Gore holds 6-point lead over Bush, poll finds

Other surveys differ, but all indicate support for Texan has weakened

March 24, 2000|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Now that the smoke from the nomination battles has cleared, Vice President Al Gore has opened up a small lead over Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the race for the White House, a new national opinion survey has found.

Gore leads Bush by 49 percent to 43 percent, according to the latest Pew Research Center poll, completed Sunday and released yesterday.

The 6-point edge is Gore's largest in matchups for the fall election. But other polls indicate that the race is a virtual dead heat, and in at least two recent national surveys, Bush was leading Gore.

A common thread running through all the polls, however, has been a drop in support for Bush since the primaries began.

The bitter primary struggle with Arizona Sen. John McCain has put a dent in Bush's image, with negative attitudes about his personality up sharply since the primaries began. When the Pew pollsters asked voters to give one-word descriptions of the Texas governor, nearly one in three came up with a negative word, such as "arrogant," "cocky" or "untrustworthy."

Bush's support has slipped among several key voter groups, including independents, Catholics and seniors.

Gore, meanwhile, has seen voters warm to his candidacy in recent months. The vice president now enjoys the support of a majority of women. As recently as December, Bush held a 9-point lead among female voters in the Pew poll.

Gore's standing also has improved among men over age 50 and Easterners, as well as among independent voters who backed McCain or former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley in the primaries.

Since wrapping up their party's nominations this month, Bush and Gore have launched a series of sharp attacks on each other. Bush has zeroed in on Gore's role in Democratic fund-raising abuses in the 1996 campaign, while Gore is accusing Bush of lacking the experience to be president.

Not surprisingly, each appears to be directing his attacks at what polls indicate are his rival's soft spots.

When voters were asked to respond to a series of possible campaign themes, the suggestion that Gore took part in unethical fund-raising practices during the last campaign produced the most negative reaction. A majority of those polled said that would make them less inclined to vote for Gore.

When it was suggested that Bush doesn't know enough about the issues to be president, almost half of those polled (47 percent) said that would make them less likely to vote for him.

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