Economy Should Help Democrats, but Doesn't

AVERAGE wages are falling in the United States, after taking account of inflation. Profitability of American corporations has reached a record high. The distribution of income has worsened - the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer.

To Washington political commentator Kevin Phillips, such facts should be giving Democrats campaign fodder. But they aren't being used well so far, he says. Too many Democrats are aiming to attract what he describes as those with a "yuppiesque, upper-income, Paul Tsongas, hair-shirt bias." These people want to cut budget deficits rather than help ordinary people. Democrats, Mr. Phillips argues, should be appealing more to their core constituency of working-class Americans.

Moreover, he charges, when Democrats had control of Congress and its committees, they muted their liberal ideology to obtain Political Action Committee money from trade groups and other special interests. Now, with the GOP running Congress, that money fountain is expected to wane for the Democrats.

Perhaps, he argues, middle- and lower-income working people - bus drivers, farmers, and so on - would go to the polls in greater numbers if President Clinton and his party members aimed their pitch more at those who feel left out by the economy and didn't bother voting in the congressional elections of 1994.

Lawrence Mishel, an economist at the Democratic-leaning Economic Policy Institute, agrees that Democrats haven't been able to capitalize on the wage-stagnation issue. In the November 1994 election, the vote of those hurt most - men with only a high school education or some college - shifted 19 percent toward the Republican Party from the 1992 election, he says. Democrats also got 9 percent fewer votes from less-educated white women than in 1992.

Low-wage earners "have been sold a bill of goods" by the GOP, he charges.

But Martin Anderson, President Reagan's domestic-policy adviser, now a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution in Palo Alto, Calif., says: "I hope the Democrats keep believing this stuff." He notes that Gov. Pete Wilson (R) of California won reelection handily last fall after cutting welfare and the state budget, and despite defense-spending cuts and an earthquake that hurt California's economy.

Voters, Mr. Anderson says, are telling the politicians, "You haven't gone far enough in cutting."

A poll taken last week by Yankelovich Partners for Time Magazine and Cable News Network gives mixed political signals on the budget resolution agreed to June 22 by the Republicans in Congress and that proposed earlier by Mr. Clinton. Asked which they approved, 19 percent of those polled favored the Republican plan, 37 percent the Clinton plan, and 39 percent neither plan. The question asked indicated that the Republican plan called for "large reductions" in spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs in seven years, and the Clinton plan "smaller reductions" in 10 years. In fact, the Republican plan would reduce the growth in costs - not cut them.

Another question on Congress's top priority for the next six months found 29 percent favoring balancing the budget as quickly as possible, 42 percent favoring protecting important programs like Medicare from spending cuts, and 25 percent wanting taxes cut for middle-class Americans.

The poll also showed that 52 percent disapprove of Clinton's handling of the federal budget while 37 percent approve; and that 34 percent trust the Republicans in Congress to make budget decisions, 25 percent the Democrats in Congress, and 22 percent Clinton. But 71 percent believe Republican proposals to reduce government programs will help wealthy Americans, and 69 percent say that they will hurt the working poor.

A Census Bureau report this month indicated that the working poor, as usual, didn't participate heavily in the election last fall. The percentage of those making $24,999 a year or less who voted ranged from 39.9 percent down to 19.9 percent, for those earning under $5,000. But 60.1 percent of those earning $50,000 or more voted. Phillips holds that these figures exaggerate the percentage actually voting. People are embarrassed to say they didn't carry out a duty of citizenship.

Whatever, it shows, to some extent, that Americans get the government they vote for and that which they don't vote for.

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