MARCH 18, 1996
Pollsters Linda Divall and Stanley Greenberg discuss what the mood of the country is toward the state of the economy and the governments role in it.
JIM LEHRER: Now, putting these Ohio voices into a national political context. It will be done by two pollsters, Republican Linda Divall, who worked on the Gramm Presidential campaign, and Democrat Stanley Greenberg, who worked on the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign. Linda, are those folks in Dayton representative of the country as a whole right now?
LINDA DIVALL, Republican Pollster: I think they are, for a couple of reasons. No. 1, you see that people are struggling with concern about their future economic security. What we're seeing today is that people now begin--are beginning to understand that they will go through five, six, eight different career changes, that it's not the same was it was twenty or thirty years ago where you will be with one corporation. And that means that there's uncertainty perhaps not so much about the job they hold today but five, ten years hence about their long-term financial security and their kids' place as well. What was interesting about that piece is how many of the people felt it was necessary to take on more personal responsibility for themselves in terms of job retraining, not just looking at a government handout but better preparing themselves to compete in an international, global marketplace.
JIM LEHRER: A kind of acceptance, Stanley Greenberg, that this is the new reality. Do the polls-- do the polls reflect that nationally?
STANLEY GREENBERG, Democratic Pollster: They do. I mean, this is painfully real. I mean, this is I think an exceptional focus group discussion, and I think brought out many of the currents that are there in the country. You've got people that are scrambling to put together an economic life, many jobs, and one of the participants talked about multiple W-2's. The people feel they're on their own, they're putting these jobs together themselves. And the economy is creating a lot of jobs, but they are perceived to be, and I think accurately, lower-paying jobs, which requires that they have more family pressure, put in more work time, more overtime, multiple jobs. And it leaves people feeling that they are under enormous pressure. A lot of sense here that the family was under pressure as a consequence of this kind of economic change.
JIM LEHRER: What do you make of the line that we are a nation of independent contractors now, that one man said?
STANLEY GREENBERG: I think it's both true, both as, I think, an empirical statement and for some, I think particularly for the better educated and the professionals, umm, I think exciting. For most of the others, I think they were scared of that, that role, and I think one of the problems they have with the government, is the government hasn't been there. Their perception is the government hasn't been for them. They'd like to see that there's help for education and training in order to put together those skill sets to be able to be sure that you're going to be able to have portable health care or pensions, you're going to have this kind of instability, and I think they're looking for a different kind of government role in this new period.
JIM LEHRER: We'll get back to the government in a minute, but this independent contractor concept is, as Stan Greenberg says, that only applies to people with a lot of training or a lot of experience, a lot of education, does it not?
LINDA DIVALL: Well, not necessarily. I think there are a lot of people who are looking for flexibility in the work place, and they don't want to be wedded to going to a company and working nine to five, so they're looking at working out of their house or working out of their plane or, you know, the golf course in my case. That's what I would strive for, but I think people are looking for some flexibility in the work place, where they're not wedded to sitting in a chair, working eight hours a day, so they are saying to themselves, as Jeff, I believe, said, you know, the product to offer is yourself. How is it that you can sell yourself and say to that corporation that they need you? Now, there's a number of different ways of doing that, but I think flexibility, which a lot of people mention in that article, really is key, and having the freedom from your work place to spend more time with your family to eliminate some of those pressures that we're seeing in all of our polling data is very dominant.
JIM LEHRER: Well, my point, my question is: Does it have relevance beyond a certain economic and educational level?
STANLEY GREENBERG: Well, I said, we can romanticize this.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
STANLEY GREENBERG: But for the professionals, you know, and who can fly off to Florida for a job, that's one thing. My sense of these, these voters, both in our research and also the ones you spoke to in Dayton, these are people who feel very vulnerable, powerless relative to the companies, knowing that they can be dropped at the, you know, next quarter if they need to cut 20 percent, and I think they feel very much on their own and powerless, and they're trying to deal with the consequences in their lives. How do you have to now have permission in order to, you know, go to your kid's football game--they're living the consequences.
JIM LEHRER: Now, let's go to this government question, Linda. The--it was clear that none of those folks are dependent on the government, or are expecting the government to do anything to help them out of this problem that they "have" right now, and it's a big problem. It's varying degrees, and we heard the varying degrees here, but they don't look to government. Is that a new development?
LINDA DIVALL: No, it's not, and I think it's a very strong Midwestern flavor that you saw here as well. A couple of things on that point. No. 1, I thought the participants in this group showed a remarkable degree of resiliency, that they were going to do a lot to take care of themselves, and yes, they were going through some economic downturns. And the survey data is interesting because people believe that the future for this country will be optimistic, but they're worried about the standard of living and about a majority of people said that the standard of living will fall, which is reflected in a couple of the respondents in terms of their view. But, ultimately, when you look at prescriptions, they're saying, I think, job retraining at the local level or the community level, because they know our problems best, but if the government comes in, they'll just make the situation worse. That intervention from up here does not do anything to take care of our local needs in terms of understanding our community, and if you just look at Dayton in terms of the small business creation, unemployment rate being only 5 percent, if you go back and look at 1982, the height of the recession during Ronald Reagan's administration, we found in our survey research in that state that 80 percent were concerned about losing their job in the next year.
STANLEY GREENBERG: Well, I think they're heroic, I mean, not just resilient. I think they're heroic, and I think we're being too literal in their reaction to government. I mean, what they are saying is that we are scrambling, we are making this personal effort to put together an economic life, government hasn't been there for the small business, government isn't there for the person who works, works hard, plays by the rules. They want to make sure that there is support for education, training, there is support for the things that they are doing in order to, you know, support their families. They think the government's not been there, but that's not the same thing as saying government shouldn't be there. They're angry that government hasn't played a more important role in support of their needs.
JIM LEHRER: There's another element to it too at the end, it's just absolute mistrust of the people, whether they're Democrats, as you are, STANLEY GREENBERG, or Republicans, as you are, Ms. Divall, they don't trust any of you all.
STANLEY GREENBERG: That's a fair statement. I was going to let Linda answer that one. (laughing)
LINDA DIVALL: I think there's going to be a burden on both Presidential nominees as we go into the selection to talk about which party is most capable of restoring economic prosperity and speaking to the middle class, particularly the financially squeezed middle class, which is vast at this stage. We did a survey not too long ago, and we found out that it was just very evenly divided on this issue of restoring economic prosperity. 42 percent favored the Republicans, 37 percent favored the Democrats. That could flip any way. What voters want to hear is not so much more government intervention but who--which of these two candidates speaks directly to them and understands the tension that they experience on a daily basis, that they are financially pressed, and not that they want to have government step in and solve their lives. You saw that. They know that that's not possible but understands their concerns and can try to get local government more involved.
STANLEY GREENBERG: Well, there's also some basic conditions that make it possible to put together those W-2's. The administration's created 8 million jobs over the last four years. They know--they don't believe they are high-paying jobs, but they do believe they are at least able to scramble and put together an economic life. If this had been four years ago, with unemployment 7 percent, this would have been a different kind of conversation. They wouldn't be able to pursue these personal strategies, so the kind of growth we had over the four years makes this possible, but it's not enough. They want--I think they want political leaders to recognize their struggle, and they want to know that political leaders have a vision on how this can change. I don't think people are going to settle for this, this outcome.
JIM LEHRER: Is--you both--you used the word understand--you used the word recognize--is that what the folks want now from their political leaders, even if they can't solve the problems, at least talk about it and understand what they're all about?
LINDA DIVALL: I think there's a feeling that once people get elected and come to Washington, once the plane lands at Washington National Airport, that they have totally lost the ability to read into their voters why they got there in the first place in terms of any type of sensitivity to the problems that they experience. There is this disconnect and particularly on the Presidential level, when you fly from airport to airport, tarmac to tarmac, people feel that they're really not in touch with voters' lives, and that's--
JIM LEHRER: And that's true elsewhere than Dayton, Ohio?
STANLEY GREENBERG: Oh, for sure. I mean, they're making an heroic effort. They want the political leaders as a starting point to recognize that they should be--their effort, they want to be the center of the story. They think our politics ought to be about their lives.
JIM LEHRER: Well, they're going to be the center of the story on the NewsHour all week. We're going to be talking about this. Thank you all for helping us getting it started tonight.
LINDA DIVALL: Thank you.
STANLEY GREENBERG: Thank you.