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Poll: Democrats Hold Edge Over GOP

January 17, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Private Republican polling shows Democrats hold an edge on top election-year concerns, and 25 percent of George W. Bush’s support ``prefers Democrats on the issues by a significant margin.″

Democrats were favored, 44 percent to 31 percent, when the survey asked potential voters which party cares more about them, according to the poll shown recently to about 50 GOP members of the House.

At the same time, the findings suggested several ways for House Republicans to gain an advantage, including opening a ``new issue front″ on such subjects as government waste or retiring the national debt. The GOP is trying to retain its narrow majority in the House.

The GOP leadership has already announced plans to highlight those issues in the congressional session beginning next week. In particular, Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., is expected to unveil portions of a national debt retirement plan before the opening gavel falls in the House.

The survey material was presented at a two-day communications meeting this month organized near the Capitol by Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, who ranks fourth in the House GOP leadership. An estimated 55 Republicans attended the sessions, which also included a workshop conducted by Wade West, a media trainer who specializes in preparing individuals for media interviews.

The poll was conducted for Securing America’s Future for Everyone (SAFE), an organization Watts set up to assist him in his leadership post. A copy of the survey findings was obtained by The Associated Press.

The findings underscore the challenges ahead for the House Republicans _ even with presidential front-runner Bush showing strongly in the polls.

The survey recommended that the House GOP target its election-year efforts at Catholic voters; so-called ``soccer moms,″ or suburban women; and voters making $100,000 and above, as well as independents and moderates.

``They’ve got to connect ideology to solving problems. That’s their mission,″ said David Winston of the Fabrizio McLaughlin firm, which conducted the poll.

The survey, the results of 1,000 interviews conducted in November, found Republicans must make a greater effort to develop their ``brand,″ much as any organization must do as it competes for market share.

Yet on three of the top five issues, as identified by potential voters, Democrats hold an edge. They lead on education, the top-ranked issue, by 16 percentage points; on health care by an even bigger margin; and strongly on Social Security.

Republicans are favored by a wide margin on moral values. As for handling the economy, support for Republicans vs. Democrats was within the survey’s margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

On six other issues tested, which the voters defined as less important, Republicans hold a narrow advantage on taxes and a more substantial edge on foreign policy and defense as well as on crime and drugs. Democrats are favored on Medicare and the environment. Campaign finance was a virtual draw.

The margins for Democrats were ``much higher″ than for the GOP, the poll found.

Bush was favored in a hypothetical matchup with Vice President Al Gore, but 25 percent of his supporters identified themselves more closely with Democrats than Republicans on the issues. On average, those voters said they preferred Democrats on roughly five of the 11 issues, and backed the Republican position on roughly three.

Voters who identified themselves as regular Republican voters, on the other hand, leaned toward Republicans on an average of 7.8 of the 11 issues, and toward the Democrats on only 1.6.

In all, the findings reported, ″25 percent of Bush’s vote prefers Democrats on the issues by a significant margin.″

In addition, undecided voters tend to favor the Democratic positions on the issues.

On education, despite a Democratic advantage of 48 percent to 32 percent, the survey reported that voters would prefer a candidate who espouses a GOP position of providing better education by giving local schools the flexibility to hire new teachers, buy new books, provide better training, buy computers and repair classrooms. The poll did not address the school voucher issue.

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