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Jewish World Review Nov. 4, 2002 / 29 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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The deeper currents |
As of this writing, no one knows who will win the November 5 elections, although anyone reading this on Wednesday will know the results-at least those not being recounted or challenged in court. Right now, it isn't clear which party will win control of the House or a majority of seats in the Senate. But one thing does seem clear. Neither party is likely to do much better in the popular vote than it did in the 2000 presidential election (a tie at 48 percent each) or the 1998 and 2000 House elections (49 to 48 percent Republican).

Yet beneath the surface election results there may be currents that will become stronger in 2004 and after, trends among groups of voters in growing segments of the electorate. Quick media and partisan polls with small samples and even national exit polls provide little information about such trends. But three recent in-depth nonpartisan polls provide interesting clues about the future, whoever prevails November 5.

Investors. Most voters, 53 percent in an October Ipsos-Reid survey, are investors, owning stocks, bonds, or mutual funds-more than double the percentage 10 years ago. Republicans hope that these investors will feel a stake in voting against high taxes and heavy regulation. Democrats hope that investors reading their October 401(k) statements will turn against the party in power. Ipsos-Reid throws cold water on Democrats' hopes: Only 10 percent of investor-voters say they're more inclined to vote Democratic, while 6 percent are more inclined to vote Republican. The poll gives more hope to Republicans. Investors opt for Republicans by a 48 percent-to-40 percent margin, noninvestors for Democrats by 51 percent to 36 percent.

Absent altogether from any polls are the surges toward Democrats seen in the recessionary election years of 1958, 1970, 1974, and 1982. The key economic factor in politics is no longer income (for which the unemployment rate is a good proxy) but wealth (how voters are doing on their lifetime project of accumulating wealth). Short-term changes in income no longer move political numbers. Investors evidently focus on the long term, and this seems to make them more Republican.

Generation X. Evidence comes from an August Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation-Harvard poll looking at different generations. The youngest voters were most Republican, the oldest most Democratic. Voters under 30 identified themselves as Republican by 30 percent to 26 percent. Interestingly, the gender gap virtually disappears among these generation X-ers: Young women who grew up in a feminist America don't seem as moved by abortion or "choice" as baby boom women. And young voters are much less statist. Fully 61 percent favor individual investment accounts in Social Security, while 67 percent of the elderly are opposed. Similarly, 58 percent of gen X favor school vouchers, while 54 percent of the elderly are opposed.

The good news for Democrats is that the elderly are more likely to turn out in this off year. The good news for Republicans is that the GI generation will never again form as large a share nor the gen X-ers as small a share of the electorate. Democrats have been fighting any change in Social Security, and many Republicans have been scampering to oppose "privatization." But this may turn out to be the high point for candidates who vow to keep Social Security as it is-and Republicans seem to be maintaining parity with Democrats even so, as they did in 2000.

Latinos. In an April-June poll of nearly 3,000 Latinos, conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation, current Latino voters identify with Democrats by a 49-to-20 percent margin-large, but less than among blacks. But on the economy, they prefer Democrats in Congress to George W. Bush by only 43 to 42 percent. Latinos under 30 identify with Democrats by only a 34-to-21 percent margin, and those who are planning to become U.S. citizens by only 22 to 14 percent. Bush is courting Latinos vigorously, and it's not certain they will be a big Democratic voting bloc.

What do these underlying trends portend for the future? Further increases in the number of investors will probably help Republicans. So probably will the increasing percentage of voters from generation X. Democrats stand to make short-term gains from increases in the number of Latino voters, but these new voters will increasingly be open to Republican appeals as well. Currently, there is parity between the parties; the future electorate could be just a bit more Republican.

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Michael Barone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2002, Michael Barone