After hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign spending, countless news stories, three nationally televised debates and hours of advertising on television and radio, Americans knew no more about how the two major presidential candidates stood on key issues when they voted than they did when the fall campaign began in September, according to a national survey by The Washington Post, Harvard University and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
But even though voters did not know more as a result of the fall campaign, they apparently knew enough: A majority said they were sufficiently knowledgeable about President Clinton and Republican Bob Dole and the issues to make an informed choice on Election Day.
The post-election survey also found that more than seven in 10 said this year’s race was no more negative than previous presidential campaigns. And just over half said the news media’s treatment of the candidates was generally fair, though a larger proportion thought the media had been less fair to Dole than to Clinton.
A total of 1,205 randomly selected adults who said they voted on Nov. 5 were interviewed Nov. 6-10 for this survey, which included questions asked in a companion poll in September among registered voters who said they were “certain” to cast ballots in the November election.
Eight in 10 voters - 79 percent - knew Dole rather than Clinton favored making it more difficult for a woman to obtain a legal abortion, virtually identical to the 81 percent who knew Dole’s position in September. One voter in 10 got it wrong, saying Clinton favored stricter limits on abortion and the remainder didn’t know where the candidates stood on the issue.
Seven in 10 - 72 percent - correctly said Clinton favored maintaining affirmative-action efforts in hiring, contracting and college admissions, identical to the results of the September survey. In both polls, three out of 10 either mistakenly thought Dole was the stronger advocate of affirmative action or didn’t know.
Nearly two out of three - 63 percent - knew Dole favored a greater increase in defense spending, essentially unchanged from September when 65 percent expressed that view. In September and after Election Day, one out of three mistakenly thought Clinton favored bigger defense increases or didn’t know.
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