George W. Bush’s recent initiatives on health and education are taking hold among the electorate and cutting into Al Gore’s traditional Democratic strength in these areas. Bush is getting front-page coverage in the New York Times and the Washington Post as well as elsewhere around the country with these new policy plans.
A spate of newly-released polls now show that Bush is taking a significant lead over Al Gore. Various pundits and other reporters say the race is even. But the three most accurate polling organizations show otherwise.
The Rasmussen survey now has Bush ahead of Gore by 40-32, compared to only 39-36 two weeks ago. Meanwhile, the Gallup poll shows Bush ahead by 50-41, compared to a dead heat in late March. The Zogby poll shows Bush ahead 46-42, compared to 45-41 in March and 45-43 in favor of Gore in late February.
In other words, Bush appears to be on his way to restoring the commanding numbers that he had last year.
What’s so interesting here is that Bush is employing a combination of supply-side tax cuts and pro-market-competition social reforms, with a federal safety net that is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s campaigns of 1980 and 1984. Al Gore is arguing that Bush’s tax cuts and federal spending increases amount to a budget-busting policy approach. These are exactly the losing arguments that were trumpeted by Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale in the 1980s.
In effect, Bush’s carefully thought-out reform plans on education and health care, along with his unflinching support of across-the-board tax cuts, are outflanking Gore in almost every key area.
Dan Balz’s front-page story in today’s Washington Post refers to Bush as a tax-cut-and-spend Republican. In reality, however, Bush’s modest spending programs are a pittance compared to the federal expansions proposed by Gore. For example, Bush unveiled a health-care plan that employs refundable tax credits, expanded medical savings accounts, and — yes — a $46 billion spending increase. Gore’s approach, on the other hand, would move the country closer to nationalized health care with a preliminary price tag of $125 billion, which many analysts believe could easily run to a quarter of a trillion dollars over time.
On education, Bush has proposed significant accountability reforms for teaching standards and student performance — along with clearly defined local parental control — as well as charter schools and vouchers that could be used for church and home schooling. His education price tag is $13 billion. Al Gore’s approach — straight from the teacher-union think tanks — begins with a $100 billion price tag, and adamantly opposes vouchers.
What Bush is actually doing here is rejecting a Newt Gingrich shut-down-the-government scowling conservatism, in favor of a kinder and gentler approach that emphasizes market competition, individual choice, and local community authority.
Here’s another key point about Bush’s strategy: While both conservative and liberal commentators keep telling us that tax cuts don’t matter, the Gallup poll reports a significantly different finding. Surveying on a number of issues, they show that the recent jump of Americans mentioning tax cuts as a key issue — from 3% in May of 1999 to 11% today — is the single largest increase of any issue mentioned in the poll. Among this group — the fourth most important issue — Bush wins 59-35. Education is the number one policy worry, with a 16% mention today compared to an 11% rating a year ago. Gore wins among this group but the gap has narrowed significantly. Ethics and moral values rate second, behind education, with 15 % mentioning this category. Among this group, Bush wins 67-23.
Meanwhile, Al Gore’s two big initiatives, campaign-finance reform and his flip-flop on Elián Gonzalez, both appeared to have backfired. The Rasmussen poll reports that Florida now leans 42-36 for Bush, whereas earlier Gore had a slight lead. “It appears that Gore is being hurt by the Elián Gonzalez case.”
As far as campaign-finance reform is concerned, Gallup reports that 49% think Gore’s fundraising is illegal or unethical, compared to only 25% for Bush. Thirty-seven percent believe that Gore’s moneyraising is “not wrong”, compared to 56% for Bush.
This undoubtedly contributes to Bush’s 67-23 lead on ethics and moral values.
Also in the Gallup poll, 62 % see that Bush has the right personality and leadership qualities a president should have, compared to 51% for Gore.
Turning back to tax cuts and the economy, Bush is gradually weaving the supply-side theme that lower tax rates will strengthen prosperity and expand the budget surplus. From the growing surplus, there’s plenty of room for some modest federal spending increases on domestic and defense programs. In other words, economic growth solves a lot of problems, and creates even greater opportunities.
Bush is essentially reclaiming the high ground on tax cuts and economic growth that his father’s 1992 campaign, and the Dole effort in 1996, lost to Bill Clinton and the Democrats. Later on, Bush will announce a Michael Dell-type budget-reform plan that will create an Internet-style transformation of the federal government by slashing the middle bureaucratic levels, moving to a horizontal management structure and terminating redundant and unnecessary programs. Just as the private sector has, this will generate hundred of billions of cost savings over time.
As the new push-polling data gradually take hold, look for the NASDAQ technology-stock index hemorrhaging to stop soon. Bush opposes antitrust regulation and the trial lawyers’ class-action lawsuits that threaten to tobaccoize the technology sector. Investors know that Bush favors free-market innovation to spur even faster growth of the information economy. Up to now they have been force-fed a political line that says Gore and his over-zealous regulatory attitudes are likely in the end to triumph in November. But the recent evidence from the leading pollsters is providing a much more optimistic political outlook.