Poll Analysis: Presidential Politics in New Hampshire and the Nation

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     There is good news and bad news for the leading major party candidates running for president. The good news for Texas Republican Governor George W. Bush and Democratic Vice President Al Gore is that they are both substantially ahead in overall primary national match ups, but the bad news for both of them is that the race in New Hampshire has tightened sharply.

     Primary Matchups
     In order to understand the complexity of the 2000 presidential primary season, one only has to look at the myriad of polls that have already been done and compare national polls to individual state by state polls. And that is what the new Los Angeles Times Poll has done. It has surveyed in depth the first primary state, New Hampshire, and compared it to the nation overall and the results show some major differences.
     Three out of five New Hampshire voters are satisfied with the field of candidates they have to choose from in this year's presidential primary, while a third wish there were other candidates in the race. However, on the national level, there is more voter ambivalence --47% are satisfied with the candidates and 46% wish they had more of an option.

     Republican Primary
     National: Nationally Bush is dramatically ahead of any of his opponents with only Arizona Senator John McCain in double digits, but a very distant second. Those voting in the Republican primary are voting for Bush at 59%, McCain at 13%, millionaire publisher Steve Forbes at 5%, conservative activist Gary Bauer at 4%, former U. S. Ambassador Alan Keyes at 3%, Senator Orrin Hatch at 2% and 14% are undecided. Bush's voters are somewhat more certain about their vote than McCain's voters. A sizeable plurality of Bush's voters (43%) are certain they will vote for him, although 54% say they might vote for someone else. McCain's strength is softer with only 30% saying they are certain of their vote and 67% believing they could vote for another candidate. Bush does much better among Republicans nationally than he does among Independents (63% to 49%), while on the other hand, McCain does better among the unaffiliated voters than he does with his own party (20% to 9%).
     A turnout model was created based on intention to vote, interest in voting and past voting history and under any turnout model we used nationally, the vote remained almost the same. The turnout model, however, affects the vote in New Hampshire.
     When voters were asked what one particular stand or position their candidate holds that attracted them to their side, 30% of Bush's voters could not think of anything and 10% were not sure. But of the three in ten who could mention a position, 11% mentioned his integrity and honesty, which tied with education. About one in ten cited his father's legacy. The McCain voters were a little more aware of their candidate's stands --14% mentioned his integrity and honesty, followed by campaign finance reform at 13%, the economy at 12% and his military record at 10%. But 21% could not think of anything and 8% said they were not sure.
     Honesty and integrity is the number one trait voters are looking for when they vote for president next year. And 80% of Bush's voters believe he has that quality, while 73% of McCain's voters believe that about him. About a fifth each of these two candidate's voters also think being a strong leader is important. Of the two thirds of Republican primary voters who mention honesty and integrity as an important trait, 60% say they will vote for Bush and 12% for McCain.
     New Hampshire: But in New Hampshire, the big lead for Bush dwindles down to a very close race with McCain. Forty-four percent of those voting in the Republican party primary say they will vote for Bush, but 36% say they will vote for McCain. The other candidates received only low single digit votes -- Bauer at 1%, Forbes at 8%, Hatch at 1% and Keyes at 3%. Seven percent were undecided. (Interestingly, Bush had a 46 point lead in the national survey, but only an 8 point lead in New Hampshire, which falls within the margin of sampling error.) Bush's frontrunner campaign strategy has not helped him in this state. He missed two debates and has not been in the state as much as McCain or some of the other candidates. McCain has decided not to campaign in Iowa. (Even with McCain's decision not to campaign in Iowa, he is coming in second or third next to competitor Forbes as mentioned in some recent polls). McCain is spending a considerable amount of time in New Hampshire and the next Republican primary that follows, which is South Carolina. It appears that his strategy is paying off in the "Live Free or Die" state. Bush, however, gets a surge of support from Independents. He is 17 points ahead in this group, 49%, compared to 32% for McCain. Republicans are closer in their vote --Bush is ahead by 5 points among these voters, but still within the margin of error (42% vs. McCain at 37%).
     Under a turnout model similar to the 1996 actual New Hampshire primary turnout, it shows a narrowing of votes between Bush and McCain. It helps McCain more when the turnout is lower than it does for Bush. In our scenario, the two candidates are virtually even --Bush at 39% and McCain at 38%. One reason may be that Bush is overwhelmingly attracting the younger voter and historically this group is least likely to vote. He is also doing very well among the less educated and they, too, are not as likely to vote.
     Both candidates have about the same certainty of vote among their respective voters --only about a third each of their constituents say they are certain to vote for their preferred candidates. This is evidence that the vote is still fluid in the Granite state. In contrast, Forbes' and Hatch's voters were more certain of their vote (although their base was too small to mention any numbers).
     When the New Hampshire voters were queried as to what attracted them to their candidate, 14% of Bush's voters mentioned education, followed by taxes at 11%. More than a fifth of his voters (21%) could not think of anything he stands for and 14% were not sure. For McCain voters --a full 31% say they like his moral integrity and honesty, 17% cited campaign finance reform and 11% mentioned defense/military strength. But 16% also could not think of anything he stands for and only 1% were not sure of his positions.
     Besides asking about their candidates' positions on the issues, we also asked what is the most important characteristic they are looking for in a candidate. About four out of five each of Bush's and McCain's voters think honesty and integrity is the number one trait for a president to have. A quarter (26%) of McCain's voters and 16% of Bush's voters think it is being a strong leader. Of the seven in ten who mentioned honesty and integrity as the trait they are looking for in a president, 44% say they will vote for Bush and 37% say they will opt for McCain.
     There is a gender gap among New Hampshire Republican primary voters. Men are divided over their vote for Bush and McCain (41% to 40% respectively), while a substantial share of women voters are solidly behind Bush (47% compared to 30% for McCain). Bush also is more popular among the younger respondents (under 45 years of age). More than half (52%) of these respondents say they will vote for Bush, compared to just 30% for McCain, while the older group is somewhat divided over their vote (38% for Bush compared to 40% for McCain) Half of the voters who are less educated (some college or less) are behind Bush, while the more educated gravitate toward McCain (44%). Bush also does better among conservative Republicans (45% vs. 30% for McCain). Among self-described conservatives Bush maintains a 10 point lead over his opponent (43% compared to 33% for McCain) and splits the moderates (46% for Bush vs. 42% for McCain).

     Democratic primary
     National: Nationally, Vice President Al Gore is firmly ahead of former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley, but in a virtual dead heat in New Hampshire. Nationally, Gore receives 52% of the vote, while Bradley is at 34% and 14% are undecided. Gore's supporters are somewhat more certain of their vote than Bradley's voters, although for both candidates the vote is still soft. More than a third of Gore's voters are certain they will vote for him next year (although 62% say they might vote for someone else), while 22% of Bradley's voters say that about him (while 76% say they might support someone else).
     The turnout model that was created shows that in the national sample, turnout has no effect (as also seen in the Republican primary). However, it effects the vote in New Hampshire.
     When asked what stand or position their candidate holds, many voters, for either Democratic candidate, could not articulate any of their positions (this is more evident among Democratic voters than Republican voters). For instance, one third of Gore's supporters and 46% of Bradley's supporters could not think of anything their candidate stands for and at least 13% of voters for each candidate were not sure. But of the 52% who had an opinion of where Gore stands, education was the top mention at 13%. For Bradley, his voters mentioned that he is the best of the lot running for president at 7%. When voters were also asked about the most important characteristic they are looking for in a presidential candidate, about three in ten of each candidate's voters mentioned honesty and integrity, followed by a strong leader (at 16% each) and compassion (16% for Bradley and 14% for Gore).
     New Hampshire: As the poll shows a tightening of the race for Bush in New Hampshire, it also shows the same narrowing for Gore. Gore has an eighteen point advantage over Bradley nationally, but is virtually in a dead heat with his opponent in New Hampshire. At this point in time in NH, Gore receives 43% of the vote to Bradley's 42%. Just about a third of each candidate's voters say they are certain they will vote for their candidate. Two thirds of Bradley's and 64% of Gore's voters say there's a chance they will vote for someone else. Among registered Democrats, Gore edges out Bradley 45% to 42% (although statistically insignificant), but Bradley edges out Gore among registered Independents 42% to 38% (also within margin of sampling error).
     Some of the demographics show some of the differences among the two candidates. There is a slight gender gap with 48% of male voters and 44% of women voters supporting Bradley. Conversely, 42% of women voters and 38% of male voters are opting for Gore. Bradley usually does better among men, especially older men possibly because they remember him playing basketball for the New York Knicks. (Although the base is too small, the poll shows that men over 45 support Bradley far greater than they do Gore, and in the national sample Bradley beats Gore 49% to 40%.) Nearly half of the voters more than 44 year olds say they will vote for Bradley, while 36% of this age group will support Gore. The less affluent (household income under $40,000) will support Bradley slightly more than Gore (44% to 35%), and the reverse is true of the more affluent--49% for Gore and 42% for Bradley. Self-described liberals are for Bradley 46% while Gore wins 39% of their votes. Self-described moderates and conservatives are more supportive of Gore than Bradley (47% to 39%).
     In looking at our turnout model, Bradley does better when turnout is lower. This is the turnout that is similar to the '96 New Hampshire actual primary turnout --Bradley receives 49% of the vote and Gore receives 43%, with 7% undecided. However, the higher the turnout, the narrower the gap between the two candidates. One explanation might be that Gore is overwhelmingly getting the younger vote and they don't usually vote (the same effect with the Bush vote). Gore would have to shore up his core constituencies and he has not done that as of yet. The vote is virtually even among Democratic registered voters, while a surge in voting among Independents could help a candidate in this state. There is a large share of voters who are not affiliated with any party and they do come out and vote. And they are leaning toward Bradley.

     Qualifications for the presidency
     The poll asked respondents about attributes that some people believe a president of the U.S. should possess. These attributes were asked about Bush, McCain, Bradley and Gore. Here are the results:
Qualified to be president67%61%65%54%
Honesty and integrity64%63%75%62%
Strong leadership ability39%44%55%48%
Cares about people like you59%55%66%52%
Can handle foreign affairs50%51%38%*37%*
Qualified to be president64%70%62%37%
Honesty and integrity65%64%74%42%
Strong leadership ability67%70%63%37%
Cares about people like you51%51%62%38%
Can handle foreign affairs40%54%53%34%

* Bradley's numbers for foreign affairs reflect a large "don't know," and all of McCain's national numbers reflect a large "don't know."

     Compassionate Conservative: Voters are not convinced about whether Bush is a compassionate conservative or not. When voters were asked what does the Texas governor mean by that term, 16% of the voters in New Hampshire and 13% of national voters said it meant nothing in particular, while a full third of the New Hampshire voters and a large plurality (45%) of the national sample were not sure what the term meant. But if Bush wants the electorate to think it means that he is a moderate and not a right wing conservative and that he cares about people, that is what 12% and 18% respectively of the voters in NH think. However, in the national sample, the only double digit answer is 17% of the voters think it means that he cares about people like them. Even Republicans were stymied about what the term means, although 54% of Republicans in NH and 63% in the national sample say Bush is a compassionate conservative.

     November general match ups
     Gore vs. Bush: Among registered voters nationally, Bush receives 55% of the vote to 40% for Gore and 5% undecided. With former television commentator Pat Buchanan in the mix, Bush loses 6 points to 49% , Gore drops 3 point to 37% and Buchanan receives 9% with 5% undecided.
     Bradley vs. Bush: National voters give Bush 50% of the vote to Bradley's 41% and 9% undecided. And with Buchanan as the third party nominee, Bradley receives 37% (a loss of 4 points), Bush with 47% (a loss of 3 points), and Buchanan gets 8% with 7% undecided.
     The next set of match ups were among a split sample of registered voters.
     Gore vs. McCain: Gore edges McCain among voters, 47% to 42% with 11% undecided. However with Buchanan in the mix, Gore drops to 44%, a net loss of 3 points, McCain receives 36% of the vote, a net loss of 6 points and Buchanan receives 11% with 9% undecided.
     Bradley vs. McCain: 53% of registered voters say they will vote for Bradley, while 32% would vote for McCain and 15% are undecided. With Buchanan as the Reform party candidate in the mix, 46% of the voters will support Bradley, a loss of 7 points, 31% for McCain, a loss of 1 point and 10% for Buchanan and 13% undecided.
     Gore vs. Forbes: Fifty-two percent of the voters will support Gore against 35% of the voters who will vote for Steve Forbes and 13% are undecided about their vote. But if Buchanan is the third party choice, Gore receives 47% of the vote, a loss of 5 points, Forbes receives 28% of the vote, a loss of 7 points and 15% for Buchanan with 10% undecided.

     Reform Party
     Nearly half of the voters nationally are not aware or don't know enough about the Reform Party to venture an opinion. But 22% have a favorable impression and 29% have an unfavorable opinion. A third of the national voters say they are very or somewhat likely to vote in the Reform Party's primary next year, while 62% are unlikely to cast a vote. Of those likely to vote in the third party's primary next year, 30% would vote for Buchanan, 25% would vote for businessman and former Reform Party presidential candidate Ross Perot, 15% for New York developer Donald Trump, and 20% would vote for Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura. Ten percent are undecided.

     How the Poll Was Conducted
     The Times Poll contacted 1,800 adults nationally, including 1,430 registered voters. Among the registered voters 604 said they planned to vote in the Republican primary or caucus and 650 planned to vote in the Democratic primary or caucus. The poll also sampled 882 adults in the state of New Hampshire, including 641 registered voters. Among the registered voters were 320 voting in the Republican primary and 249 voting in the Democratic primary. The poll was conducted by telephone November 13 to 18. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all possible exchanges. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and non-listed numbers could be contacted. Both samples were weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and region, as well as New Hampshire registration. The margin of sampling error for the national sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points and for New Hampshire it is 4 points. In the national sample, Democratic and Republican subsamples have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points each. For New Hampshire, the error for those subgroups is 6 points each. For certain other subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.