Americans Give Even Odds on Presidential Horse Race

by Jeffrey M. Jones, Gallup Poll Managing Editor

It is well known that Americans are divided politically in many ways, including their evaluations of the job George W. Bush is doing as president, their views on the Iraq war, and their choice for president in this fall's election. But Americans are also divided in their predictions about who will win the election. While it is typical for views on who will win to be strongly influenced by partisanship, the data show that Democrats are much more optimistic about John Kerry's chances of winning the election than they were about Al Gore's chances in 2000, when he won the popular vote and narrowly lost the electoral vote. 

A recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted immediately after the Democratic convention, finds 47% of Americans predicting a Kerry win, 47% a Bush win, and 6% without an opinion*. When the question was asked in March, the public was more likely to think Bush would win -- with 52% predicting a Bush victory and 42% a Kerry victory.

Generally speaking, what Americans presumably would like to happen strongly influences their predictions of what will happen. Specifically, 80% of Republicans believe Republican candidate Bush will win and 79% of Democrats say Democratic candidate Kerry will win. Independents are equally divided, with 46% predicting Kerry and 45% Bush**.

Since March, Democrats have grown somewhat more optimistic about Kerry's victory chances. At that time, 71% thought Kerry would win, compared with the 79% figure today. Republicans are about as optimistic about a Bush win now as they were in March (82%).

Historical Election Predictions

Gallup asked Americans to predict the election winner several times in 2000 and once in 1996. In the five times the question was asked in 2000, Americans predicted a Bush victory four times, only predicting a Gore victory when he surged ahead in the polls in September 2000. This is somewhat surprising given how close the election ultimately turned out to be. In 1996, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll of registered voters showed Americans overwhelmingly believing Bill Clinton would defeat Bob Dole, which he did.

Partisan leanings have always been apparent in the data. However, Democrats appear to be much more optimistic about Kerry's chances of winning than they were about Gore's at several points in the campaign, including after the Democratic convention. Interestingly, Democrats are only slightly less optimistic about Kerry's chances now than they were about Clinton's in 1996, when he led Dole by comfortable margins throughout the campaign. Eighty-eight percent of Democratic registered voters thought Clinton would win in 1996, compared with 79% who think Kerry will win this year.

In polls conducted in March, June, and late August 2000, fewer than 6 in 10 Democrats believed Gore would beat Bush. And in an early August poll, conducted immediately after the Republican convention, more Democrats actually thought Bush (50%) would win than thought Gore would win (44%). 

Only in September 2000, when Gore led Bush by five or more points for a week's worth of CNN/USA Today/Gallup tracking poll results, did Democrats show a strong belief that Gore would win (76% of registered Democratic voters thought he would win at that time). In comparison, at least 7 in 10 Republican registered voters thought Bush would win in all polls, except the September poll. 

Predictions of the 2000 Election Winner, Gallup Polls


Poll

Overall

Republicans

Democrats

Independents

Mar 10-12, 2000

 

 

 

 

     Bush

48%

71%

29%

47%

     Gore

38%

19%

58%

35%

     No opinion

14%

10%

13%

18%

 

 

 

 

 

Jun 6-7, 2000

 

 

 

 

     Bush

53%

76%

36%

48%

     Gore

35%

16%

55%

34%

     No opinion

12%

8%

9%

18%

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 4-5, 2000

 

 

 

 

     Bush

70%

88%

50%

71%

     Gore

23%

7%

44%

20%

     No opinion

7%

5%

6%

9%

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 24-27, 2000

 

 

 

 

     Bush

47%

72%

27%

46%

     Gore

36%

16%

56%

31%

     No opinion

17%

12%

17%

23%

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 15-17, 2000 (registered voters)

 

 

 

 

     Bush

36%

59%

15%

36%

     Gore

53%

27%

76%

48%

     No opinion

11%

14%

9%

16%



In 1996, 88% of Democratic registered voters believed Clinton would win. In that poll, Republican registered voters were generally divided in their views of who would win, but slightly more said they thought Dole (47%) would win than thought Clinton (44%) would.   

Bottom Line

Americans overall do not have a consensus on who is likely to win the election this November, though most believe their party's nominee will emerge victorious.  

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,518 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted July 30-Aug. 1, 2004.  For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of error attributable to sampling is ±3 percentage points.

**Results for the samples of 564 Republicans, 525 Democrats, and 416 independents each have a maximum margin of sampling error of ±5 percentage points. 

 

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