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NEWS FLASH December 16, 1999

Americans Are Fed Up with Political Mudslinging
A new survey finds voters have strong opinions about what's fair and foul in campaigning

Americans are in a surly mood about politicians who sling mud on the campaign trail. A new poll released on Dec. 15 finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans say they're tired of personal attacks and have strong views about what kinds of criticisms are acceptable -- and out of bounds -- in political discourse. Most voters blame the media for spreading the incendiary assaults and encouraging the mudslinging.

The bipartisan survey was conducted for the Institute for Global Ethics by the Democratic firm of Lake Snell Perry & Associates and the Republican firm of Deardourff/The Media Company. It found that 87% of Americans say they're concerned with personal attacks during political campaigns. Four in five voters say that attack-oriented campaigning is unethical, undermines democracy, lowers voter turnout, and produces less ethical elected officials.

A majority of Americans believes the honesty of politicians has declined in the past two decades. More than 80% believe that at least some candidates lie (39% say they all lie), while 88% say some politicians make unfair personal attacks.

BLAST THE HYPOCRITES. Americans have strong views about what's fair game in politics -- and voters are willing to listen to certain kinds of criticisms. What's O.K.? Sixty-eight percent say it's acceptable to attack an opponent for talking one way and voting another, 59% say it's valid to criticize a foe for taking money from special interests, and 57% say a voting record can be scrutinized.

What should be off-limits? For one thing, 84% of Americans say the actions of family members are irrelevant to election discourse, 72% say the lack of military service is out of bounds, 71% say past financial problems should not be discussed, and 63% say past personal troubles like alcoholism or marijuana are of no importance.

The survey seems particularly timely: The verbal intensity has recently picked up in both the Democratic and Republican contests for the White House. While none of the candidates has engaged in personal attacks, Vice-President Al Gore has blasted Democratic rival Bill Bradley on issues ranging from health care to taxes, while Texas Governor George W. Bush has criticized Republican opponent John McCain for the Arizona senator's call to ban huge, special-interest "soft money" donations. Bush claims McCain's proposal would hurt Republicans and help Democrats.

GOP pollster John Deardourff says the poll results reflect "a real hunger among American voters for cleaner, issue-oriented campaigns. These results ought to be a shot across the bow of those candidates and consultants who are waging take-no-prisoners, win-at-all-costs campaigns."

The survey included interviews with 800 adults from Nov. 4-9. It has a 3.5% margin of error.

By Richard S. Dunham in Washington

EDITED BY DOUGLAS HARBRECHT _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

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