July 27, 2000

A Question of Character

Gore's Competence

Gore's competence was a central message being promoted by his campaign. Sometimes this thread came up in the form of reporters simply summarizing Gore's mindset. "The vice president has great faith in his own national security experience and instincts….The vice president has participated in every major national security debate over the past decade and has access to intelligence and foreign policy expertise throughout the government," noted reporter John Broder in the New York Times.

Often the praise of Gore came through the coverage of Clinton. Here is Salon's Jesse Drucker quoting the president.

" 'He (Gore) wanted to the be the first administration to take on Big Tobacco and give our children their lives back,' said Clinton. He complimented Gore for his roles in Kosovo, Haiti, health care and more. 'He was there, everytime, in private, getting no credit,' said Clinton, waving his finger in that all-too-familiar way. 'He has had more responsibility than any person who ever held this job….'"

Yet if Gore wanted to promote that message in the press, he failed to do so. Only 14% of all the Gore assertions spoke of his long experience and presumed ability. Another 4% questioned it, for a total of 18% of all the statements studied about Gore.

Interestingly, journalists were less likely than usual to appraise Gore's abilities. Campaign surrogates, on the other hand, were almost twice as likely as usual to speak to Gore's competence.

When comparing key positive concepts about the characters of the two candidates, however, Bush clearly prevailed in the media. Overall, there were less than half as many statements about Gore's competence than there were of Bush's main argument that he is a different kind of Republican.

Evidence For Gore's Competence
Voter Interaction 5%
Public Record 21
Recent Remarks 1
Camp. Platform 12
Tactics/Rhetoric 19
Opponent Attack 2
Friends' Remarks 2
Past Personal Life 1
Poll 8
Other 5
 
No Evidence 24
Total 100

In addition, though this message would seem to stem from Gore's public record as much as any thread, it was not as well evidenced as the other Gore threads. A quarter of these statements (24%) offered no evidence, higher than the norm (19%). One-in-five statements referred to Gore's public record and another 19% cited his campaign tactics and rhetoric.

Again however, the public seems to be taking its cues from other sources than the press. While journalists have made scarce mention of it, the public is more likely to attribute experience and knowledge to Gore than any other quality surveyed, and noticeably more than for Bush, 38% versus 25%.

The lack of coverage about this issue also stands out because it appears to matter to people. More than half of Americans (51%) said Gore's experience would make them more likely to vote for him. At the same time, 47% said Bush's lack of experience wouldn't matter.