Introduction and Summary

An overwhelming majority of Americans (73%) think the presidential campaign is dull so far. Almost as many (71%) believe that President Clinton will defeat expected Republican challenger Bob Dole next November. The former Senate majority leader is widely criticized for the job he is doing as he attempts to convince people to vote for him. On average the public grades his campaign D+. The President is given only a slightly better grade of C.

The lackluster contest may take its toll on turnout in November. This is in contrast to the results of surveys taken last fall and earlier this year which suggested possibly higher levels of participation based on increased voter interest at those times. Not so in the current poll. Compared to four years ago, fewer voters have given a lot of thought to the election, fewer say they are interested and fewer say they are absolutely certain to vote.

Only 47% of voters say they have given the election a lot of thought, compared to 55% who said that in June of 1992. In addition, 55% in 1992 said they were more interested in the campaign than they were four years previously, versus 42% who said that this year. Perhaps as a consequence, the proportion of respondents who said they were absolutely certain to vote in the election fell from 75% in June 1992 to 69% currently.

Just about the only bad news in the poll for the Clinton camp is that voting turnout intentions are off more among Democrats than among Republicans. While enthusiasm for the election campaign is down “across the board,” it is sharply lower among Democrats and Independents who lean to the Democratic party.

Although there is a strong consensus that the election is uninteresting, there is no public agreement as to why. Of the 73% who say the campaign so far is dull, 25% blame the nature of the campaign, 20% the quality of the candidates and 16% fault media coverage. Dole supporters blame the media somewhat more often than others, and the news media is getting lower performance grades than earlier in the campaign when the public was more interested in campaign developments.

Reflecting their more habitual interest in politics, the largely Republican voters supporting Dole are as interested in the campaign as Bush voters were in 1992. But Clinton and Perot supporters are much less interested than they were four years ago.

Clinton’s Stable Lead

Although 71% of Americans think Bill Clinton will defeat Dole, he leads his challenger by a more modest 53% to 42% margin among registered voters. The current Clinton lead is quite comparable to results obtained in the five previous nationwide surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center since January. When respondents were offered a choice that includes possible Reform party candidate Ross Perot, Clinton again led Dole by 10% points — 44% chose Clinton, 34% Dole and 16% Perot.

But, party voting intentions for the House of Representatives have narrowed. In the current survey, 47% of registered voters said that if the election were being held today, they would be inclined to vote for a Democratic candidate and 46% would be disposed toward a Republican. In June and March, the Democrats led on this measure by 50% to 44% and 49% to 44%, respectively. This month’s survey finds 92% of Democrats and 90% of Republicans saying they would vote for their party’s candidate for the House. However, only 83% of Republicans say they would back Bob Dole against Bill Clinton, who gets 93% of the Democratic vote.