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Counting Votes: What Americans Said In 2000 … and Now

As we stand on the verge of another potentially divisive period of ballot counting, it’s worth looking back to Americans’ political attitudes during the long 2000 presidential recount.

Although political elites were deeply divided in the aftermath of the 2000 election, there is little evidence that most Americans were. [IMGCAP(1)]

At no time during the 36-day aftermath of the 2000 election did Americans see the situation as a crisis. In four polls conducted by Gallup, CNN and USA Today from Nov. 11, 2000, to Dec. 10, 2000, no more than 17 percent described the situation that way. About 45 percent called it a major problem, roughly a quarter viewed it as a minor problem, and 10 percent said it was not a problem at all.

Views of the Supreme Court remained remarkably stable throughout the controversy. In a Dec. 10 poll, 58 percent told ABC News/Washington Post interviewers that their opinion of the court had not changed as a result of its order stopping the recount. Only 15 percent said their opinion was higher, while 25 percent said it was lower. And Gallup’s findings about the court’s standing in June 2001 were virtually identical to those of June 2000.

Americans made an interesting distinction about legitimacy in 2000. In five questions asked by Gallup, CNN and USA Today from Nov. 11 to Dec. 13, roughly 80 percent said that “if George W. Bush is declared the winner and inaugurated [next January],” they would accept him as the legitimate president. Slightly smaller majorities gave that response about Al Gore. But smaller majorities in other questions said the president would have been “legitimately elected.”

In a February 2001 Mason Dixon poll, 57 percent of Floridians said the election process there was fair, while 36 percent said it was not. However, respondents were split over whether the certified results were accurate: 46 percent said yes, 46 percent said no.

In a Dec. 12-13, 2000, Zogby International poll, 92 percent said their vote had been counted properly. One percent said it had not been.

Americans’ composure in the election’s aftermath was remarkable because during this period, Americans remained evenly split in their choice for president. Throughout, Americans said they could live with either man as president.

… What They Think About 2004. Polls today show that most people feel confident their votes will be counted accurately. They are slightly less confident about votes in the country as a whole.

When asked in July 2004 by Zogby International whether they agreed or disagreed that their vote will be “actually counted accurately,” 83 percent said it would be. Just 9 percent disagreed. In a July NPR survey, 64 percent were very confident and 30 percent said they were somewhat confident that their vote would be “properly and accurately” counted. Six percent were not very confident or not at all confident.

In an Oct. 19-21 survey, 70 percent of respondents told Schulman Ronca Bucuvalas/Time that they were either not very worried (20 percent) or not at all worried (50 percent) that their own vote would not be counted accurately.

In Pew’s Oct. 15-19 survey, 62 percent were very confident about their vote being counted accurately, while 26 percent were somewhat confident. Another 11 percent were not too confident or not at all confident. And in the Oct. 24-27 ABC News poll, 62 percent of likely voters were very confident and 29 percent were somewhat confident that their own vote would be counted accurately.

A quarter of likely voters in the ABC News poll said they were confident that “the votes for president across the county will be counted accurately,” compared to 46 percent who were somewhat confident. Another 20 percent were not too confident and 8 percent were not at all confident.

An Oct. 14-19 national Marist poll found that 4 percent thought the problems people had with voting on Election Day 2000 had been completely corrected, 47 percent mostly corrected, 26 percent mostly not corrected and 14 percent not corrected at all.

However, the polls reveal noticeably deeper concern in the African-American community. In the September-October Joint Center for Political Studies poll, 63 percent of blacks said that they were very concerned that their vote would be counted and 16 percent somewhat concerned.

A Clear Winner? An Associated Press/Ipsos survey found that 61 percent of likely voters told interviewers that there would be a clear winner on Nov. 3. Only 38 percent disagreed.

Karlyn Bowman is a resident fellow specializing in public opinion and polls at the American Enterprise Institute.