Fall fashion change for US presidents: coattails get shorter

American voters are again expected to stroll randomly back and forth acrossparty lines when they go to the polls Nov. 4. An increasing tendency "to vote the man, not the party" might strike some observers as a desirable flexibility on the voter's part.

But it deeply troubles others who see it weakening government effectiveness, releasing political leaders from direct accountability for policy failures, and adding to voter cycnicism that "it doen't much matter who's elected."

And it leads to ironic Washington events like this week's slashing of $300 million in jobs spending by the Democrat- controlled Senate Budget Committee, eight days after the Democratic National Convention adopted a $12 billion antirecession jobs program.

In political terms, this November's election is expected to show a further weakening of presidential coattails. Senate and House candidates are distancing themselves from the tops of their party ticket, with many keeping within hailing distance of independent between governors and legislatures could again increase.

A party's record -- as a way to keep politicians accountable for broad, consistent achievement or failure -- appears likely to fade even further in voter thinking Nov. 4

"Unless some major shift suddenly occurs, I see no indication American will hoover, they voted against the accoutable. That's the difference with today.

"Now the president is seen as a personal individual leadder. And the party is seen as amorphous. Senators, congress men, governors, state leaders, the President, all are evaluated differently. The old slogan -- 'vote the man, not the party' -- has come to pass.

Unfortunely, Fiorina says, issues like the arms race and inflation are beyond an individual's power to control. "Even the President by himself can't solve the major problems posed by emergency by energy demands, taxes, and depletion allowances. He needs the cooperation of the Congress and other institutions. a generation ago the party was held accountable, so there was a correcting incentive to solve these problems and extablish record."

At the same time, Americans want their chief executive to show a more commanding presence in national affairs, observes Stephen Wayne, a specialist on the White House, at George Washington University.

The parties have abandoned the people, not just the reverse, some political analysts say.

Government and party reforms, plus changing social forces, have weakened the parties and made them less relevant to voter needs, these political scientists say. The Civil Service Act of 1883 was only a first step in eroding party patronage powers. More recently, the increase in primaries in lieu of party conventions, the start-up of federal funding for campaigns, and emergence of special-interest groups have cut party leverage.

"For increasing numbers of citizens, party attchments based on the Great Depression seem lacking in relevevance to the problems of the late 20th century, " Mr. Fiorina writes in a paper for the Center for the Study of American Business at Washington University in St. Louis. The racial issue in the 1960s, rhe social issues of the 1970s, and the energy, environment, and inflation issues of today have provoked internal party dissension, not unified action convincing to rank-and-file Americans, he says.

In any event, the 1980 evidence points to more picking and choosing of candidates without regard to party lines -- but with Democrats maintaining their edge.

A Gallup poll had Ronald Reagan ahead of Jimmy Carter by 45 to 31 after the Republican convention. but neither Mr. Reagan nor Mr. Carter showed any coattails power in polls conducted on congressional races.

In 1976 the situation was the same. Mr. Carter ran ahead of only one Democratic Senate winner, Jim Sasser of Tennessee. He ran ahead of 22 of 292 Democratic house winners. Eleven of the 22 were from the South, including four from Georgia.

The Gallup readings of how Americans intend to vote in local congressional races have held steady since early this year. The Democrats' 3-to-2 lead is expected to rise only faintly, despite the post-Democratic convention gains of President Carter.

"On the basis of current survey evidence it is difficult to foresee any major changes in the present composition of the House -- 275 Democrats and 159 Republicans," pollster George Gallup says.

The Democrats' persistent overall edge masks a fragmentation in party voting patterns at all levels.

At the state level, 27 of the 50 government are under divided party control going into the 1980 election -- 17 states with a governor of one party facing a legislature controlled by the other, and 10 states with bicameral legislatures split between parties. In 1960, only 16 states had divided party control.

At the federal level, 27 states have senators of different parties, compared with 16 after the 1960 election.

In 1900, only 3 percent of the nation's congressional districts chose a congressman and presidential candidate of opposing parties. That had risen to 30 percent in 1956, and 40 percent in 172. "We may well be heading for a record in split-district resultsm in 1980 as a vulnerable Democratic president runs with 250-odd not-so-vulnerable Democratic congressman," Fiorina says.

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