President Nixon relied on the "silent majority" for more conservative views than the protesters who took to the streets a generation ago. Now the silent majority is more liberal, more Democratic, and more supportive of President Clinton than the Americans filling the airwaves and lighting up congressional switchboards with sound and fury.
A study released today by the Times-Mirror Center for the People and the Press found that Mr. Clinton's disapproval is 10 to 15 percentage points higher than average among people who call in to talk-radio shows, call or write their congressional representative, or respond to call-in polls. "Republicans have louder voices than Democrats in almost all the important venues of public expression," according to the Times-Mirror analysts.
On talk radio, 9 percent of conservatives say they have talked on the air, compared with 4 percent of liberals. A much higher 39 percent of Republicans have contacted a member of Congress in the past year, compared with 33 percent of independents and 27 percent of Democrats.
This does not mean that the age of Rush Limbaugh, the conservative call-in broadcast host, is upon the land. The callers, not the hosts, are more conservative than the rest of the public. In fact, most of the 112 talk-show hosts in major media markets that Times-Mirror surveyed were decidedly more middle-of-the-road and politically independent than their audiences.
The hosts were, however, extremely critical of Clinton's performance as president - even though nearly as many voted for him as voted for George Bush and Ross Perot put together.
The most common form of popular political expression is calling or writing politicians. The study found that 18 percent of Americans have done so in the past year.
One in seven has attended a town meeting; 3 percent have been on the air.