Voters indifferent to Bush DUI story

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Voters have initially reacted with vast indifference to news that Texas Gov. George W. Bush had been arrested for drunken driving more than two decades ago, according to the latest Washington Post tracking survey.

Interviews with likely voters conducted Friday suggest that only one in six voters say the drunk driving arrest in 1976 was relevant to the current presidential campaign. Even fewer say it will make them less likely to vote for the Republican nominee.

As a consequence, the overall presidential race remains largely unchanged from where it was immediately before the story broke late Thursday: Bush with a narrow lead in a contest that remains too close to call.

But these first impressions could quickly change if additional damaging details emerge about the incident, or as voters weigh the judgments of the media and others about its significance. And in an election as close as this one, even small shifts in the vote in a few key states could tilt the election to one candidate or the other.

The basic details of the DUI story have been instantly absorbed by the electorate. On Friday night, barely 24 hours after the story first broke, nine in 10 likely voters say they had read or heard about Bush’s arrest.

One in six voters 15 percent said the arrest raised at least some doubt in their minds about whether Bush is qualified to serve as president, and 7 percent said the disclosure raised "serious" questions about Bush’s fitness to serve.

But the survey also found that relatively few voters say the news made them less likely to vote for Bush. Eight percent of those interviewed Friday said they were less likely to vote for Bush as a result of his drunk driving arrest.

Nearly as many 5 percent said the disclosure made them more likely to support the Republican nominee the first hints that some voters may be sympathetic to Bush or to his claim that he may be the target of a Democratic "dirty tricks" campaign.

The impact of Bush’s DUI arrest 24 years ago was even smaller among independent voters and other swing groups. About as many independent voters said the incident made them more likely to support Bush (5 percent) as said it made them less likely (6 percent) to vote for the Republican.

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