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Support Is Mixed For Hand Tallies

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By Richard Morin and Claudia Deane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 18, 2000; Page A10

A narrow majority of Americans want the hand recount of ballots underway in South Florida to be included in the final statewide totals, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey also suggests that there may be a limit to the public's patience with the court battles that are raging over the hand tallies.

Fifty-seven percent of those interviewed said it is more important that the president be determined within a week, while 40 percent said it is more important to wait and allow the campaigns to "make their full case in court."

A total of 610 randomly selected adults were interviewed Thursday night for this survey. The margin of sampling error for the overall results was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The Gore campaign has asked the Florida courts to require state officials to accept amended vote tallies based on the hand recounts, believing they could boost Gore's total by enough votes to give him Florida and the presidency. By 56 percent to 43 percent, those surveyed said the results of those recounts should be included in the final vote total that will determine the winner in the state.

Democrats and Republicans divided sharply and predictably on the recount issue: 80 percent of Democrats said the contested ballots should be accepted, while 76 percent of Republicans said they should not. A modest majority of independents-56 percent-said the hand-counted ballots should be part of the final tally.

But a narrow majority-54 percent-of those surveyed said Gore should concede the election if Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris succeeds in her effort to exclude the hand recounts from the final statewide tally and declares Bush the winner. Forty-three percent said the vice president should not give up and instead should continue to press Harris in court to include the contested ballots in the final count.

About six in 10 political independents, and even three in 10 Democrats, joined an overwhelming majority of Republicans in saying that Gore should concede if Harris declares Bush the winner rather than fighting the decision in court. But those views could change if, for example, the hand recounts now underway propel Gore ahead of Bush in the overall Florida vote.

The poll also suggests that Americans may accept either Gore or Bush, however the winner is eventually selected. Seven in 10-71 percent-said it would be acceptable to them if the courts eventually do step in and force Harris to accept the hand recounts, which could deliver Florida and the White House to Gore.

But nearly as many-61 percent-said they would accept it if the Florida tally became official without including the hand recount results, which likely would give the election to Bush.

Half of those interviewed-50 percent-said they were confident that the Florida results will be counted accurately-down from 59 percent in a Post-ABC News survey on Sunday. Nearly as many-46 percent-remained suspicious of the count, up from 38 percent at the beginning of the week.

Confidence in the Florida count has become more partisan since last measured during the weekend. In Sunday's poll, about six in 10 in each party expressed confidence. In Thursday night's survey, however, about six in 10 Republicans said they were "not too confident" or "not confident at all" that the recounts would be accurate. A narrow majority of Democrats-53 percent-still believed in the state's ability to count the votes accurately-but 43 percent did not.

One reason for these doubts may be the questions about the reliability of hand counts. More than half of those interviewed-54 percent-said a machine count is more accurate than a hand count, while 41 percent preferred a manual tally.

Again, partisanship colored these views. Eight in 10 Republicans said a machine recount is more accurate-a message that has been repeatedly put forth by the Bush team in the past week. Six in 10 Democrats claimed a hand recount is more accurate. Independents were divided, with a narrow majority-53 percent-preferring a machine recount, compared with 44 percent who favored a count by hand.

The survey also found that Americans remain divided in their overall perceptions, with slightly fewer than half approving the way the two campaigns' conduct.

The election hasn't rid this campaign of the gender gap: 53 percent of men approved of the way Bush is handling the situation, while 53 percent of women disapproved. Likewise, 52 percent of women approved of the Gore's behavior, while 61 percent of men disapproved. Independents were decidedly cool to both campaigns: 54 percent disapproved of the Bush campaign's actions, while 60 percent disapproved of the way the Gore camp has conducted itself.

© 2000 The Washington Post Company


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