Assessing Voter Motivations On Election Day What are the primary reasons driving blacks and first-time voters to the polls this election season? Plus, how has the media impacted the portrayals of the candidates' personas?
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Assessing Voter Motivations On Election Day

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Assessing Voter Motivations On Election Day

Assessing Voter Motivations On Election Day

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And we're continuing the discussion on what drives voters with David Bositis, a senior policy analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. It's good to have you on the show again.

Mr. DAVID BOSITIS (Senior Policy Analyst, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies): Thank you.

CHIDEYA: All right. You released a national opinion poll on African-Americans' attitudes in the election. So what are the primary motivators specifically for black voters this election?

Mr. BOSITIS: I would say the dominant motivator is a dissatisfaction and unease with the economy. The economy is by far the number one issue. Almost 10 times as many African-Americans mention the economy as any other issue. And they say - 55 percent say that they are doing worse financially than they were doing a year ago.

CHIDEYA: Now, there's an assumption by some people that really this race is much more about race. Is there a - can you say that people are voting based on the economy and then also factor how race influences their voting patterns as well?

Mr. BOSITIS: I think it is...

CHIDEYA: And I mean the race of the candidate. Not their race.

Mr. BOSITIS: Right. I - well I'll speak first about African-Americans. There are conservatives who suggest that African-Americans vote solely based upon race, or that they vote solely based because of the Democratic Party. But African-Americans don't vote solely based upon race. There've been many black candidates including for governor and for United States senator who African-Americans have vigorously opposed. There are majority-black congressional districts that are represented by white members of Congress. Gary, Indiana, a city that's almost 90 percent black during the 90s had a white mayor. African-Americans vote mainly on issues, because the black population has on average lower incomes and much, much less in the way of assets than the white population. And so they don't have the luxury to be voting on what many of them would consider frivolous reasons. They have to get down to the things that are really important, and that's the economy.

CHIDEYA: Now, your study found that Barack Obama is viewed favorably by African-Americans, but Bill Clinton had the highest favorable rating ever. So do you think that was based on his personality, his record, his perceived record, which is sometimes not the same as what the actual record is? Why do you think that was the case?

Mr. BOSITIS: I'll tell you exactly what that was based upon. I just mentioned that in the survey I just released, eight percent of African-Americans said they were doing financially better than they were doing a year ago and 55 percent said they were doing worse. When I asked that same question in 2000 at the end of Bill Clinton's second term, 45 percent of African-Americans said they were doing better and 10 percent said they were doing worse. And Bill Clinton mentioned - and this is from government economic statistics - that in his second term, African-American households made 5,000 more dollars than they had made previously. That's a big increase over a four-year period of time, a household income increasing by $5,000. More than what white household income had increased over that four-year period of time on average. And Bill Clinton's fabulous favorability rating in the fall of 2000 was a reflection of that.

CHIDEYA: When you've been doing this kind of work for quite some time, what can you say about the addition of new voters, non-traditional voters from the African-American community into the mix? How do you think that's going to throw off, first of all the work of people like you, but also in general things like exit polls or, you know, these last minute pre-election polls?

Mr. BOSITIS: Well, one of the problems with turnout that African - the African-American community has had for a long time was low turnout among younger African-Americans. That's also true of whites, young white people and young Hispanic people as well, but the African-American population is a lot younger than the white population. About half of the African-American population is younger than 31 years old, whereas to get half of the white population, you'd have to go to about 41 or 42 years old.

So the black population is much younger. And that low turnout by younger African-Americans depressed black turnout overall. And this year, with the enormous enthusiasm that younger voters, including younger black voters have for Senator Obama's campaign and his candidacy, I think there's going to be a big upturn in the number of African - percentage of African-Americans who vote in this election, because finally, the sort of weak link in black turnout in elections is being remedied.

Some of the polls have taken account of this. Gallup is releasing its tracking survey now with two versions. With a version with their traditional likely voters screened, which essentially discounts people who've never voted before in their polling calculations, and a voting screen that probably is more accurate, a more accurate reflection of what's happening right now, which takes into consideration that there is going to be a big increase in turnout by younger voters, including younger African-Americans.

And consistently, Senator Obama is - runs three to four points ahead of what he does with the traditional voters screened than with this new voter screen.

CHIDEYA: Well David, thank you.

Mr. BOSITIS: You're welcome.

CHIDEYA: That was David Bositis, senior policy analyst for the Joint Center For Political and Economic Studies, and he joined us from our NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Now we've got Frank Luntz, a political consultant and a pollster and a Fox News contributor. How are you doing, Frank?

Mr. FRANK LUNTZ (Political Consultant; Pollster): Unfortunately, I'm not calling from a studio, I'm calling you from a telephone right near LAX. So at least I've got the most exotic location.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: You are not that far from us and yet, you're on the phone. But next time you'll have to come by our studios. But anyway, you have been someone who has pioneered so many things in polling, including really certain types of focus groups and people metering and dealing with swing voters. What are you seeing this time around?

Mr. LUNTZ: Well, it's interesting, because I had the opportunity to hear your two previous guests and they are experts in what they do. But in the work that I've done, I'm not sure if I would agree necessarily with what they said. The partisan voters absolutely vote on issues. They vote on substances what makes them partisan. And the more ideological you are, the more concerned you are about issues. But there's about 40 percent of Americans - and that number's growing with every election cycle - that becomes less partisan, more independent, less ideological, more centrist.

And those are people who are voting on the attributes and the character traits of the candidates rather than the issues. And in fact, because they take bits and pieces from both political parties, they don't want to be pigeonholed and they look at the attributes, can the candidate deliver what they say they're going to do? And that's - this trend has been taking place ever since 1992.

CHIDEYA: So this time around, what are people who are either first time voters, non-traditional voters or swing voters - and I realize those are overlapping but not the same - what are they looking for?

Mr. LUNTZ: I'll give you the two things they're looking for more than anything else. And one of them is where Barack Obama has the advantage, and the other one is still up for grabs with 10 days to go. Change is what younger voters are looking for, and that's the word that they use. And they are looking for the most non-traditional candidate, the least political candidate, the person who speaks their language and seems to empathize and represent how they think, how they feel and can talk to them in their language.

But the other thing they're looking for is accountability. It's one of the reasons why younger voter, non-traditional voters are most angry with Wall Street, most ticked off with the economic system as we have and bitter about Washington is because they feel that the guys on top, the people who are running things, aren't held accountable for the things that they do.

And so this is an angry component of the electorate, and this is a component that doesn't want things the way they've been, they want things to be really different going forward.

CHIDEYA: When you think about the work that you've done this election and being able to deal with people, you know, in different contexts and different types of polling, how good do you think polls are this time around, when there are any number of X factors in this election?

Mr. LUNTZ: Well, it drives me nuts, because I get from - and I work for a news organization, so I'm collection information from all different sides. And everyone sends around the poll that makes their candidate look the best as though it's ammunition.

And the whole purpose of measuring public opinion is not to make one candidate or another look good, it's to understand how people actually feel and how they think. I don't believe that telephone polling necessarily reports to the exact percent of what people think and how they feel, because there is a little bit of a socialized factor, or a Bradley factor as people have talked about. And I don't believe you can get it from face-to-face interviews either, because people react differently depending on who's doing the interview, and I don't think even internet polling necessarily gets into the detail that you need. You actually need to combine all three methodologies to have an accurate understanding of how people feel and how they think.

CHIDEYA: Very quickly, just give us a sense of whether negative campaigning is more effective than positive campaigning?

Mr. LUNTZ: Good question, and my answer is that one reason why Barack Obama is doing as well as he is right now is because he's resisted it to the greatest degree. His speech at the convention was more positive than McCain's, his debate performances more hopeful than McCain's, and while it's unclear what lead he has, I think one reason why he has a lead is that his campaign is that his campaign is perceived as being more hopeful, more optimistic and more focused on the future and less focused on the past. And I think that accounts for why Obama has been doing so well up to this point.

CHIDEYA: Well Frank, great to talk to you. Thank you.

Mr. LUNTZ: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Frank Luntz is a political consultant and pollster. He's also a Fox News contributor.

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