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As any political
junkie knows, theres
room for argument after every electionthough not usually about who won.
Not, that is, until last year.
The 2000 presidential
campaign and its unique aftermath were the focus of two recent campus
forumsan invitation-only election debriefing hosted by the Annenberg
Public Policy Center (APPC) and a panel discussion on The New York
Times coverage of the Florida recount battle, both moderated by Dr.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication
and director of the APPC.
The purpose of
the APPC conferencewhich featured campaign analyses by Bush and Gore
advisers, pollsters, advertising consultants, and members of the mediawas
to develop an accurate picture of the election before public perceptions
get locked in, noted Jamieson in her introduction. (An edited videotape
of the proceedings will be available for schools to use in classes.)
campaign director of polling and media planning for the Bush camp, emphasized
that from the start, that campaign had taken a general-election strategy,
comparing it to the National Hockey League playoffs, which many regard
as the real season. Though temporarily derailed by John McCains Straight
Talk Express in the early primaries, the plan was successfully carried
through to November.
Gore, Dowd suggested,
sometimes reinforced negatives about his own character, including a
tendency to exaggerate and a willingness to say anything to get elected.
(Dowd pointed to Gores about-face during the El̀an Gonzalez controversy
and to his proposal to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve when oil
prices rose in the summer of 2000.) He also cited Gores propensity to
lecture, which was particularly evident in the first debate. Ironically,
the debates turned out to be a major turning point in Bushs favor, he
saida notion that campaign staffers would have laughed at early in
Asked about Gores
popular-vote victory, Dowd credited Democratic turnout efforts with core
groupsblacks, union households, Hispanicsthat exceeded expectations,
while the overall number of conservative voters was down. Also, late-deciders,
who traditionally favor the challenger, broke for Gore instead.
who worked on market strategies and research for the Bush campaign, talked
about some hot-button issues to which the two campaigns responded differently,
including social security and gun control. Even some opponents gave Bush
credit for touching the third rail of American politics by including
privatization in his social-security reform proposals but according to
Steeper, campaign polling showed that as much as 80 percent of Americans
favored investing some portion, and even 40 percent of the over-64 age
group favored it when the proposal was couched in the campaigns reassuring
phrasing, such as bipartisan
no cuts. Similarly,
with gun control, responses varied depending on how questions were framed.
When it was time
for Gore campaign officials Carter Eskew and Bob Shrum to speak, Shrum
joked that they had hoped to be here under different circumstances.
But the humor was only on the surface. In their view, Shrum said simply,
Rather than squandering
what should have been a runaway victory, Shrum added, Gore in fact overcame
substantial disadvantagesincluding the Clinton scandals and the shadow
of the vice presidencyto amass the greatest number of votes for any
Democratic candidate in history and create the model for a new center-left
Gore matched Clinton in attracting suburban voters, and surpassed him
among African-American and labor votersdespite a third-party challenge
from the left in the person of Ralph Nader.
Contrary to conventional
wisdom, Shrum said, the campaigns analysis showed that it was not possible
for Gore to simply run on the Clinton record. Instead, they expanded the
message of building on the administrations economic success to extending
prosperity to allwhich had the added advantage of being the message
that Al Gore wanted to deliver. The campaigns plan was to give a fuller
dimension to Gore and have him emerge from the shadow of the vice-presidency,
while raising doubts about Bushs record in Texas.
convention provided a bounce that was real and profound, Eskew said,
and polls showed that it bolstered Gores image in terms of leadership
and character, providing a strength that was buffeted in the campaign
but never left us. As the election approached, the campaign resisted
tremendous pressure to spend money in California, making a bold decision
to concentrate on Florida. The campaign closed strongly in the last two
weeks, campaigning only in tight states and visiting those at least twice.
In the end, the undecideds broke for Gore, and to the surprise of almost
everyone, he won the popular vote.
So, what went
wrong? For Eskew and Shrum, the main problem was that the campaign ended
in a recount state where the presidents brother was the governor, and
the election was ultimately decided by a Supreme Court with ties to the
Republican nominee. Those details aside, they noted that the Gore campaign
came out of the primaries flat and unfocused, while Bush managed to
repair damage from his primary challenger and rebuild his lead. Gore didnt
recover momentum until after the convention, allowing Bush to recreate
the sense of invincibility with opinion-makers. (Shrum recalled a national
correspondent telling him, Bob, its really sad; youre just crazy,
when he insisted that Gore would win.)
Also, with Gore
having the clear message advantage, Shrum said, Bush did something
smart, blurring the differences on issues like education, health care,
and social security rather than simply ceding them to the Democrats.
over a very low hurdle in the debates, Shrum added. We lost the expectations
gameIm not sure we could have won it. The Bush campaign succeeded in
framing discussion of the first debate in terms of Gores misstatements,
and while the second debate was a bore, it allowed Bush to jump a low
bar on foreign policy. Gore did win the third debate, helping to raise
doubts about Bush and leading voters to worry, Is Bush up to the job?
that the Clinton factor became an obsession for voters and the press
that we never figured out. He and Eskew both insisted that the problem
was not so much between Gore and Clinton or within the campaign as a question
of when to use Clinton externally. Had it not been for the climate
of scandal, Shrum argued, Gore would have won decisively.
Stan Greenberg, the Gore campaigns pollster, The lesson is not that
the Democrats lost the election. In fact, he noted, when the Nader vote
is added to Gores popular-vote victory, the center-left coalition carried
52 percent of the vote. And when the core message of the Gore campaign
is stacked up against the Bush campaignsmeaning the candidates positions
divorced from values/leadership issuesthe Democrats led by a hefty 54
percent to 37 percent. That, said Greenberg, is important for where we
go from here.
The two camps
were united on one issue: the television networks election-night coverage.
Republicans charged that the early call of Florida for Gore had suppressed
voting in the Florida panhandle, where polls were still open, while the
Democrats claimed that the reversal of that call two hours later and the
2:00 a.m. call of the state for Bush created a public perception that
if anyone should drop out of the race, it should be Gore.
Most of the audience
agreed. Why are you not reporting the results rather than making calls?
This policy is wrong, and it has to be changed, Curtis Gans of the Committee
for the Study of the American Electorate demanded of the lone network
representative, Kathy Frankovic, director of surveys for CBS News.
is also a board member of the Voter News Service (VNS), the polling organization
whose faulty information was used by all the networks to predict the election
results, gamely defended her industry. While admitting that mistakes were
certainly made (and detailing several of them), she countered that the
election had exposed numerous flaws in the U.S. electoral system, not
just televisions coverage of it. Frankovic fixed the blame on the electoral
system of different poll-closing times, noting that CBS has supported
uniform poll-closing times since 1964. But others at the conference dismissed
the idea as unrealistic in a nation with multiple time zones.
A few weeks later,
B. Drummond Ayres, Jr., a national correspondent for The New York Times,
called the election a disaster waiting to happen, in which polling and
balloting irregularities that go unnoticed in more lopsided elections
were exposed. He also decried the increased hyping of election nights,
noting that while polling is not going to stop, the question of when to
release results has to be addressed: Pollsters and journalists must do
something to fix this, or Congress will.
Ayres and Times
reporter Somini Sengupta were on campus to participate in a Provosts
Spotlight Series in connection with 36 Days: The 2000 Presidential
Election Crisis, a new book from the Times. (Dean Jamieson,
who served as moderator, noted wryly that crisis was a word the
Times studiously avoided during the actual events.)
Ayres and Senguptawho
reported from Volusia County and Tallahassee and wrote a profile of Katherine
Harris for the paperdefended the Times coverage, at times contrasting
it with that of other newspapers as well as the TV networks. Ayres voiced
outrage at the personal attacks on Florida Secretary of State Katherine
Harris, calling them absolutely unacceptable, terrible stuff.
that reporters do their best to keep biases out of their stories, adding
that some seemingly biased perceptions arise from the candidates own
strategiessuch as the Bush campaign protesters in Florida, with their
ubiquitous Sore Loserman posters.
The Bush strategy
was to create a sense of chaos, she said, while the Gore strategy was
not to have a street presenceuntil late in the game. Keep chaos at a
minimum and promote a sense of orderliness, methodicalness. This backfired
to some extent, in that Bushs supporters seemed both more numerous and
more passionate about their candidates victory than Gores did.
While Ayres called
the election a bad thing, a bad trauma that is still being felt, one
member of the audience accused the Times of ignoring voices of
opposition in the days after President Bushs inauguration.
We must cover
the feel-good meetings with Bush and Democrats, replied Sengupta. Those
who did not sit downthat could also be news, but theres a limit to the
stories [we can do] on people who dont buy that this man is president.
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Gazette Last modified 5/2/01