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  •   Perceptions, Candidates' Positions at Odds

    By Thomas B. Edsall
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, May 23, 1999; Page A5

    Democrat Bill Bradley and Republican Elizabeth Dole have been campaigning to the left of their opponents, but the voters do not see them that way, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center.

    Former senator Bradley has been stressing on the campaign trail liberal stands on racial policy, health care and government support for children, but voters consider him more conservative than Vice President Gore and well to the right of such figures as civil rights leader Jesse L. Jackson.

    "Bill Bradley is the man in the middle when it comes to voter perceptions. Americans describe the former New Jersey senator as a political moderate far more than they do any other candidate," said Andrew Kohut, the center's director.

    This gives Bradley an advantage if he becomes the Democratic nominee -- "on average, voters who know Bradley rate his ideology as virtually identical to their own" -- but it could prove to be a liability in the fight for the Democratic primary vote. "In general, Democrats see themselves as more liberal [than Bradley] and ideologically closer to Gore than to Bradley," Kohut said.

    Using a 6-point scale, with 1 very conservative and 6 very liberal, voters were asked to rate five candidates -- Dole, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Bradley, Gore and Patrick J. Buchanan -- and themselves.

    Voters on average placed themselves at the center, 3.5, and Bradley was rated identically, at 3.5. Gore was seen as more liberal, at 4.0, and Jackson, who is not a candidate, was at 4.3.

    Among the Republicans, Bush was seen as slightly more liberal than Dole, with a 3.1 to her 3.0. Buchanan, who is conservative on social issues but a pro-labor populist on some trade and jobs issues, was rated most conservative at 2.6.

    The poll suggests that Dole's strategy of supporting a number of gun control policies despite strong opposition within GOP ranks may be a good general election strategy. In the past six years, the percentage of voters giving a higher priority to controlling gun ownership than to protecting the rights of gun owners has risen by 8 percentage points to 65 percent. In addition, a majority of voters who identify themselves as Republicans support controlling gun ownership over protecting gun rights by 53 percent to 43 percent. Independents (63 percent to 33 percent) and Democrats (76 to 19) are even stronger in their support of gun controls.

    Women, a key target of the Dole campaign, overwhelmingly prefer restricting gun ownership to protecting gun rights by 75 percent to 19 percent, while men favor restrictions by a much smaller percentage, 53 to 42.

    The Pew survey suggests that a number of the presidential candidates need to substantially improve their standing among voters if they are to make the claim that they would be strong general election candidates.

    Gore, for example, is known by almost 100 percent of the electorate. However, 49 percent of those who say they have heard of Gore say they would not vote for him, while 47 percent said there is a good chance or some chance they would cast a Gore ballot.

    A majority of voters said there is "no chance" they would vote for Republicans Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes (51 percent), Dan Quayle (58 percent), Lamar Alexander (59 percent) and Buchanan (60 percent).

    Bush, Dole and Bradley had favorable numbers, with 68 percent saying there is a chance they would vote for Bush and 28 percent saying there is no chance; 63 percent willing to vote for Dole and 33 percent unwilling; and 51 percent saying there is some chance or a good chance they will vote for Bradley and 40 percent saying there in no chance.

    Less than 40 percent of the electorate had heard of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Rep. John R. Kasich (R-Ohio) or conservative activist Gary Bauer.

    The survey provided a demographic picture of the kind of support Bush, Dole and Gore are receiving.

    Gore, for example, has much stronger potential support -- voters who say there is some or a good chance they will vote for a candidate -- among women, voters in large cities and minorities. He is weaker among white Protestant voters, especially evangelicals, and white men.

    Bush is much stronger among whites, especially white men, than minorities, and he does well with upper-income and well-educated voters, southerners, midwesterners and white Protestants. He faces opposition from poor and less-educated voters, easterners and city voters.

    Dole, in turn, has more potential support from women than men and has less opposition among minorities, poor voters and less-educated voters than Bush. Her level of potential support among white Protestants is similar to Bush's. Among Republican voters, who are crucial in the primaries, Bush has a higher level of support and less opposition than Dole.

    Survey results were based on telephone interviews conducted May 12-16 with a national sample of 1,179 adults. The margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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