Debates don't assuage voters' doubts about presidential candidates

Posted: Thursday, October 19, 2000

With the presidential debates complete, Al Gore and George W. Bush plunge into the last 20 days of the presidential campaign today still struggling to convince critical swing voters that they embody both characteristics the public wants in its presidents: competence and likability. ...

Rather than deciding the race, the debates seemed to exacerbate nagging doubts about each man's vulnerabilities.

The Texas governor proved he could stand on the same stage as Gore. But he displayed troubling holes in his knowledge of U.S. commitments abroad and fumbled notably in responding to attacks on his record in Texas.

The vice president raised renewed questions about a revolving-door public image by coming off as imperious and condescending at the first debate, then timidly failing to take advantage of openings in the second. And he provided GOP spinmeisters with new grist to needle him about careless storytelling. ...

With time running out, this election is likely to come down to the gut feelings of voters who aren't entirely comfortable with their choice. If so, the question for the next 20 days is which candidate can appear more presidential, a trait that both men so far find elusive.

-- USA Today

Oct. 18

Polls show undecided voters

will determine who wins race

The polls are maddening. On the same day,

different polls offer up different results. And the same polling organization will go back and forth from day to day -- George W. Bush ahead on Tuesday, Al Gore ahead on Wednesday, Bush ahead on Thursday. It is enough to make you wonder.

It might be a good idea to take a look at what people are writing and saying about all of this, and what you find, first, is the conclusion that this is indeed a close race with a higher-than-ordinary segment of undecided voters.

Given the fact that almost all polls concede a margin of error of several percentage points, it is easy enough to see how two polls on the same day could have different results of which candidate is leading. And given all these people who cannot quite make up their minds but may be swayed somewhat by some speech or faux pas, it is easy to see how results can swing pendulumlike.

Is this absorption in polling another indication of our superficiality -- our thrill at the horse race? Maybe, in part. But people have always wanted to know the future for perfectly legitimate reasons, and many may think modern-day polls can deliver the goods.

The truth is, however, that polls are an imperfect instrument for prognostication, especially in close elections. They tell you only what people say they will do at a particular time, not what they will actually do after all sorts of unforeseen events.

-- The Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press

Oct. 17

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