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Clinton's Edge: The Under-30 Crowd

By Daniel Schorr / August 16, 1996



The presidential campaign so far has been, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, "a theme-less pudding." No single issue has taken hold. The Dole camp is preparing to offer an economic growth tax-cut package as a theme. But it may well be that the real theme of this campaign is not issues, but empathy.

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Out on the campaign trail, President Clinton has been giving evidence of his talent for connecting with people's hopes and anxieties. It may not seem like much to come out against teenage sex and teenage smoking or to suggest another telephone number for those who can't reach 911.

But combined with the advantage of incumbency that permits him to open the Olympic games, to become America's voice of wrath over the Dhahran and Atlanta bombings, and the voice of grief over TWA Flight 800, his talent for identifying himself with voters has given him a considerable edge over Bob Dole.

Age has become a factor, but not because Dole is considered too infirm to govern. In a Washington Post focus session, voters under 30 in Centerville, Ohio, said they find it hard to relate to a candidate they liken to their grandparents.

President Kennedy was viewed as connecting with young voters, but so was President Reagan. It isn't age per se that accounts for Clinton's steady gains in national surveys among voters in their 20s, but rather the perception that he is closer to their concerns than Dole is.

A 20-year-old in Ohio was quoted by the Post: "Even if Clinton is not going to do much, it is better than the unknown." The under-30s represent one-sixth of the electorate. It is remarkable that the president, having captured the aging with his defense of Medicare, appears now to be capturing young voters as well.

*Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst at National Public Radio.