Democrats, GOP split votes for House seats Exit polls show uncertainty over who should be in control

Election 1996


Troubled that a Republican Congress might be too conservative and a Democratic one too liberal, voters in House elections across the country divided their votes almost evenly between the two parties, a national survey of 8,469 voters leaving polling places showed last night.

Without an obvious national trend, Republican hopes of winning control of the House for the second consecutive election for the first time since 1930 depended on contests in dozens of districts, especially the fate of the 69 Republican freshmen seeking re-election.

Democrats, who were guaranteed at least one seat in Louisiana (where two Democrats were the only candidates), needed to pick up 18 more seats to win control and elect Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri as speaker to replace Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

"It should be a very good day for us," Gingrich said as he voted.

Gephardt had nothing to say publicly all day. And Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, "It's going to be a long night."

The regional patterns of the vote, as seen in the survey, offered no surprises. Republican candidates led in the South and broke even in the Midwest. Democrats led in the East and in the West, a region where perhaps a dozen Republican freshmen were at risk.

Democrats also seemed to be doing best among voters who decided within the last few days, which suggested that the intense, last-minute campaigning had broken their way.

Each party rallied its most intense supporters. Voters in union households, about one-fourth of all voters, gave six of every 10 votes to Democrats and about a third of their votes to Republicans, the survey showed.

Driving down the Republican percentage of the House vote, nearly 40 percent in the Republicans' House takeover of 1994, had been a major goal of the leaders of the AFL-CIO, which poured at least $35 million into this election and mounted its most intense get-out-the-vote effort in decades.

But white voters who identified themselves as part of the religious right, about one voter in six, divided even more strongly for Republicans -- about 70 percent to about 25 percent.

Republicans had campaigned intensely in the final week to persuade voters not to give President Clinton a Democratic Congress to work with. Their campaign had some impact. Fifty percent of all voters said they feared that a Democratic Congress would prove too liberal. A smaller share, 42 percent, said they feared a Republican-controlled Congress would be too conservative.

But those opinions did not necessarily control their votes. Twenty-one percent of those who voted for Democrats did so even though they said they feared a Democratic Congress would be too liberal, while 14 percent of those who cast their votes for Republicans said they were concerned that a Republican House would be too conservative.

Moreover, among people who said that their view of the president and his policies was very important to their votes, two-thirds voted for Democratic House candidates.

Pub Date: 11/06/96

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