Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Gore needs male vote

Reagan Democrats haven't returned

By Derrick DePledge
Gannett News Service

        LOS ANGELES — Tom Mooney is a respectable guy — husband, father, labor leader — but he had to crash a George W. Bush rally outside Cincinnati a few weeks back to heckle some white folks.

        “I'm sorry, they just looked so smug,” said Mr. Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers and a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. “They have it great with the economy, but for some of them, it's not good enough. They want an administration that will run rampant over the poor and middle class.”

        Mr. Mooney, himself white, represents a demographic that has slipped from the Democratic Party since Ronald Reagan changed the terrain of presidential politics. White males increasingly describe themselves as Republican, a gender gap that at times has been more pronounced than the trend among female voters toward Democrats.

        Opinion polls have consistently shown Mr. Bush with a strong lead over Vice President Al Gore among men — white men, in particular — a reliable shield that has given the Texas governor an opportunity to engage women and minorities with minimal political risk. A Gallup poll Monday had Mr. Bush ahead of Mr. Gore among men, 58 percent to 35 percent, while a Los Angeles Times poll on Tuesday found Mr. Bush up 2 to 1 with white men.

        Mr. Gore gets his chance to speak to the nation Thursday and will stress the country's record period of economic growth and the Clinton administration's hand in working with the Republican Congress on welfare reform and the first balanced federal budget in 30 years.

        Exit polls first began tracking a gender gap in 1980, when men drifted to Mr. Reagan and his vision of free enterprise and a strong national defense against the Soviet Union. These “Reagan Democrats” gave Republicans a landslide in 1984 and helped Mr. Reagan's vice president, George Bush, win the White House in 1988. President Clinton nearly split the white male vote in 1992 but trailed by 10 points among white males in his victory over Bob Dole in 1996.

        John Aldrich, a political science professor at Duke University, said gender differences are related to the degree in which the parties choose to emphasize certain issues. Republicans traditionally have campaigned for lower taxes, national defense and a limited federal government, issues that men often consider priorities. Democrats have concentrated on education, health care and social service programs that are of interest to women.

        A Gallup analysis of survey data from 10 polls between March and July found that 57 percent of Democrats are women, while about 47 percent of Republicans are women. About 75 percent of Democrats are white, the analysis found, compared with 93 percent of Republicans who are white.

        “Men also tend to be a little more conservative than women, but not by much,” Mr. Aldrich said.


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