Pollsters Seek Views On Conservative, Liberal Monikers

Posted February 3, 2004 at 3:15pm

Is George Bush too conservative? And what about the leading Democratic contenders? Are they too liberal? Five pollsters have recently explored public perceptions.

[IMGCAP(1)]• Sixteen percent told CBS News/New York Times interviewers in their Dec. 10-13 poll that Bush was a liberal, 26 percent a moderate and 46 percent a conservative.

When asked about the “issues you care most about,” 13 percent said Bush was more conservative than he said he would be, 30 percent less so and 49 percent about as conservative as he promised.

• A Dec. 18-21 ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 15 percent thought Bush’s views on most issues were too liberal, 29 percent too conservative and 52 percent about right.

• In its Jan. 6-11 poll, the Pew Research Center asked people to describe themselves, Bush, this year’s Democratic candidates and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) on a 6-point scale, with 1 being the most conservative and 6 the most liberal.

Overall, 57 percent put themselves at points 1, 2 and 3 (conservative), and 43 percent at points 4, 5 and 6 (liberal).

When asked about Bush, 72 percent put him at points 1, 2 or 3 (including 28 percent who put him at the most conservative point 1), and 28 percent as a liberal.

Clinton’s numbers were a mirror image: Twenty-eight percent described her as a conservative, and 72 percent as a liberal (35 percent at the most liberal point). In this poll, Bush was thought to be farther to the right than most of the Democratic candidates were thought to be to the left. Howard Dean was an exception.

• The Jan. 29-30 Princeton Survey Research Associates/Newsweek poll asked registered voters about phrases that might describe Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the leading Democratic candidate for president. Thirty-two percent in the new poll said the phrase “is too liberal” described Kerry, but 45 percent said it did not. Twenty-three percent said they didn’t know. When the pollster asked about Howard Dean in mid-December, an identical 32 percent said “is too liberal” described him, 32 percent said they did not, and 36 percent didn’t know.

• In the Jan. 29-Feb. 1 Gallup, CNN, USA Today poll, 39 percent said Bush’s political views were too conservative, 36 percent about right and 18 percent too liberal. Eight percent thought Kerry’s views were too conservative, 46 percent about right and 29 percent too liberal.

Kerry and Bush Qualities. First impressions of candidates matter. To give just one example, in the 2000 campaign, Bush (and Al Gore) established reputations early in the campaign as men of honesty and integrity. That belief has probably limited damage to the administration on the WMD issue.

The new PSRA/Newsweek poll on candidate attributes shows some significant early Kerry strengths. Sixty-two percent of registered voters, for example, said that the phrase “has strong leadership qualities” described Kerry. In their mid-January poll, 65 percent said it described Bush. Roughly identical proportions (52 percent for Kerry, 56 percent for Bush) said they would “trust him to make the right decisions during an international crisis.”

Kerry scored in the stratosphere on being “intelligent and well informed” (75 percent) compared to Bush’s 59 percent. Bush did almost as well as Kerry on the compassion dimension. Forty-eight percent said the phrase “cares about people like you” applied, compared to 52 percent for Kerry. Bush bested Kerry on “says what he believes, not just what people want to hear,” 63 percent to 48 percent. A quarter didn’t have an opinion about Kerry on this attribute.

Forty-six percent in this poll said the phrase “war hero” described Kerry, 19 percent said it did not and 35 percent said they didn’t know whether it did.

Media Bias and Campaign Coverage. In 1987, 67 percent of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press thought that coverage of the presidential campaign was free of bias.

In 1996, 53 percent gave that response and in 2000, 48 percent did. In the late December 2003-early January 2004 survey by the Pew Research Center and the Pew Internet and American Life Project, just 38 percent did.

Of those who thought election coverage was biased, 22 percent felt it had a Democratic bias and 17 percent a Republican bias.

Not surprisingly, 47 percent of conservative Republicans thought election coverage had a Democratic bias (8 percent of them said it had a Republican bias and 28 percent no bias).

Thirty-six percent of liberal Democrats felt it had a Republican bias (11 percent a Democratic one and 37 percent no bias).

Karlyn Bowman is a resident fellow specializing in public opinion and polls at the American Enterprise Institute.