If you listen hard enough to all the political pundits airing their views on cable TV, you could almost come to believe that Al Gore is on a mighty roll, while George Bush has barely limped to the finish line. In other words, take pity on the little shrub from Texas because he’s gonna be completely vanquished by Terminator 3.
However, a couple of recent polling surveys paint an entirely different picture. It’s worth taking a moment to review the data — and when you do, the picture that emerges is a much better one for Gov. Bush.
About a week ago, the Rasmussen polling group showed Bush with a 48-40 lead over Gore. Rasmussen is an important survey because much of the work they do focuses on business, consumers and investors — rather than straight political polling. However, their political surveys have a good track record.
About a week ago Rasmussen asked a question: “Who is most responsible for the economic prosperity?” Here are the surprising results:
—25% say that small and mid-sized companies deserve the most credit
—19% say consumers
—15% say workers
—13% say our nation’s biggest companies
—and 10% name entrepreneurs.
Now, get this number: Just 3% think that credit should be given to government officials. Here’s a direct quote from the March 9, 2000 poll: “Over the last several years, we’ve asked this question in several different ways. No matter how we phrase it, however, the general results are always the same — most Americans give primary credit to the private sector.”
This is an important point because Al Gore and his supporters are constantly arguing that it is they who deserve credit for the economic boom; not Greenspan, not Volker, not Reagan — but Clinton-Gore policies. The Rasmussen poll doesn’t see it this way, which raises a key election year issue. Voters are much less inclined to pull the lever based on past policies, but they are much more inclined to decide their vote on the basis of which candidate is more likely to continue and expand the economic boom.
That means — in effect — that Bush and Gore start evenly on this question. It also suggests that the differing economic visions communicated to the electorate over the next eight months will be absolutely crucial. In other words, in terms of the economy, voters are not likely to vote on the past, but far more likely to indicate their preference on the future.
Speaking of the future, two other Rasmussen polls are revealing. Last December, Rasmussen published a survey which showed that 59% of America’s likely voters say that they would definitely vote against any candidate who would consider raising taxes to pay for new government programs. About a year ago, the Rasmussen Portrait of America telephone survey found that 71% of American adults would like to see government spending and taxes go down over the next five years. Also, Rasmussen found that nearly two out of every three Americans believe the income tax code is too complicated.
Vice President Gore’s positions are too liberal and they are out of step with mainstream American thinking today. Gore is all government — government control of budget surpluses, of health care, of education, and so forth. He never has anything for business or investors or savers. No market competition and no choice. Hence, no reform. Also, he will defend Clinton’s budget that spends $125 billion a year in new money.
If George Bush unflinchingly defends his tax-cut plan, and evolves it to a broader tax reform and simplification vision, he can defeat Gore. Also, if Bush comes up with a true government spending reform plan — for example, enlisting computer whiz Mike Dell to develop a radical Internet transformation — and a downsizing program for the federal government, he will be able to credibly argue that he is a true conservative reformer. Add to this an effective discussion of why tax cuts and personal retirement accounts, not debt reduction, are the best solution for Social Security, and Bush will come out way ahead of Gore.
Yesterday’s Gallup poll update tends to confirm the Rasmussen results. Gallup has Bush ahead 49-43. Bill O’Reilly put it very well last night on TV: After seven and a half years of presiding over economic growth, isn’t it interesting that Gore is still running behind Bush? O’Reilly strikes me as a very fair-minded and honest conservative. Unlike the majority of media pundits, he has asked exactly the right question.
Turning back to the new Gallup poll, the data show that Bush is ahead on key personal qualities such as leadership, vision, morality, management expertise, and energy. Very interesting. Of course, the election is many months away. But the key point here is that Bush is in a much stronger position than most folks seem to think. In many ways he is a very underrated politician — much like Reagan was in the run-up to November 1980. Gov. Bush has no need to slug it out with Gore in the debating trenches. Instead, he needs to develop a series of high-policy issue speeches on taxes, Social Security, budget reform, education and foreign policy — essentially picking up on where he left off last autumn before the primary season heated up. This would be a much better use of his time than debating Al Gore every night.
If Bush can effectively market his message for traditional conservative values of tax cuts, limited government and personal responsibility — make that faith based personal responsibility — then he will build on his conservative base and successfully attract a sufficient number of independents and Democrats to defeat Al Gore in November.