Voters chide candidates for negative campaigning

It's the day before the election, and most voters are disgusted. At least that's the general sentiment expressed in a follow-up survey by this reporter in two communities representing key voting blocs in this year's Presidential race.

``I hate this election,'' says Laurie Fish, a teacher in Norristown, Penn. ``It's almost embarrassing to this country.''

More than 8 out of 10 voters surveyed agree with Mrs. Fish. They think the campaign has been much too negative, and a majority lay the blame on the doorstep of each candidate.

The survey shows that among voters who were previously undecided, about twice as many are going to vote for Vice-President George Bush as will vote for his opponent, Gov. Michael Dukakis.

The survey was first conducted in September in two communities, Warren, Mich., and Norristown, Penn., both of which are considered highly representative of independent and swing voters. Over the weekend, 52 of the original 74 households in the survey group were contacted again to assess their sentiments just before the election. Neither survey is scientific, and can only be assumed to reflect the opinions of those polled.

``It was a mess,'' says Mary Koza of the campaign. Says the 70-year-old retiree, ``That was the worst campaign I've ever seen in my life. It was a terrible thing. I hope I never see one like that again.''

When first interviewed, 48 percent of this most recent survey group either supported Vice-President Bush or were leaning in his direction. Governor Dukakis had 30 percent either fully behind him or headed in his direction. Another 21 percent were undecided.

Mr. Bush is now preferred by 51 percent of the group and Mr. Dukakis 34 percent.

The governor actually improved his standing since September - despite a 2-to-1 Bush edge with undecided voters - because Bush lost 3 percent of his vote to third party candidates or to the undecided column.

What these numbers hide is the weak affinity most people feel for their choice. Many said they were only voting for one candidate because they detested the other one - what the pollsters call negative voting.

``I don't want Bush, that's why I am going for Dukakis,'' say Chris Booth of Norristown. ``As a Democrat ... he would not be the person I would want up there.''

Arlene Snover in Warren feels the same way, but in reverse. ``I think it's more things I don't like about Micheal Dukakis,'' she says as an explanation for her Bush support. ``There is just something about him I don't feel right with.''

Of those now supporting Dukakis, only one out of six, or 16 percent, think he will win. Another 1 out of 6 think it is too close to call, leaving a full two-thirds of the Dukakis supporters who think Bush will win the election.

Almost all of those who think Bush will win have based their assumptions on the horse-race reports in the media. There was no indication that this group was any less likely to vote than the survey group as a whole. If anything, the predicted loss of their candidate seemed to stiffen their resolve to vote against Bush.

Sarah Veatch, a union supporter in Warren, will vote Democratic because Democrats ``do more for the poor,'' she says. ``We might have had better men running,'' she laments after admitting Dukakis probably won't win.

When asked if the campaign season had been too negative in tone, 84 percent of the survey group said yes. When asked who was to blame for the critical tone of the race six percent said Dukakis, nine percent pointed at the vice-president, and 84 percent said both candidates were responsible.

The negative tone of the campaign registered the most comment. No one appeared happy with the choices, and the discomfort level registered the same regardless of party preferences.

``In plain words I think it's been stinky,'' 88-year-old Hilda Murphy of Norristown says firmly. ``I don't like the way either one of them are campaigning.''

``It's evil,'' says Diane Conway of Norristown. ``It hurts because instead of taking time to talk about the issues they are throwing mud at the other person.'' Her choice: George Bush.

``I'm tending toward Bush,'' says Marusia Dombchewsky, a neighbor of Mrs. Conway, adding `` reluctantly.'' Despite being ``a Democrat at heart,'' Mrs. Dombchewsky is basing her decision on a feeling that Bush would do a better job with the economy and in foreign affairs.

``They [the Republicans] just plowed straight down the field,'' according to Arthur Dudkiewiez, a union member and Democrat in Norristown. He made his decision to go with Bush because he sees the vice-president as a stonger man.

``There is more directness, more leadership in how he presents himself, and that's all it takes. He's giving the people what they want to hear,'' he says. As for the Democrats, ``They weren't prepared for the dominancy of the Republican party. They were not only out-campaigned, they were outdone on leadership and policies.''

Linda Zurek in Warren says neither candidate is qualified for the job. She's going for Bush, but says, ``It's a chance either way you go.''

Patricia Buckwalter in Norristown says she will also vote for Bush and ``hope for the best.'' ``That's about all we can do, right? Just hope for the best?''

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