Americans fearful of economy, resent politicians, poll reveals

September 19, 1990|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Americans, feeling financially squeezed and increasingly distrustful of politicians, are in a sour mood as the 1990 elections approach, a new national survey says.

With the government seemingly stalemated, public cynicism is growing toward the political system in general and Congress in particular, according to an analysis of the poll by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press.

This sentiment is especially pronounced among groups that are feeling more economically pinched these days, such as middle- and lower-income whites and residents of regions, such as the East, where a business downturn is under way.

"Americans feel more economic pressure, more hopelessness and more disillusionment with their political system, and see more inequity," reported the authors of the study, which measured changes in public attitudes since a similar survey in 1987.

To provide a benchmark of public opinion in this midterm election year, 3,004 adults were interviewed face-to-face in May. One thousand of the respondents, aged 18 and older, were reinterviewed by phone Aug. 19-25. Both polls were financed by the Times Mirror Co., which publishes The Sun and other newspapers.

Growing fears that the economy has gotten off on the wrong track could be glimpsed in the poll taken in August, when a total of 35 percent predicted their personal finances would get worse over the next year.

Among respondents in the slumping East, dissatisfaction with the way their personal finances are going has increased from 32 to 44 percent since 1987.

The Democrats, who are solidly in control of Congress, maintained a narrow 48-42 percent advantage over the Republicans when the public was asked whom they would like to see win their congressional district this fall.

That, however, was one of the few glimmers of good news for either party in the survey.

The number of people who think elected officials in Washington are out of touch with the country has increased sharply, to 31 percent from 21 percent three years ago.

Those who agreed that government doesn't care what the average American thinks also increased significantly. Today, a 57 percent majority believes it has no say in what government does, up from 52 percent in 1987.

These changing attitudes reflect an increased sense of futility and despair in the way Americans feel about their own lives.

A total of 36 percent of Americans surveyed agreed that hard work is no guarantee of success in life, up from 29 percent in 1987.

For Republicans, an anti-abortion stance and their spreading reputation as the party of the rich has kept the GOP from growing despite 10 years of popular Republican incumbents in the White House.

Instead, the departure of Ronald Reagan from the presidency seems to have loosened the GOP's grip on younger voters and on older, less affluent voters who were attracted to Mr. Reagan's sunny, patriotic image.

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