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Polls: Dems Gained Among Key Groups

November 7, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Democrats focused on campaign issues that appealed to voters such as Minnesota businessman Bob Weng in this week’s elections far more than the Republicans’ recent emphasis on impeaching President Clinton.

``The Democrats will stabilize the economy better and give my children a better lifestyle,″ said Weng, a 49-year-old resort owner from rural Ridgeville, who is not wedded to either major party. ``I have a feeling that impeachment will never take place. It’s time to drop it and get on with life.″

Exit polls suggest many voters felt the same way about issues and about impeachment. Democrats reaped the benefits as they made significant gains among white men, Catholics and independents while managing to turn out core supporters, including blacks and union members. Many voters also indicated they were tired of the Republican focus on investigating Clinton.

Democrats defied history in the elections, holding their own in key governors’ races and the U.S. Senate, strengthening their hand in the South and even gaining five seats in the House. It was the first time since 1934 that the president’s party had gained House seats in a midterm election.

``Some people have said this was a status quo election,″ said Evans Witt, president of Princeton Survey Research Associates. ``This was an election where Democrats beat history.″

Democrats succeeded by appealing to the political center.

Fifty percent of this year’s voters said they considered themselves moderates, and they favored Democratic House candidates over Republicans 54 percent to 43 percent, according to exit polls. To these voters, education, the economy and Social Security were the most important issues.

In contrast, moral values were most important to self-described conservatives, who made up 31 percent of the electorate and favored Republicans by an 80-17 margin. A third of conservatives thought moral values were the top issue, followed by taxes and education.

The share of moderates rose 5 percentage points from four years ago and the share of conservatives dropped 6 points, while self-described liberals remained about constant at just under 20 percent, heavily favoring Democrats.

Economic optimism could be found among most groups, with those who were the most bullish favoring the president’s party.

Fifteen percent of all voters thought the state of the economy was excellent, and they voted by a 3-1 margin for Democrats. Another 68 percent thought the economy was good, and they split their votes between the two parties. The 14 percent who thought the economy was not good and the 2 percent who thought it was poor tended to vote Republican.

In 1994, when Republicans claimed huge gains in Congress, only 2 percent of voters thought the economy was excellent, 39 percent thought it was good, 47 percent thought it was not good and 11 percent thought it was poor.

Democrats made significant inroads with voting groups that favored Republicans four years ago.

White men in 1994 voted by a 62-36 margin for Republican House candidates, a GOP advantage whittled by Democrats to 57-39 this year. Catholics, who make up more than a quarter of voters, backed Republicans by a 52-46 margin in 1994 but voted Democratic by a 51-45 margin this year. Independents voted by a 56-40 margin for Republicans in 1994, but Democrats pared the GOP advantage to 49-45 this time.

The exit survey of more than 10,000 voters as they left about 1,150 randomly selected polling places nationwide was conducted by Voter News Service, a partnership of The Associated Press and the ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and Fox television networks. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 1.5 percentage points for all voters, higher for subgroups.