Clinton was able to expand appeal to suburbs, whites, independents

November 05, 1992|By Jack W. Germond | Jack W. Germond,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- In winning as a self-styled "different kind of Democrat," President-elect Bill Clinton fashioned a different kind of coalition than those Democrats have relied upon so heavily in the past.

Preliminary analyses of the exit polls and election returns showed the foundation of Mr. Clinton's support was made up of traditional party blocs.

For example, the Arkansas governor won more than 90 percent of the black vote, almost two-thirds of the Hispanic-American vote, a majority of union workers and three-fourths of the Jewish vote. He was strongest among voters with the lowest incomes, weakest with the most affluent.

Since 1964, however, that coalition has not been enough for a Democrat to win the presidency.

Their only success, by Jimmy Carter in 1976, was based heavily on an aberration -- heavy Southern support for a regional favorite. Even in that election, Mr. Carter carried every Southern state on the strength of margins provided by black voters.

The difference with Mr. Clinton is that he found a way to broaden that core and make it a coalition that could win rather than just fall short.

Here were the critical elements:

* Independents -- An analysis by Peter Hart, a Democratic poll-taker who conducted surveys for the Wall Street Journal and NBC News this fall, found Mr. Clinton carried 10 of the 12 states in which more voters identify themselves as independent than as either Republican or Democratic.

That group included three states that have been voting Republican consistently in recent presidential elections -- Illinois, Connecticut and Colorado.

Mr. Clinton also won a clear plurality in President Bush's summer home state of Maine. The returns showed Mr. Clinton with 30 percent of the vote, Mr. Bush with 21 percent and independent Ross Perot, 20 percent.

* Whites -- Mr. Clinton became the first Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 to win a plurality of white voters nationally with 42 percent to 39 for Mr. Bush and 19 for Mr. Perot.

This figure, Democratic strategists said, was an obvious product of Mr. Clinton's efforts to avoid being perceived as "the black candidate" in areas where that makes white voters uneasy.

The dividend was apparent in Georgia, a state Mr. Clinton carried with 44 percent to 43 percent for Mr. Bush and 13 percent for Mr. Perot.

The Democratic nominee won 90 percent of the black vote in Georgia and needed 35 or 36 percent of the white vote to carry the state, at least 5 or 6 percentage points more than voted for either Walter F. Mondale in 1984 or Michael S. Dukakis in 1988. Mr. Clinton took 37 percent of white voters, to 49 percent for Mr. Bush and 14 percent for Mr. Perot.

* Young voters -- Early analyses suggest the turnout among voters 18 through 24 years old, normally the lowest, rose sharply, perhaps as much as 10 percent from four years ago in some states.

Mr. Clinton captured 50 percent of that vote to 30 percent for Mr. Bush and 20 percent for Mr. Perot. This was a sharp reversal of the movement of the young toward the Republicans during the Reagan years and, for obvious reasons, potentially important to the Democrats.

* Suburban voters -- Mr. Clinton won 45 percent in the suburbs -- 2 points above his overall support -- thanks to Reagan Democrats returning to their original party on economic issues and to defections of Republican women on the abortion rights issue.

The suburban vote was considered critical to the Democratic nominee in Ohio, New Jersey and Connecticut. In New York, voters who considered abortion an important issue split almost 2-to-1 for Mr. Clinton over Mr. Bush.

* Women -- The share of the total vote cast by women rose from 52 to 54 percent, and Mr. Clinton profited from a gender gap, capturing 47 percent of the vote of women, 41 percent of men.

One key here is that Mr. Perot's support among women ran well below his overall level.

The women's preference for the Democratic ticket apparently had as much to do with economic issues as so-called "women's issues." Among working women, Mr. Clinton won 51 percent to 31 for Mr. Bush, 18 for Mr. Perot.

* Older voters -- Among voters over 60 years old, Mr. Clinton won 52 percent to 37 for Mr. Bush and only 11 percent for Mr. Perot. One reason was the health-care issue. Among Pennsylvania voters who said that was important to them, the split was 71-19-10.

In sum, the Clinton support was substantially more diverse than the traditional Democratic coalition.

There were more voters interested in practical change than in ideological argument, and, most significantly, a higher percentage of whites, independents and suburbanites.

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