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Virginia Senate Campaign Seen As Negative But Fair, Honest, And Informative

October 26, 2000 -- A poll released Wednesday by the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia finds that a majority of Virginia residents believe that U.S. Senate candidates George Allen and Charles Robb are waging increasingly "negative" campaigns against each other. 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.

However, despite their views on the escalating negativity of the campaign, 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.

Forty-five percent consider the race to be "informative," a considerable increase from five weeks earlier, when only 26 percent said that it was informative. Moreover, a full 88 percent could name both the Republican and Democratic candidate when asked, up from 78 percent just five weeks ago.

"It’s significant that, whatever their assessments of the overall campaign, citizens in Virginia appear to be learning from the campaign," said Paul Freedman, Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at UVa and Research Director for the Sorensen study. "The ads that have blanketed the state by the candidates and their allies seem to have significant informational content."

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.

Enclosed are the survey data, a description of how the survey was conducted, and a description of the Project on Campaign Conduct.

Contact: Bob Wood, (804) 982-5698

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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