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Voters’ Desire for Substance Aided Buchanan, Tsongas, Polls Indicate

February 19, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ Democratic primary winner Paul Tsongas and Republican challenger Patrick Buchanan drew upon a yearning among voters for specific ideas, exit polls indicated.

While President Bush ended up with a comfortable majority in Tuesday’s election, the television networks reported several signs of dissatisfaction apparent in a survey of 3,765 voters leaving polling places.

Just 51 percent of the Republican voters said they approve of the way Bush is handling his job.

″For a sitting president that’s not very high. And this is among his strongest constituents, the Republican Party,″ said Mary Klette, political and polling unit director for NBC News.

Thirty percent said Bush’s breaking his ″no new taxes″ pledge was a very important factor in their vote. Most of those voters went to Buchanan. Buchanan also did disproportionately well among men and among those who said their family’s financial situation was worse today than it was four years ago. He did less well among women.

″Apparently there was something too harsh about Pat Buchanan and his style of politics for the women Republican voters in this state,″ said political analyst Bill Schneider.

A majority of Buchanan voters told pollsters they chose the conservative commentator to send a message. Just 45 percent said they voted for him because he would be the best president.

In comparison, 82 percent of Tsongas voters said he would make the best president. The former senator from Massachusetts apparently won high marks for his detailed, pro-business prescription for the economy.

Three in five Tsongas voters said having specific ideas was a quality that mattered in deciding how they voted.

Among all those in each party who said it was important for their candidate to have specific ideas - ″the vision thing,″ Bush once called it - 71 percent voted for Buchanan and 43 percent for Tsongas.

The exit poll, taken by Voter Research & Surveys, had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The margin is larger for results based on part of the sample.

Exit polling also has an imperfect record in predicting final votes. Early Tuesday night the networks hinted that Buchanan could get much more than 40 percent, but they gradually adjusted their estimates back down toward that figure based on real vote counts.

The exit polls found men supporting Bush over Buchanan by a narrow 51-46 percent, while women went with the president 64-33 percent.

″It’s a big gender gap,″ said pollster Warren Mitofsky, executive director of VRS.

Four years ago, there was no gender gap in the New Hampshire Republican primary, Klette said. And when a gender gap emerged in the 1988 general election, it was Bush who led with men, 56-43 percent over Michael Dukakis.

Ethel Klein, a private pollster, attributed Buchanan’s male support to his populist economic message.

″Men are much more persuaded by the argument that the problem we face with our economy is that the Japanese are not playing fair, and that we’ve got to beat them.″

As for women, she said, ″They are much more likely to say that if we’re worried about the economy and we want to create jobs, the way to do that is to make the educational system work,″ and make other improvements on the home front.

The networks reported no gender gap on the Democratic side.

ABC reported that just 8 percent of Democratic voters said the allegations that Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton had an extramarital affair - which he denied - kept them from voting for him.

Clinton’s troubles have led to much speculation that voters want more choices in the Democratic field. An exit poll question posed by ABC and NBC found 36 percent saying they would have considered voting for Gov. Mario Cuomo if he had run. But he didn’t and few wrote in his name.

In each party about 30 percent said they would like to see someone else enter the race, but two-thirds were satisfied with their party’s candidates.

Two-thirds of Republicans said they would vote for Bush if he was the nominee in November. But 23 percent said they would cross over and vote for the Democrat.

Update hourly