Perot Voters Remain a Bloc - Skeptical About Clinton, Washington
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Ross Perot’s supporters are dismissing the major political parties and defying history to form a powerful ″radical middle″ in American politics, according to a study released today.
The national survey of 1,200 Perot voters showed a deep alienation from government and strong allegiance to Perot despite doubts about his own ability to serve as president and many policy differences within his constituency.
More than loyalty to Perot, the research attributed this solidarity to a distinct reluctance of these independent-minded voters to align themselves with the Democratic or Republican parties.
The study was commissioned by the Democratic Leadership Council to help it map a strategy for Clinton to court Perot supporters.
″These voters hold the key to the future of American politics,″ DLC president Al From said at a news conference to release the study.
Expanding Clinton’s base beyond the 43 percent plurality that elected him ″is crucial to the president’s ability to govern effectively in the short term and seize the rare opportunity to realign U.S. politics around a new Democratic governing majority,″ he said.
The poll and a series of subsequent ″focus group″ discussions with Perot supporters in California, Ohio and Maine showed many shared Clinton’s policy goals and were open to supporting him - if he delivered on deficit-reduction, welfare reform and other major promises.
But it also showed Perot supporters are deeply skeptical that Clinton can produce - full of doubts about his leadership abilities and experience and also pessimistic that any president can tame Washington.
″They fully expect a corrupt, gridlocked system to keep any leader from succeeding and helping people,″ said Stanley Greenberg, who conducted the research for the DLC and who also works as Clinton’s pollster. ″At the core of the Perot voter is deep anger at Congress.″
The DLC, a maverick, moderate party organization Clinton led before entering the presidential race, is often at odds with the party’s traditional liberal ideology.
Using Greenberg’s research, the DLC said Clinton’s proposals to streamline and ″reinvent government,″ limit most welfare recipients to two years’ benefits and allow students to repay college loans with national service had the collective potential to win over many Perot backers by proving to them Clinton can make government work.
The poll, which was conducted in late April and with the focus groups in May, said alienation from government was the glue holding together the diverse coalition that gave Perot nearly 20 percent of the vote last November.
That solidarity defies the history of past independent and third-party candidacies, whose supporters began trickling back to the major parties soon after elections.
″The Perot bloc is radical in its alienation from the established parties - forming a kind of radical middle bloc - divided evenly between conservatives and liberal-moderates,″ Greenberg wrote.
Below the shared anti-establishment sentiment, however, Greenberg found considerable divisions within the Perot bloc.
This group split evenly, for example, when asked whether the Democrats or Republicans were best suited to run the economy, cut wasteful government spending and improve family values.
Republicans had an edge among Perot voters on the issue of taxes, and among Perot supporters who believe the middle class gets a raw deal from its government.
But despite a largely Republican voting history, most Perot voters share Clinton’s support of abortion rights and are ″worried about a Republican Party preoccupied with abortion and the Christian right,″ Greenberg wrote.
The poll and focus group reports also suggest that conventional analyses casting Perot supporters as obsessed with cutting the federal budget deficit are too simplistic.
While they were universal in saying the deficit was a major problem, it was not the first or second choice of nearly three quarters of Perot voters when asked to name the nation’s most pressing problems.