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Release: December 20, 1999

Heartland Poll Press Release

Gore Drops Dramatically, McCain Closing on Second Among Republicans

The University of Iowa Social Science Institute

Arthur H. Miller

Regan Checchio

Tor Wynn

The Democratic Race Tightens

Former Senator Bill Bradley has turned the Iowa Democratic caucuses into a race. Support for Vice President Al Gore among Iowa Democrats has dropped below 50% for the first time since the campaign in Iowa started. Capitalizing on growing recognition levels achieved partly from recently televised debates and stepped up advertising, Bill Bradley’s support rose from 19% among likely caucus voters in November to 27% in December. At the same time, support for Gore declined from 61% to 48% (see Table 1). In early November 20% of Iowa Democrats still had not heard of Bill Bradley.

In addition to increasing recognition levels, Bradley has improved his overall popularity rating among Iowa Democrats from 58 (on a 100 point scale) to 60, although he remains behind the Vice President who currently stand at 65, slightly more positively rated than one month earlier (63).

Bradley’s support has risen among both men and women, although slightly faster among women (see Table 1). More telling than the Bradley improvement among women has been the dramatic downward slide in support among women that Gore is encountering. Support for Gore plummeted from 64% in November to 43% in December (see Table 1). This downward spiral has come despite a recent trip into the state by Tipper Gore which was aimed at shoring up the lagging support among women.

That the Democratic race is opening up is most evident from two other telling factors. First, the percentage of "undecided" Democrats is now increasing, having risen from 18% in November to 24% in December. This comes after an earlier period in September when the percentage of "undecided" Democrats was decreasing. The increase in "undecided" indicates that Democrats are rethinking their earlier commitments. Second, we are now beginning to see a difference in the likelihood of caucus participation among some of the supporters for the different candidates. In our earlier surveys, there was no significant difference in the motivation to participate between Gore and Bradley supporters. However, the resolve of the Gore supporters is now weakening, while current Bradley supporters remain just as committed to participating as they were in November (see Table 2). With the caucuses only one month off, Bradley appears to be surging at the right time. Among respondents who say they are "most likely" to participate in the caucus, 44% support Gore, 4% less than his overall support level among Democrats. On the other hand, 32% of "most likely" voters say they will support Bradley, 5% more than his overall support level. The challenge for the Bradley team is to further narrow the gap while the Vice President tries desperately to close the floodgates before the reservoir goes dry.

The Republicans: A Race for Second Place

Because Texas Governor George W. Bush has maintained a substantial lead over opponents since he entered the race in Iowa, the January caucus has become a race for second place. Publisher Steve Forbes has held on to this position since the straw poll, but his support has begun to erode (see Table 3). In the past month, Forbes’ numbers have dropped 7 percentage points. Arizona Senator John McCain seems poised to take over this runner-up spot despite virtually ignoring Iowa while campaigning and his oft-repeated objections to ethanol. In fact, among Iowa Republicans, McCain is the only candidate other than Bush showing an increase in support.

One of the most interesting aspects of this campaign for the Republican nomination has been the gender gap between the candidates (see Table 3). Bush’s already strong lead over his challengers has actually increased because of his popularity with female Republicans—support he is drawing from both Forbes and the failed Dole campaign. While Forbes’ is losing support from both men and women, they are moving in different directions. Female Republicans are moving away from Forbes towards Bush and McCain. On the other hand, male Republicans are shifting slightly towards Bush and Bauer. McCain needs to capitalize on this increase in female support from former Forbes and Bauer supporters.

One of the only concerns the Bush camp may have is on mobilizing their voters (see Table 4). Among Iowa Republicans, only 76% of Bush supporters say they are likely to participate to the caucuses—a 4% drop from November. These numbers lag behind his nearest challengers, Forbes and McCain. Their supporters remain committed to participating in the caucuses, unlike Bush whose support has softened in the past month. The Bush campaign has to ensure that his supporters do not sit at home that night simply because they think his lead is overwhelming, and their vote is unneeded.

With only one more month of campaigning before the Iowa caucus, the race for second place is heating up. Forbes needs to stop the same downward slide that he experienced in Iowa four years ago or McCain may usurp many of these supporters. If McCain can place second in Iowa, a state where he has not campaigned and that doesn’t like his opposition to ethanol, his strength as a candidate against Bush in future primaries is all but assured.

Methodology

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 660 Iowa adults, half reported being likely to attend the republican caucus, the other half the democratic caucus. The earlier wave of interviews was conducted by phone between October 18 and November 1, 1999. The second wave of interviews was conducted between November 30 and December 16, 1999. The interview took 12 minutes on average with an overall response rate of 64% 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 arthur-miller@uiowa.edu.

Table 1: Support Among Democrats For Gore and Bradley In Iowa (%)

 
October/November
November/December
 
Total
Male
Female
Total
Male
Female
Gore
61
57
64
48
55
43
Bradley
19
19
18
27
24
29
Other
2
5
1
1
4
0
Undecided
18
19
17
24
17
28


Source: Iowa Social Science Institute Heartland Poll (1999)

Table 2: Primary Participation among Democrats by Candidate (%)

 
October/November
November/December
Gore    
 Most Likely to Participate
79
68
  Least Likely to Participate
21
32
Bradley
 Most Likely to Participate
82
81
 Least Likely to Participate
18
19


Source: Iowa Social Science Institute Heartland Poll (1999)

Table 3: Support Among Republicans for Republican Candidates In Iowa (%)

 
October/November
November/December
 
Total
Male
Female
Total
Male
Female
Bush
52
57
48
60
59
60
Forbes
13
17
10
10
11
9
Dole
5
2
8
N/A
N/A
N/A
McCain
6
9
3
7
8
6
Bauer
6
1
9
5
5
5
Other
3
5
3
3
4
3
Undecided
15
9
19
15
13
17


Source: Iowa Social Science Institute Heartland Poll (1999)

Table 4: Primary Participation among Republicans by Candidate (%)


 
October/November
November/December
Bush    
 Likely to Participate
80
76
  Not Likely to Participate
20
24
Forbes
 Likely to Participate
73
92
 Not Likely to Participate
27
7
McCain    
 Likely to Participate
88
90
 Not Likely to Participate
12
10
Bauer
 Likely to Participate
88
86
 Not Likely to Participate
12
14
Other
 Likely to Participate
71
67
 Not Likely to Participate
29
33


Source: Iowa Social Science Institute Heartland Poll (1999)