||Jeff Greenfield is senior analyst for CNN. He will provide weekly, Web-exclusive analysis during Election 2000.|
Jeff Greenfield: The 'uneasiness factor'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- If you watched Tuesday's Wall Street roller-coaster -- and how is your
blood pressure, by the way -- you're uncomfortably aware of the latest
installment of an investment mood that resembles a slapstick movie farce: you
know, the one where all the passengers on a ship race to one side, almost
tipping the vessel over, then race all the way to the other side.
I find this rush from high-tech to low-tech to no-tech to
let's-stuff-the-money-in-Grandma's-mattress fascinating -- not because I have
anything financial at stake (as the old Broadway saying has it, I have plenty
to live on for the rest of my life, provided I get hit by a bus this
afternoon), but because of the potential political implications.
If you want a label, let's call it "the uneasiness factor." It's a factor that often
plays a major role in our presidential campaigns.
In every presidential campaign, each candidate has to conquer the
uneasiness factor; a sense of uncertainty voters feel about whether that
candidate is truly up to the job. It comes into play most obviously when a
party's's nominee causes significant uneasiness even in his own party:
Goldwater in 1964; McGovern in 1972.
But it happens a lot more often. For example, Michael Dukakis in 1988 never convinced
swing voters that he fully shared their values, or was tough enough to face down international
adversaries. It can even happen to incumbents. By 1980, lots of Americans
remained unconvinced about President Carter's capacity to deal with the
Soviets, the Iranians, or the oil cartel known as OPEC.
In 1992, lots of voters thought President Bush didn't really understand their economic plight. (By
contrast, Bill Clinton that year persuaded a plurality of American voters to
take a chance. Whatever their doubts about his personal maturity, they were
comfortable with his intelligence and energy.
Now how might "the uneasiness factor" play out this year? Most obviously,
a sharp, continuing decline in the Dow and the NASDAQ, hammering the paper
wealth (or paper affluence) of millions of Americans, could create doubts
about just how real the economic achievements of the Clinton-Gore
Or there could be a contrary reaction: economic doubts
might persuade voters to stay with a familiar hand, rather than taking a risk
with a new, relatively untested national leader.
What's most intriguing is the possibility that the uneasiness factor
might play a significant role this year. So far, Americans have expressed a
level of confidence and contentment rare in recent decades. If the stock market
roller-coaster continues, it may make that factor the single most significant
element in November.