Polls Can Drive Campaign Tactics, Voter Perceptions

Article excerpt

Bob Dole planned to start airing television ads in Missouri this weekend for the same reason he canceled them last month - political polls. Recent surveys showed that Dole had cut into President Bill Clinton's double-digit lead in Missouri.

Polls guide voters' perceptions as well as campaign tactics. Roughly 90 percent of Americans - according to polls - believe Dole will lose to Clinton. Why? Because polls have left the strong impression that Dole has little chance to win.

Never have so many public polls measured the political election sentiments for so long. And never in the history of polling have voters been so sure of the outcome of an election, said Tom W. Smith of the National Opinion Research Center in Chicago. "In large part, it's because they have been hearing and reading about Clinton's big lead," he said. "This is the best evidence of the impact of polling I've seen." Some political scientists and candidates contend that polls may be generating apathy. The damage of polls is debatable. But it's clear in the waning days of the campaign that candidates will be captive to the polls through Election Day. At every stop, Clinton exhorts supporters to avoid complacency that may result from polls showing him ahead. "The turnout question is not an academic question," Clinton observed at a campaign stop on Friday. Dole worries about polls for a different reason: If Republicans see little hope, they may not show up to vote next week, observed Dole spokesman Gary Koops. "Every day you wake up to a myriad of national polls, four of five of them," he said. "Polls are an easy way to do the story, but they obscure the issues, and it's not very hard journalism." Daily Reminders A sampling of tracking polls on Friday showed why Dole's loyalists worry. Tracking polls add new interviews to their sample nightly and throw out the oldest research to keep abreast of shifts of opinion. CNN/USA Today's poll showed Clinton leading Dole by 17 percentage points, 51-34. Ross Perot polled 7 percent. A total of 733 likely voters were interviewed over two nights. ABC's tracking poll showed Clinton ahead by 15 percentage points, with Perot at 7 percent. A total of 713 people were interviewed over two nights. The Hotline Battleground Poll conducted by Republican and Democratic pollsters had Clinton ahead by 10 percentage points. Again, Perot was at 7 percent. A total of 1,000 registered voters were interviewed over four nights. A Reuters poll showed Clinton leading Dole by 9 percentage points and Perot at 5 percent. A total of 900 likely voters were interviewed over three nights. If a clearer picture were needed on Friday, people could have consulted a new Pew Research Center survey showing Clinton leading Dole by 17 percentage points, with Perot at 8 percent. With today's computer capabilities, it's possible to look at the polls in every state at once. A compilation of the latest polls published on Thursday by Hotline, a daily political digest, showed Clinton leading outside the margin of polling error in 26 states totaling 319 electoral votes. To win, he needs 270. By contrast, Dole led outside polling error margins in eight states with a combined 49 electoral votes. Perot led in no states and had scored in double digits in only Connecticut and Idaho. Heavy polling is a relatively new development in American politics. Nightly tracking polls didn't begin until the 1980s and since then have become a status symbol for news organizations, says Ed Sarpolus, a poll-taker from Michigan. …


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