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A pollster advises the Republicans to look to the future, not the past


WASHINGTON -- Ever since President Clinton won re-election last November by successfully working the Republican side of the political street on key issues such as the budget, crime and welfare, the losers have been re-examining what happened to them, with an eye to the future.

Anthony Fabrizio, who was the pollster for the Bob Dole presidential campaign, has just released the results of two national surveys of 1,000 voters each, one right after the election and the other after Mr. Clinton's State of the Union speech, and each aimed at identifying just who are the Republicans now, and what they have to do to win the White House in the year 2000.

Mr. Fabrizio offers a mixed answer. He puts today's Republicans in two roughly equal camps -- those who are most concerned with economic issues, whom he labels supply-siders and deficit hawks, and those most concerned with social issues, classifying them as cultural populists, moralists and progressives.

After polling each, he has concluded that a party consensus among them can best be built on the issues of balancing the budget, reducing government spending, opposing tax increases, opposing welfare and affirmative action, returning power to the states, keeping education control at the local level and being environmental-friendly, but not militant. There's nothing startling there.

The issues that no longer build consensus in the party, he says, are cutting taxes to the exclusion of balancing the budget, imposing a flat tax, crime and drug-prevention measures, confronting Medicare and Social Security, religion as a guide to policy, abortion, free trade and gun control.

These conclusions suggest that Republican nominee Bob Dole took the wrong road in the 1996 by making a tax cut the centerpiece of his campaign, suggesting a "fairer, flatter" tax system, and vocally opposing such practices as abortion and gun control. Mr. Fabrizio conceded as much in a press briefing on his study.

The disparate party that Mr. Fabrizio sees today, he says, must stop looking backward and find new issues to attract voters: "Look through the windshield, not the rear-view mirror."

The defeat of the Left

He contends that on issues like the budget, crime and welfare "the enemy has admitted the defeat of the Left and pitched tent in our own camp." Having already "won" on such issues, he says, the GOP must no longer "look toward past battles already settled."

At the same time, however, Mr. Fabrizio acknowledges that President Clinton in 1996 stole those issues from the GOP, in the process occupying the center ground and shoving the Republicans further right.

"As long as he's camped out right on the center," he says, "we've got a huge problem." So it seems that if the Republican Party "won" on the issues of the budget, crime and welfare, it was a hollow victory, what with Mr. Clinton getting credit from the voters on each of them.

Mr. Fabrizio's poll sought to make an early assessment of year-2000 Republican presidential prospects, and how they stand with each group. He found Colin Powell the choice of 22 percent overall, and running best among deficit hawks and cultural populists.

Jack Kemp was second with 14 percent, surprisingly running stronger among deficit hawks than supply-siders like himself. Elizabeth Dole, with 12 percent, had similar support to Mr. Kemp's. Dan Quayle with 9 percent was strongest among the moralists, but 24 percent overall said they'd never vote for him for president. Only Pat Buchanan, opposed by 35 percent, was more unpopular. None of this is particularly surprising either.

Mr. Fabrizio seemed most concerned over the view of surveyed Republican voters of Vice President Gore, who was favorably regarded by 41 percent of Republicans, compared with 47 percent who saw him unfavorably. These figures on Mr. Gore, walking in step with President Clinton in the co-opted center-right, should be, he says, "a wake-up call to the Republican Party" for 2000.

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover report from The Sun's Washington bureau.

Pub Date: 2/26/97

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