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Chasing the Undecided

The Swing Set

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Four years ago, the media were filled with talk of the Soccer Moms--well-off suburban swing voters who were said to hold the key to the election. Reality is never quite so simple. There was more than one undecided demographic group in the country then, and there's more than one now. Here are five distinct groups that will decide this election.

The Lunch-Pail Dads

--Middle income ($30,000 to $65,000 a year), white workingmen without a college degree, married and almost always with children.

Their wives are Waitress (or Secretary) Moms, and they live in suburbs or small towns near cities. They're doing better than they were six or eight years ago, but have little savings. Many voted for Perot in '92 and even in '96, some for Clinton. They are leaning toward Bush. They respond to candidates who convey the capacity for leadership. Gore's "fighting for hard-working families" pitch is aimed their way. So far, it has attracted many of their wives, not many of them.

The Waitress Moms

--The women who work the spreadsheet at the office, who do the night shift at the factory and who serve you coffee at 35,000 ft. They live in households with incomes between $15,000 and $75,000. They like Gore's economic populism--especially on issues that have got little media attention, like his plan for IRA-style savings instruments to build wealth. But because they're parents--married, divorced and unmarried--they carry a special concern for the moral climate of the country. This, combined with a distrust of Washington, makes them targets for Bush and his pitch for a "fresh start." They swung heavily to Clinton in 1996, when he married values and economics by making things like the Gingrich-proposed curbs in Medicare spending a test of values. If Gore too can and combine values and economics, he'll pull these latter-day Erin Brockoviches into his camp.

The Wired Workers

--Affluent ($55,000 to $80,000 a year) information workers in the computer, Internet and communications fields, they have profited from the new economy and want it to grow. They're up for grabs. The tech-loving, Palm Pilot-wearing Gore should have an advantage with them, but his anticorporate message has turned some of them off. And since many of them use their Web browsers to buy and sell stock, they like Bush's idea of investing some of their payroll taxes in the markets. They're pro-choice and anti-regulation. In the end, they'll vote for the candidate they deem less likely to screw up the economy.

The Sandwich Generation

--Married couples at all middle-income levels who are caring for children and aging parents. They want a President who solves problems and offers a cure for their "prosperity angst." When they aren't worrying about bad things happening in their children's schools, they're fretting about their parents' health-care costs. They like Bush's education record as well as his plan to use vouchers to rescue children from failing schools, and his "prosperity with a purpose" pitch has been hitting home with them too. But when he got lost in the thickets of tax-cut policy, they started leaning toward Gore, who promises to give their parents a prescription-drug benefit and pour money into their kids' schools.

The Forgotten Workers

--Older than the Lunch-Pail Dads--over-50, white workingmen without a college degree. They feel left out of the economic boom and threatened by G.O.P. plans to privatize Social Security. They started out in Bush's camp, but many are tilting to Gore, drawn by his people-vs.-the-powerful pitch and worried that Bush's tax cut could put the economy off kilter just as they have begun to dream of retirement. Bush could win them back if he convinces them he is an equally responsible caretaker of the economy. --By Eric Pooley. With reporting by Matthew Cooper and Karen Tumulty


Cover Date: October 2, 2000



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