PRINCETON, N.J., August 8 (Gallup News Service)--Americans appear generally positive about the selection of Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman as Al Gore's running mate, according to a special CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll of 667 registered voters, conducted Monday evening, August 7, in the wake of news reports about Gore's decision. The poll shows that while about a quarter of all registered voters do not know enough about Lieberman to have an opinion about him, they nevertheless rate the Connecticut senator much more positively than negatively, feel he is qualified to be president if it ever became necessary, and give positive marks to Gore for the choice he made. In most respects, the positive reaction to Gore's selection of Lieberman to be the Democratic vice-presidential candidate is similar to the reaction voters had to George W. Bush's selection of Dick Cheney to be the Republican vice-presidential candidate. The poll also shows that the double-digit lead that Bush enjoyed in a Gallup poll last Friday and Saturday, conducted immediately after the GOP convention, has narrowed significantly, with the possibility that the presidential race is essentially back into the same pattern that it had been for the previous four months, from April through July. This narrowing of the race is likely to be the result of the shift in positive media coverage from the Republicans to the Democrats after the end of the GOP convention, rather than the result specifically of Lieberman's selection as the Democratic running mate. One-night polls designed to provide a quick reaction to news events such as the selection of Lieberman are brief snapshots; subsequent polling to be conducted later this week and in particular after the Democratic convention will give a more stable indication of the shape of the race going into the fall campaign. Positive ratings despite limited voter awareness of Lieberman.
Overall, more than half (53%) of all registered voters do not know enough about Lieberman to rate him, including 24% who have never heard of him at all. By contrast, when Bush announced his vice-presidential choice, Cheney--who had acquired visibility as secretary of defense during the Persian Gulf War--was unknown to only 38% of registered voters, including just 7% who had never heard of him. For both vice-presidential candidates, among voters who had heard of them, the ratings were much more positive than negative. Overall, 37% of registered voters say they have a favorable opinion of Lieberman and just 10% an unfavorable opinion. For Cheney, the ratio was even more positive, 51% to 11%. Similarly, voters say the Lieberman choice reflects favorably rather than unfavorably on Gore by a margin of 57% to 19%. But the ratio was even higher when voters were asked about the choice of Cheney: By 64% to 15%, voters said it reflected favorably on Bush. Still, voters rate the choices of the respective candidates in about the same terms, with 53% saying Lieberman is an excellent or pretty good choice, and 28% saying fair or poor. The comparable numbers for Cheney were 55% to 34%. Voters also say that Lieberman is qualified to be president if it becomes necessary, by a 52% to 13% margin, while voters rated Cheney as qualified to be president by a 57% to 18% margin. When voters are asked specifically whether the choice of Lieberman would be more likely or less likely to make them vote for Gore, 16% say more likely, 4% less likely, while 76% say no effect. The reaction to the Cheney selection was slightly less positive, as 14% said more likely, while 10% said less likely, and 72% said no effect. Negligible "Jewish" factor.
One dimension of Gore's choice which has received wide publicity is the fact that Lieberman will become the first major party nominee who is Jewish. The vast majority of voters (88%) say that it makes no difference to them that Lieberman is Jewish, while 7% say it makes them feel more favorably toward him, and another 4% say less favorably. But while voters say the Connecticut senator's religion will not affect them personally, they are slightly more likely to think that it may have a negative effect on the people in the area where they live. Fourteen percent say the fact that Lieberman is Jewish will make the people in their area feel less favorably toward him, while just 7% say more favorably. Despite this assessment, voters are more likely to think Lieberman's religion will help (26%) rather than hurt (13%) Gore's chances of winning the election.
The current poll reminded voters of the choice of Lieberman and then asked for whom they would vote, given a four-way choice among Gore/Lieberman; Bush/Cheney; Green Party candidate Ralph Nader and his vice-presidential nominee, Winona LaDuke; and probable Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan. The results show major shift from the results of a Gallup poll on Friday and Saturday, August 4-5, immediately after the GOP convention. In Monday night's poll, Bush receives 45% of registered voter support, Gore 43%, with Nader receiving 4% and Buchanan 1%. In the Friday-Saturday night poll, Bush led Gore by 54% to 35% among registered voters. For the four-month period leading up to the convention, however, Bush averaged 45% support, while Gore averaged 41%--very similar to the support each candidate receives in the current poll. It should be noted that the results reported here are based on registered, rather than likely, voters. Typically, although not always, likely voters tend to be more Republican than registered voters, giving Bush about a 4-5 point larger lead. Still, the current results suggest a return to the pre-GOP convention pattern, where Bush's lead over Gore vacillated and was usually only in single digits.
It seems unlikely that the choice of Lieberman by itself has caused this change in voter sentiment, given his low recognition among voters and that his ratings are clearly no better than what Cheney received. A more likely explanation is that the shift in focus by the news media, from positive coverage about Bush and his nomination to positive coverage about Gore and his possible choices for vice president, has stimulated a more Democratic reaction among the general public--a finding which would be in line with the historical pattern of polls conducted in and around the parties' conventions.