August 19, 1996 in Nation/World

No-Show ‘96: Americans Who Don’t Vote Nonvoters Deny They Are Liberals But Opinions Seem More To The Left Than The Right

Mary Dittrich Medill News Service
 

These days, the label of “pro-government liberal” seems to be politically incorrect, even for the politically uninvolved.

Nearly a third of likely nonvoters in a new scientific survey called themselves “conservative,” while only 19 percent called themselves “liberal.” Another 39 percent of the 1,001 nonvoters, surveyed by Medill News Service for The Spokesman-Review, called themselves “moderates.”

Among those who called themselves conservative, however, many leaned more to the left than to the right when asked their views on several issues.

For example, nearly two-thirds of likely nonvoters who called themselves conservative said abortion should be legal. Four of five self-described conservatives said government should play an active role in health care, housing and education.

“It’s really popular to say you are conservative and to say you are anti-government today,” said Gary Moncrief, a political scientist at Boise State University.

The phenomenon may have its roots in the Northwest, but it has spread nationwide, he said.

Todd Myers, communications director for the Washington state Republican Party, said people always will say that improvements should be made in existing social agencies. But given a choice, both nonvoters and voters would prefer the work be done by state or local governments, he said.

Washington state has a long history of populism, said Brett Bader, president of the Madison Group, a Seattle-based political consulting firm. “In general, people are suspicious of granting further power to the federal government.”

Although most nonvoting conservatives in the survey agreed the federal government should run only those programs that cannot be run at a local level, almost half said the federal government does a better job than people give it credit for.

And slightly less than half held the opinion that their own success in life is determined by forces outside their control.

But Myers said he believes attitudes about prosperity and personal gain in Washington state are vastly different from those found in the poll.

“If anything, the belief that you are responsible for your own well-being and that government has a small impact on your life is probably larger in this state than anywhere (else) across the country,” he said.

The favorable views of government held by those surveyed conflict with those of the stereotypical nonvoter, often portrayed as conservative, alienated from society and very anti-government.

“People often think of the angry, white male on the right, but in fact, they are on the left as well as the right,” said Arthur Miller, a political scientist at the University of Iowa.


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