
as a strong leader and a man of action, characteristics that the public usually
associate with a successful president. Indeed as Table 10 demonstrates, most
respondents see Bush as a stronger leader relative to Gore; a finding that
is true even among Democrats. Although Gore has an edge over Bush among Democrats
when it comes to being perceived as a "man of action," Bush is perceived
as relatively more action oriented by Independents and Republicans (see Table
All the recent press coverage of Bushs possible
past usage of cocaine and Gores popular image as a "family man,"
might also suggest that Gore would be considered far more moral than Bush.
Yet as Table 10 reveals, Gore is seen as predominantly more moral relative
to Bush only among Democrats. His own partisans also see Gore as more caring,
but overall his lead in this area is rather slim. By comparison, in both 1992
and 1996, most Iowans perceived Clinton as far more caring than either of
his two Republican opponents in those respective elections. It was in part
this perception of Clinton as caring and compassionate that promoted a gender
gap in those two elections.
One of the great policy accomplishments frequently
claimed by Bill Clinton has been the steady reduction in crime rates during
the past few years. Again, one might expect that such an accomplishment would
carry over to benefit Gores image as someone who might be tough on crime
and criminals. Yet, as Table 10 vividly demonstrates, this is not the case,
not even among Democrats (44% of them see no difference between Bush and Gore
regarding how tough they would be on crime). Once again, Bush is perceived
as relatively stronger on this issue by the total sample of Iowans. Part of
the explanation for why Gore may appear so weak when it comes to the crime
issue is that most Iowans do not believe that national crime has in fact decreased.
Despite the trend in the national crime statistics, most Iowans believe that
crime is increasing nationally rather than decreasing (see Table 11). Given
these beliefs, it would be difficult for the Vice President to gain an advantage
on this issue based on claims about past policy successes.
The Third Party Threat
In the 1999 Heartland, 40% of respondents prefer that
the 2000 presidential election offer a third-party candidate as a choice instead
of a more limited race between Al Gore as the Democratic candidate and George
W. Bush as the Republican candidate. The question we wanted to explore is:
who are these people and what factors are pushing them away from the two conventional
parties and/or pulling them toward a new party?
While there is no gender gap, third-party preference gaps
exist for education and age, so that those without college degrees (45% to
28%) and younger respondents (47% to 33%) are more likely to prefer a third-party
(see Table 12). Political attitudes also affect interest in a third party
(see Table 13). Independents (51%) and Democrats (36%) are more likely to
make this choice, as are those who mistrust government in general and those
who believe that public officials do not share their concerns (45% for both).
Looking specifically at the Clinton administration, respondents who approve
of the job President Clinton is doing are more likely to want a third-party
candidate (43%), but so are those who would like to see significant change
from the current administration (43%). Those who share both sentimentsapproving
of Clintons personal job performance as president but wanting a change
from the present administrationare the respondents most likely to want
a third-party choice in the upcoming election (51%).
What about this group causes them to prefer a break from
traditional parties? A multivariate analysis reveals that the factor with
the biggest impact on third-party preference is feelings about the two main
candidates. Dislike of Al Gore and George W. Bush is driving individuals from
the Republican and Democratic parties. For Gore, respondents who prefer a
third-party choice rate him five points lower on a thermometer scale than
those who are satisfied with a traditional election (see Table 14). These
thermometer differences are particularly noticeable among Democrats, where
those with a third-party preference rate Gore almost 15 points lower than
others in the party. In large part this dislike of Gore arises because he
is not seen as a "man of action."
Bush suffers a similar fate among Republicans, where his
overall 11-point drop in thermometer ratings between those who do or do not
prefer a third party choice is due in large part to a 12-point difference
within his party, but also the result of a nine point difference among Independents
(see Table 14). The drop in ratings for Bush among those preferring a third
party choice come primarily from those who see Bush as neither "caring"
Part of the lower ratings these candidates receive among
those with a third party preference can also be attributed to ideological
perceptions of the candidates. Democratic respondents stand out here, in that
those who prefer a third choice are more conservative than those who prefer
a Gore/Bush election. Given this, it might be assumed that third-party preference
arises from the non-choice between a liberal Republican and a conservative
Democrat, where Gore and Bush are considered as one and the same. However,
the data provide little support for this explanation. Absolute differences
between the two in effectiveness and traits have little impact on wanting
a third-party choice. Neither does perceived differences between the two candidates
on ideology. The only variable with an impact on third-party choice is the
difference in thermometer ratings of the two candidates, such that feeling
similarly about the two men increases third-party preference. The only similarity
between Gore and Bush that matters then is a comparable dislike of these men.
It should be noted, however, that while Gore and Bush
may be less-liked by respondents with a third-party preference, they retain
their positions as the preferred candidates within their parties even among
those party identifiers who prefer to have a third party choice (see Table
14). Democrats who prefer a third-party choice rank Gore highest, with Ventura
ranked second. Republicans overwhelmingly rank Bush as their favorite candidate
with Buchanan lagging a distant second. Ventura is the top choice for Independents,
followed closely by Bush. Third-party preference is then propelled by negative
feelings for Gore and Bush, but Republican and Democratic respondents still
favor their respective party candidates over other possibilities.
Third-party preference is then not entirely a consequence
of negative feelings about Gore and Bush. It is also impacted by positive
feelings toward individuals who have been implicated as viable third-party
challengers, in particular Jesse Ventura (see Table 14). This support is in
large part due to disaffected Democrats, who rate him fifteen points higher
on a thermometer scale, albeit lower than Gore. Venturas popularity
among disaffected Democrats may be in part due to the fact that he is ideologically
perceived to be liberal (see Table 6).
While Ventura is popular among disaffected Democrats,
Buchanan seems to be the attractive challenger to Republicans with a third-party
preference. His slight rise in thermometer rating is entirely attributable
to Republican respondents, where those who want a third-party choice rate
him six thermometer points higher (see Table 14). Warren Beatty also appears
to have some capacity for drawing voters away from their traditional party
attachments. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is rather negatively rated even
by Independents wanting a third party choice
Gore and Bush currently have comfortable leads in
their respective races. Yet neither one of these candidates should feel satisfied.
Gore clearly has a number of limitations among the publics perceptions
to overcome and Bush, despite his lead remains more a "projected"
candidate than a "known" candidate among a significant subset of
In the Democratic caucus race, Bradley needs to exploit
Gores weakness in the international arena and try to eat away at the
perception that Gore is stronger on economic matters if he hopes to make inroads.
The data indicate that Bradley is strongest among voters who are worried about
the national economy getting worse. If he can exploit this weakness of Gores
and become better known in Iowa, he has an opportunity to make inroads into
In comparison with the Bush, Gore exhibits some of
the same weaknesses that Bradley could potentially capitalize on but has yet
to exploit. Gore needs to worry less about how stiff he appears or whether
he is an alpha or beta male and spend more time discussing his past successes,
including some that can be attributed to the Clinton/Gore administration,
as well as what he will do to maintain a prosperous economy in the future.
He needs to stop answering questions about Clintons immoral behavior
and speak instead about successes and what steps he will take to promote law
enforcement in the future. Above all else, Gore needs to articulate a command
of international affairs and demonstrate that he is prepared to deal with
Bush currently enjoys an advantage because the public
is better informed about Gores limitations than they are about any specifics
relating to the Governor other than his ability to attract a good deal of
campaign funding. In short, he is currently strong, particularly among Independents,
because the opponents, including the Vice President, are perceived as relatively
weaker. As Table 6 demonstrates, he is not perceived as more centrist than
Gore. In short, Bush leads despite any particular policy position or ideological
Finally, it is quite clear that there remains substantial
desire in this country for a third party alternative. The real question is
will that third party reflect a socially liberal view as projected by Ventura
or a socially conservative orientation reflected by Buchanan? What is more
obvious is that the continued widespread distrust of government that exists
is producing a new fragmentation of political views in this country that is
more pronounced than in previous decades.
The Heartland Poll is conducted by The University
of Iowa Social Science Institute under the direction of Professor Arthur H.
Miller. This study is based on a random-digit-dialed sample of 600 Iowa adults.
The interviews were conducted by phone between October 18 and November 1,
1999. The interview took 18 minutes on average with an overall response rate
of 65 percent after 5 callbacks. The sampling error for the survey is estimated
at +/- 4.0%. For more information on the study, contact Professor Miller at
(319) 335-2328 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Charts and Tables
For copies of all charts, graphs, and tables related
to the Heartland Poll, contact Mary Geraghty, University News Services at
(319) 384-0011 or firstname.lastname@example.org