The Democratic Party faces a fundamental conflict in American public opinion in next fall's elections.
Americans want change when they elect a new president and Congress - a sentiment that bodes well for Republican presidential front-runner Gov. George W. Bush and for the Democrats working to retake Congress.
In a national survey taken by former Clinton pollster Stan Greenberg, 74 percent of likely voters say they want a change in the presidential election, versus 20 percent who say they want to continue in the same direction. In the congressional race, voters say they want change by a margin of 67 percent to 26 percent.
The question for Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic front-runner, is whether he can fashion himself into a candidate of change.
According to Mr. Greenberg, speaking yesterday at a Monitor breakfast, Mr. Gore's challenge is not so much to differentiate himself from President Clinton, but rather to promise big change in areas of top concern to voters, including health care, Medicare, and Social Security.
"Gore will do well if he becomes a candidate of change, both in the primary process and in the general election," says Greenberg, who is neutral in the Democratic nomination race. "But I think the kinds of changes they're looking for are the kinds of changes the Democrats are ready to talk about."
Greenberg and former Clinton strategist James Carville have formed a new group, Democracy Corps, dedicated to "making the United States Congress more responsive to the American people." At the breakfast, Mr. Carville complained that Democrats have been too timid in highlighting their differences with Republicans, and his goal is to spur his party toward a harder-edged challenge against the GOP. The Greenberg poll was released by the Democracy Corps.
In the 1998 election, "we left some seats on the table," by not focusing harder on the government shutdowns and in impeachment, says Carville, a Gore supporter. This time around, he wants Democrats to highlight what he called the "Bush-Giuliani" tax cut - the $800 billion tax cut approved by Congress and supported by Governor Bush and New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (the likely opponent against Hillary Clinton, the first lady, in the race for the New York Senate seat).
In the Greenberg survey, when the Democratic and Republican arguments on the tax cut were presented to voters, the Democratic argument won, 57 to 36 percent. Democrats argue the budget surplus is being spent on a tax cut for the wealthy. The Republicans argue the tax cut will give taxpayers their own money back.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society