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  •   Satisfied Voters To Keep Congress In GOP Hands, Bipartisan Polling Finds

    Gebe Martinez
    LEGI-SLATE News Service
    Wednesday, Jan. 14, 1998

    WASHINGTON — As congressional Republicans and Democrats prepare to do battle at the ballot boxes this year, two key party pollsters delivered advice Wednesday to both sides: Perfect the art of a love/hate relationship.

    Republicans and Democrats need to love each other enough to continue the perception that they can work together to pass legislation, yet be disagreeable enough to rouse their voters out of political slumber and gain momentum before the November general election, said Republican pollster Ed Goeas and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake.

    Nonetheless, this will be a "status quo" election by voters who are equally Republican and Democrats, generally content with their own financial condition and likely to return incumbents to office – probably keeping control of Congress in the hands of Republicans, the political advisors predicted.

    Goeas and Lake drew their conclusions from their joint "Battleground 1998" survey – the 10th in a series of studies done since 1991 to gauge the moods and political leanings of the American electorate. The latest project questioned 1,000 registered voters between Dec. 7 and Dec. 9 last year.

    On the Republican side, Goeas said his party needs to recognize that President Clinton is their strongest ally, because he promotes "center-right" issues that appeal to GOP voters. "One of the side effects of that cooperation is a loss of intensity with the base. The base needs a villain," Goeas said.

    The Republican pollster said the biggest opportunity to cut down the Democrats may be through Democratic presidential aspirant, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., and liberal Democrats who will try to excite their own voter base that is at odds with Clinton's moderation.

    "As long as the president is in the center-right in what he's proposing, they can keep their base happy and move forward and start rolling up accomplishments," Goeas said. "Stop trying to tackle him. Keep his [Democratic] players from stopping him from scoring the touchdown for us."

    Lake noted that Republicans have several advantages over Democrats, who would need to win 11 new seats in order to retake control of Congress: GOP voters tend to be more disgruntled and, therefore, more likely to vote, and Republicans have an "agenda" that can mobilize voters more easily.

    "The Republicans have a clearer strategy in terms of telling the voter that this election is about taxes. Democrats have gotten very little credit for the 'center-right' agenda, the economy and deficit reduction," Lake said.

    Nor is Clinton getting credit for the improved economy, criminal justice reforms or cutting taxes, Lake said. "This is the first time in history when the party of the presidency in a recovery does not get credit for improving the economy or keeping America prosperous," she said.

    "Unless the Democrats develop a sharper agenda and a sharper contrast with the Republicans, capable of mobilizing their base, they are unlikely to gain seats in Congress, and indeed, may suffer losses due to structural disadvantages," such as a lack of money, Lake added. Democrats are settling into a campaign agenda covering the issues of education, health care and the environment.

    The Democratic advisor said that depending on voter turnout and each party's ability to create some intensity, a couple of House seats "could go either way." But Goeas, the Republican pollster, predicted his party will pick up at least eight to 12 seats in the House.

    The poll found that each major party is drawing about 40 percent of the voters in the country – the remaining 20 percent is "independent" and disengaged from this year's political debate. That even split should create a "real battleground" in the 1998 elections, the pollsters said.

    Other results from the voter survey included:

    • Almost half of the voters prefer that Congress and the White House be split between the two political parties. The poll showed a Democratic president and a Republican Congress is the favorite option by a 43 percent to 28 percent margin.

    • Congress has a 42-percent job approval rating, with 49 percent disapproving. It is an improvement over 1994 when the job approval rating reached a low of 17 percent and a disapproval rating of 67 percent.

    • Among Republican voters, 85 percent say they will vote for Republicans, the same percentage of support among Democrats for candidates from their own party.

    • Republican voters are more ideologically stable, with 79 percent calling themselves conservative. That compares to 46 percent of Democrats who consider themselves liberal, while 41 percent say they are conservative.

    • The so-called "soccer moms" who helped Clinton win the 1996 election, now tend to support Republicans by a margin of 23 percent. Overall, 45 percent of the women support Democrats and 38 percent favor Republicans. Among men, 42 percent are Republican, compared to 34 percent Democrat.

    • Republicans win the congressional election among white, married, male and college-educated voters, while Democrats are strongest with voters who are female, but not white, not married and not college-educated – the very portions of the electorate that are least likely to vote.

    © Copyright 1998 LEGI-SLATE News Service

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