June 2, 2000
By Jerome De Herrera
Newspapers and television news shows in recent weeks have reported on public opinion polls that show Texas Gov. George W. Bush edging ahead of Vice President Al Gore in their race for the presidency.
The polls show Bush leading Gore by as few as one to as many as eight points across the nation. Some reports, however, point to an even more telling statistic: 85 percent of Americans aren't paying attention to the presidential campaign.
Traditionally, voter interest in presidential campaigns doesn't even begin to stir until late summer. It used to be, before television became such a dominating factor in everyday life, that presidential campaigns lay dormant until Labor Day, really taking off around the September 1.
Nowadays, no candidate can afford the luxury of avoiding the public spotlight for fear that their opponent will assume an advantage. Both campaigns know that the public is not paying attention and therefore these early polls are no indication of who will win in November.
What goes on during this time is that the campaign staffs are hoping to maneuver their opponent into making a mistake, so that the mistake can be laid before the voters in the most damaging way possible in the weeks leading up to the election.
That is why the debates being scheduled between Bush and Gore are so important. These debates, more than anything else, will allow voters to make their first, tentative decisions on which hopeful should be president. By the time the last debate is held, viewers and voters will most likely have made up their minds.
Potential voters will have to balance their perceptions of the two candidates based on the debates against the images of 60 second sound bites costing each campaign millions of dollars.
The polls as they stand right now before the debates are general indicators of something, but what they measure is more a popularity contest than a real reflection of what the voters might be thinking if they were actually forced to make a choice for president.
The polls today also purport to convey a sense of where Latino voters stand almost five months before the election. Vice President Gore still leads Gov. Bush among Latinos, but Mr. Gore's lead is not what it should be if Latino's are going to play a crucial role in November for him.
It will be interesting to watch how Latino voters react to the television debates at the same time they are watching Gore put up television commercials of Gov. Pete Wilson's anti-Latino campaigns and Bush putting his Hispanic Catholic sister-in-law speaking in Spanish on television.
These early polls that we are seeing in the newspapers and television today are not necessarily wrong. They're just not right.
DeHerrera writes a political column from Washington. Please send your comments to JeromeDeHerrera@yahoo.com.