Voter Self-Interest Trumps Vision, Values

By Sperling, Godfrey | The Christian Science Monitor, April 16, 1996 | Go to article overview

Voter Self-Interest Trumps Vision, Values


Sperling, Godfrey, The Christian Science Monitor


A NEW poll gives support to what some readers have been trying to tell me for some time now: that personal traits and values don't mean too much to voters when they are voting for president.

Currently, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll, Senate majority leader Bob Dole is viewed by voters as possessing an edge over President Clinton when it comes to leadership, personal values, and vision for the country. Indeed, the poll found that 70 percent of the electorate believes that Dole shares the moral values most Americans try to live by, while 59 percent think the same of the president.

Yet Clinton would be returned to the presidency by a decided 10 percent margin, the poll indicates. A strong majority of the voters, it seems, will be swayed by partisanship and self-interest. The percentage of voters identifying themselves as Republicans is down to a 12-year low, at 41 percent. And an important reason given for Clinton's lead over Dole is that "many voters say they want the president reelected if for no other reason than to have a check on the Republican Congress." Voter ambivalence What's happening seems simple to me: Two years ago the voters swept into Congress a lot of Republicans who promised them what they thought they wanted: a balanced budget, including more frugality. But now the voters, or a lot of them, have concluded that they would be hurt by the changes in social programs - particularly Medicare - proposed by these Republicans. So they are going to vote for Clinton as a "check" on what they put in motion in 1994. All of which reminds me of some wisdom given to me by a pollster of years ago who said: "The voters talk about values and character when they are voting for president - but then end up voting their self-interest." I can't remember the pollster's name. I think it was that acute observer of American politics, Samuel Lubell. At any rate, the words have stuck with me. The poll also offers some interesting findings on a three-way race between Clinton, Dole, and Ross Perot. …

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