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Election 2000

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Gallup's Frank Newport on how American's feel about events in Florida

November 16, 2000
10:00 a.m. EST

(CNN) -- As each campaign took the fighting for votes to the courts of the Florida legal system, they have also been waging a very vigorous battle in the court of public opinion. Each move and countermove by the Bush and Gore teams has also spawned a flurry of press conferences and photo opportunities. How does all this play with the voters?

Frank Newport is the Editor-in-Chief of the Gallup Poll and Vice President of the Gallup Organization in Princeton, New Jersey. He is in charge of the Gallup Poll assessment of American public opinion, which has been continuously measuring public moods and attitudes in this country since the 1930's. The Gallup Poll is the America's oldest continuous public opinion monitor, and is now conducted in a partnership arrangement with CNN and USA Today, and is syndicated by the Los Angeles Times.

Chat Moderator: Welcome back to Allpolitics Chat, Frank Newport.

Frank Newport: It's good to be here at this very exciting time in American history.

Chat Moderator: Frank, what are the polls saying this week about the unfinalized presidential election?

Frank Newport: Well, it's, in my opinion, complicated. There have been four or five national polls conducted -- primarily through this past weekend -- and we have been reviewing them to try to distill what they suggest about Americans' reactions. I should say this is a real challenge for pollsters, because the questions we ask are outdated sometimes by the time we get the answers back.

"...a Wall Street Journal poll found that about 70 percent said they would feel comfortable with and would be prepared to support either Gore or Bush. These questions are important, I think, because they suggest our democracy will go on and that the public, at least at this point, will be able to handle whatever happens."
— Frank Newport

But I would say there are two facts that seem to come out from a review of all polling. One: The public does not, at this point, consider this a crisis. In our poll, for example, about half said it was a major problem for the country, but only 15 percent said it was a crisis, and a New York times poll found that only one-third said it was a "big problem" for the country. The second point is that all of the polling suggests that Americans will consider either Bush or Gore to be a legitimate president, if he ultimately wins.

In our poll, about 80 percent said that Bush or Gore would be a legitimate president. In addition, a Wall Street Journal poll found that about 70 percent said they would feel comfortable with and would be prepared to support either Gore or Bush. These questions are important, I think, because they suggest our democracy will go on and that the public, at least at this point, will be able to handle whatever happens. There are a variety of other questions asked about specifics in Florida, and those are a little more difficult to interpret. We'll probably refer to those again in a few minutes.

Question from JrTy D: Frank Newport, none of the polls were particularly accurate, including yours. How are you going to alter your methodology?

Frank Newport: I disagree with the premise. Most of the major pre-election polls conducted right before the election, including ours, said the popular vote race was too close to call. Most of the polls had Bush and Gore within just a few points of each other, which statistically speaking means that it legitimately is too close to call. Furthermore, most of the state polls correctly predicted which states would be close-- that is toss ups-- and which ones wouldn't. So in general, I think the pre-election polls gave a very accurate picture right before the election of what was going to happen on Election Day.

Question from Alkibiades: How patient are the American people? How long will they wait?


Frank Newport: Again, my analysis is that the public is open to several alternatives for this situation, and that the public's ultimate response is going to depend on how it plays out. In other words, there's a tendency to want it to be over -- let's say this weekend -- but the public could be open to a prolongation if it is explained to them in a way that makes sense. I don't mean to be "fuzzy" here, to borrow a phrase, but I think that public opinion right now is fairly fluid.

Question from NewDeal: Don't you think we are micromanaging the election with poll reports so frequently being given?

Frank Newport: I'm not sure about the word "micromanaging", but for 50 years people have raised concerns about the impact of pre-election polls on the election. Certainly these are important concerns. Some countries have banned pre-election polls in the weeks before an election. I should say have banned the publication of pre-election polls.

We at Gallup, however, feel that polling is a legitimate bit of information in the election season, that Americans are interested in polling results and that there are reasons why it is important to have them in the public domain. One reason often given for having neutral polls like ours is that without them reporters would try to characterize where the race stood anyhow. It's better to have well-done objective polling, than speculation or leaks. But we recognize that these are important concerns, and each election we re-evaluate what the most appropriate role is we can play as pollsters.

Chat Moderator: What do the polls tell us about the way people feel about the Electoral College?

Frank Newport: No question about it. For over 50 years, Americans have said get rid of it. Most polls this past weekend re-asked about it and, again, every single one found majority support for a switch to a popular vote system. It's worth noting, of course, we would still be counting votes this year if it were a popular vote system, given the closeness of the race. But the public is quite open to the idea of abolishing the Electoral College system.

Question from GetaClue: Have any polls been conducted asking about familiarity with the antique punch-card ballots? How much of the country is familiar with them and with their foibles?

Frank Newport: I don't know of polls, which have asked that question specifically. Our poll did show, however, that there was strong support for a standardized presidential election system in the future, run by the federal government in order to avoid some of these ballot-voting problems.

Chat Moderator: Do you have anything else interesting to share with us this morning?

Frank Newport: One last thing about the election: Most polling done through the weekend showed that Bush and Gore were fairing about equally in the eyes of the public. And several polls, including ours, showed they both had majority approval for what they were doing. This may have changed in the last several days, but I wanted to reiterate the basic point I made at the beginning, which is that the American public, so far, is holding up quite well. And I think we will get through this just fine, based on what we are seeing from the public.

Chat Moderator: As always, thank you for joining us today, Frank Newport.

Frank Newport: It was good to be with you. We will have more data over the weekend and will keep monitoring what is happening.

Frank Newport joined the chat via telephone from Princeton, NJ. CNN provided a typist for him. The above is an edited transcript of the chat, which took place on Thursday, November 16, 2000.

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