Bob Frost has the earmarks of a young '60s-style rebel: shaggy hair, a beard, the down jacket and faded jeans, and most of all a deep sense of disillusionment with "the system."
He has never voted, nor registered to vote. He explains; "It seems like a vote doesn't have very much power. Promises aren't kept. . . It just seems sort of pointless."
Frost is 28 years old, never went to college, has a wife and daughter, and works as a cement finisher in what is thought of as heartland America: Urbana, Ohio.
He plays the guitar.His wife, Joan, plays the flute. They like to ice skate. Their favorite television show is M*A*S*H." They have a taste for quality cheese.
Frost and the other children of the 1960s have grown up into today's middle class, and there aren't really that many former campus activists among them. Beneath the vocal, well-educated tip of their generation, the Bob Frosts are the iceberg. Not the protest and Perrier set; for them its Miller Time.
Millions of them have never voted. And among blue-collar workers in the 27-35 age group, nearly half have never even registered.
Because of their vast numbers and their prolonged political virginity, some political analysts believe that what is their heads can be the key to American politics in the 1980s.
They are a huge portion of the aging babies of the post World War II birth boom. Molded by Vietnam and Watergate, The Pill and "the media," maturing to the inward rhythms of the Me Decade.
Less than one-fourth of the boom babies got college degrees; the bulk of the nonvoters in question did not go to college. Primarily part of the shopping center society of suburbs, smaller towns and countryside, they are secretaries, clerks factory and construction workers, truck drivers,small business people.
They struggled with the hand-me-down expectations for the "rich, full life" that were popularized by the more affluent group.
Recent interviews with nonvoters around the country revealed a mosaic of bitterness, cynicism or merely indifference -- a feeling that voting is unconnected to the concerns of their lives.
They generally were unabashed about not voting. They do not see their attitudes as a "malaise." Many do not single out Watergate or Vietnam as "disillusioning." In fact, they tend to feel they never had any illusions, that they are simply dealing in reality.
"It boils down to the almighty buck," says Craig Friday, 31, a Phoenix, Ariz., flooring contractor, a family man, a homeowner. "Everything is a deal."
Many of them fall into a category that Madison Avenue refers to affectionately as "new-rich blue-coolar." Their skills often earn them good pay and frequently their wives are working too.
Market researchers, who probably have studied this group more than any other, tell us that, while the parents tended to deny themselves for the sake of the children and for future rewards, this rising generation feels "entitled" to things right now. Their focus is themselves.
"What they want and what they search for is excitement -- in everything from 'in' travel to product packaging. For them, money -- and the work you do to get money -- is a means to that end," according to a survey by Yankelovich, Skelly and White, an opinion research firm that has tracked social trends since 1970.
That finding also applies to some older and college-educated consumers but especially to this group.
Unlike college-educated, young professionals, this group does not seek these things in their work, creative hobbies or causes, but in "me products" and "experiences," with perhaps a soupcon of "controllable risk."
Some demographers even predict a "mini-baby boom" in the next few years among childless women in their early 30s who want to have the "experience" of a child before the biological time clock runs out. Others cite an increase in the number of women in this age group (now around half) who no longer view having a child as "an experience no woman should miss."
They are a more tolerant group, less quick to criticize others than were their parents. They are less rigid. But this, too, is a source of stress, specialists say: They have no social consensus, too may choices and little to rebel against.
In Springfield, Ohio, Robert Ingoldsby, age 34, wears overalls and likes to ride his Honda CX500 motorcycle to the Florida Keys and pitch a tent. "My life style," he says, "is kind of relaxed."
Trade-school educated, he is the assistant manager of a grain elevator. He and his wife, Ann, recently bought a 200-year-old log cabin that they like to show off, over a glass of white wine, to a guest. They collect antiques to go with it. They recently bought a modern wood stove to save energy.
Ann works for the city manager and her husband barely winces when he notes that she makes more money than he does. She also kept her maiden name.
Ingoldsby has three children from a former marriage who come for periodic visits. But he and Ann said they do not want more children.
"We just can't afford them, and we don't have the time," she says.
Ingoldsby said he had "no really good excuse" for never registering to vote, calling it "just my own ignorance, and laziness. I've moved around a lot and just never taken the time."
Although he said he does not subscribe to newspapers, or watch the TV news, the home is full of books and he adds: "I have views. I believe in voting."
He might vote for Jimmy Carter next year, he said, just so some president -- any president -- could stay in office long enough to "get something done."
In Nashville, Tenn., truck driver John Seaborn, 31, a homeowner with a wife and two children, says he has never voted because "regardless of what I do, see, it's not going to have any effect. . . After you take so much water in a boat, you're not going to save the ship."
Seaborn was at a fast-food stand having a lunch of a baked potato and a Coke. He explained, "I'm a vegetrian."
Despite these disavowals of political interest, Republican pollster Robert M. Teeter says the nonvoters "are not going to go through their entire lives not participating in the process."
Whenever in the past a political candidate has built a majority coalition -- from Abraham Lincoln to Franklin Roosevelt, Teeter said, he did not do it by getting people to switch parties, but by bringing in groups of people who previously had not voted.
Teeter explains the political potential:
"Well, for the first time since the 1930s, a large bloc of eligibles hasn't been voting. They could maybe come in behind an issue or candidate and they could form a coalition that would last a generation or move."
On the 75 million Americans who reached voting age since 1960, Teeter said, about 50 million have not even registered to vote.
Traditionally, people start to vote as they grow older and "settle down." But a recent Washington Post poll indicates that, in this generation, it isn't happening. Virtually the same percentage (32.5) in the 27-to-35 age group as in the 18-to-26-age group (32.6) said they did not vote in 1976.Allowing for a "liar factor" of about 12 percent, the pollster says, the figure is probably closer to 44 percent.
Among all age groups, voting has declined and cynicism toward politics has risen. Indeed, the oldest age groups express more of a sense of powerlessness or dissilusionment than do the young adults, according to Arthur H. Miller of the University of Michigan's Insitute for Social Research. But the older age groups also has the highest voting record.
"Other things mobilize the older people to go out and vote that don't mobilize the young -- duty, habit, commitment to the community -- and they are less distracted by other activities," Miller said.
The only significant difference between voters and nonvoters, a 1976 Washington Post poll indicated, was in whether they believed that it makes any difference whether the Democrats or the Republicans win. The nonvoters thought it made no difference.
"Why should I vote?" asks Norman Brown,29, of Boise, Idaho, a Vietnam veteran. An employe of the Disabled American Veterans, he works with down-and-out veterans.
He resents the government for "shorting the vets," and believes no candidate in the field really represents him.
Brown and his wife have a child, own their own home and recently bought a new Ford pickup. His favorite movie is "Star Wars"; on television, he likes to watch such programs as "60 Minutes" and "20/20."
In Columbia, S.G., secretary Chris Rodgers, 27, said that although she has never registered to vote, she worked briefly last year as an employe of an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate. The experience only confirmed her suspeicions that "you have to be part of a big club" to get elected.
"There is only one word I can use to describe myself -- and I'm speaking for a lot of people: cynicism," Rodgers says. "It's very hard to believe in anything anymore."
Compared with the college-educated crowd this group is more vulnerable to a little "romancing," a celebrity spiel and snob appeal, more ready to switch to "the latest," says psychologist Barbara Caplan, who interprets research data for Yankelovich.
They spend more readily for "me products" -- frilly underwear, designer jeans, hang gliding -- than for "we products" -- a 5- pound sack of sugar, for example.
They're skeptical of authority. If you want to sell vitamins to this group one researcher advised, use a star athlete, not a doctor.
Good government, like leisure and refrigerators, is among the things their parents felt they had to earn, but which today's young adults feel they have a "right" to, Caplan said. These tendencies reasonably can be expected to carry over into political behavior.
"If they can be romanced by a label on their rear ends," Caplan said, "they can be romanced by a pretty face" in a political ad.
Still, the nonvoters do not exist in a vacuum. Ingoldsby's wife, for example, is after him to vote.
And in Nashville, as truck driver Seaborn talked about his reasons for not voting, a bear-sized co-worker slammed his fist down and said, "Hell -- voting? That's the only right I've got. And if you don't vote, John, you got no right to complain about anything."
Seaborn shrugged cooly: "You don't hear me complaining, do you?"
The 1980s, with all the crunches and clashes they promise, could help him find his voice.
But maybe not. Many in this group seem content, until some event reaches into their lives and grabs them, to remain mute and weightless in American politics. xt autumn, when its next series of small cars go into the showrooms, its