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U.S. Senate campaign seen as negative but fair

Staff Report

A majority of Virginia residents believe that U.S. Senate candidates George Allen and Charles Robb are waging increasingly "negative" campaigns against each other, a poll released Oct. 25 by U.Va.'s Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership found. But they also believe that each candidate is running a "fair" and "honest" campaign.

In the survey, conducted during the first two weeks of October, more than 55 percent of the respondents said the campaign is "negative," while only 23 percent called it "positive." This is a substantial increase in the negative rating since the institute's last poll, taken in early September, when only 31.3 percent thought the campaign was negative and 31 percent said it was positive.

The Sorensen Project on Campaign Conduct

In July of 2000, The Pew Charitable Trusts awarded a $730,000 grant to the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. The grant was given to support the institute's Project on Campaign Conduct, initiated in 1997 by a previous grant from the Trusts.

During the three-year grant period, the Sorensen Institute will continue its development of a training curriculum for state and local candidates who are seeking office for the first time. The three-day workshop provides a foundation of basic campaign-related skills while focusing on ethical campaign conduct and the effect of various campaign tactics on the public. The goal of the project is to show candidates that they can run campaigns that are both ethical and competitive.

Despite their views on the escalating negativity of the campaign, however, these same respondents say that Robb is running a "fair campaign so far" (53 percent said "fair," 42 percent said "unfair") and that Allen is, too (47 percent said "fair" to 43 percent "unfair").

Similarly, both candidates get very high marks for having "honest" campaigns: When asked if "Robb is running an honest/dishonest campaign so far," those surveyed chose "honest" by a 41 percent to 16 percent margin; Allen's campaign received a 42 percent "honest" to 22 percent "dishonest" rating.

"These apparent contradictions are really rational assessments of modern political campaigns, fought through TV ads," said William H. Wood, executive director of the institute. "Voters expect hard-hitting ads, especially in a race like this one, when both candidates have long voting records that can be attacked. The ads are obviously negative appraisals of an opponent's record. But the clear message from this survey is that voters don't believe that attacks on a candidate's record are inappropriate."

The Sorensen survey demonstrated that, notwithstanding their tendency to say the race is negative, voters have become both more engaged and more informed over the past month.

Survey respondents are also paying closer attention to the race now, and say they care more about the outcome. Thirty percent say they are paying "quite a bit" or "a great deal" of attention to the race now (up from 25 percent), and 76 percent care who wins the race (up from 68 percent).

Evaluations of both Senate candidates are relatively favorable, but have remained fairly constant over the past month. Sixty-one percent of respondents have a favorable view of George Allen, a statistically insignificant shift from 62 percent last month. More than 54 percent of respondents have a favorable impression of Chuck Robb, virtually unchanged from the earlier survey.


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