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From WMUR down in Washington D.C. The flitter are another in a series of discussions of alternative futures. Your moderator is Joe codes of the world society. Mr. COX Good evening this is Joe codes for the world Futures Society bring you another in a series of discussions of alternative futures the subject of this evening's discussion is the future of American political behavior. We have with us Ben J Wattenberg formerly an aide and speech writer on the staff of President Johnson. He is also the author in collaboration with Richard Scammon of two books the earlier of these this USA is an excellent factual compendium of what makes the United States and I strongly endorse it and recommend it to all our listeners. His more recent effort again with Richard Scammon. It's called the real majority an extraordinary examination of the American electorate. A book which I'm sure has brought both heat and light to many of the readers. Ben what's the
basic conclusion of the book. Well if you want to look at it in terms of the future the basic conclusion is that the that the future will resemble the past or the future will resemble the present to an alarming extent perhaps perhaps the alarming extent we. Examine American politics from the point of view of three basic ideas. And it's my judgment that these will not change terribly much. One of the three basic ideas. Well the first is the nature of the American electorate and it was sort of a defensive position we we took there were many people looking ahead to the future particularly who were saying that they were the keystone of a new political majority coalition and United States would be that young the black and the poor sort of took on status as a great great catchphrase our our estimation of the American electorate was our own little catch
phrase which was that it is best perceived as on young on poor and on black and Norma's lump in the middle. Well lump is sort of a pejorative word if there is there are a lot of people in this country about 75 percent who are neither young nor poor black. That's that is not to say that they are anti young or anti poor or anti black. But that's just you know that's just not who most of the voters are and ordinary people ordinary people whatever that implies whatever the thing that projectable future is going to remain there I mean when you're going to remain quite ordinary it at least in terms of those three demographic characteristics. Specifically at this point all right. Yeah when you say demographic characteristics do you mean regardless of what happens the overall distribution of blacks will remain roughly Yeah well the projections for the percentage of young
people is is known because people who will be starting to vote 18 years from now or 70 and a half years from now are already born so you're not dealing in a totally mystified future I mean you already know who those people are. That's a good solid prediction. It's a very very good solid prediction. And what we have now is with the 18 year old vote coming in you will have somewhat larger numbers of people voting. Young people voting in the in the next 10 to 20 years. Well they're much less likely to exercise their franchise then then then most other Americans for a number of reasons first of all the difficulty of first time registration and secondly that they may be away in the military or in college. So it's they're less likely to vote. Moreover they do not particularly vote in any definite sort of trends there was
people don't you. They do not vote as you. They are not a monolithic bloc. They are in the attitudinal questionnaires they tend to be somewhat more liberal. Then the older generation but not greatly more liberal and more liberal on some or less liberal on some very funny issues. There was a poll taken in mid 1970s by Dr Gallup that showed that the most hawkish segment of the American public was people under 25 that they're not they were not the doves they were the hawks in 1968. Voters under 30 were more likely to vote for George Wallace than their grandparents. Now they were also more likely to vote for you were tougher than their grandparents. So it's sort of a mixed bag. These are not if you view American youth correctly you have to drive out of your skull the idea that they are all young liberal kids
who go to Ivy League colleges because they don't their kids who go to. At 8 AM schools they are kids who work in garages their kids who work on farms as well as elitist sorts of colors will grow to fruition and in this case the father is the father of the child the father is the father that's right both like the parents. That's a pretty good axiom of American politics that is not likely to change that man votes the way his father voted. Well that was your first issue the nature of the electorate right. So just to wrap that up the voting age the median voting age of people in the future. It's now about forty seven with the addition of the 18 year olds to the voting pool it will probably drop to about forty three. And but in the years to come and probably go up by a year or two to 44 or 45 as the great mass of baby boom babies now start becoming not 21 year olds but that they're going to become 41 year olds 20 20 years we are still insured.
We old men are sure I'm not so sure. Right well that's right. OK. So what about the blacks the same kind of analysis basically. Yeah. Again you have a situation where at least for the next 18 years you know how many blacks there are in the United States or will be a voting age for 18 years from now. And while the blacks have been slightly increasing their proportion of the population up from about 10 percent to about 11 and a half percent I think is the most recent data. It is a small shift and they are likely to roughly remain in the same quantities as voters no matter what happens to their birth rates. They're locked in for the next 20 years or so at least. Yeah right they're locked in for 20 years in any study the birth rate shows that their birth rates are generally along the same trend line if a little higher than the white birth rates. And insofar as we dealing with poor people we've got fewer and fewer poor people not more and more poor people so any all the only point we're making is any any coalition
attempt of young black and poor is not now nor in the future going to be the dominant force in American politics. Well let's let's carry a moment at this poor business. It's my understanding that for at least the last 20 or 25 years the lowest fifth of the population has been enjoying a fairly constant percent of the GNP. That's about three percent give or take a tent right now. What you're saying you know there's a dramatic change percentage was less poor. No. Well yeah because if you judge poverty on some sort of an absolute scale all rather than on a relative scale then there are fewer and fewer poor. But really I mean it. Well yeah I mean if you want to say that that that the 20 percent of the people who are at the bottom end of the income distribution scale 20 percent of the people who are at the bottom of the income distribution scale and that's always true. But you know I mean you know years ago we've had them getting only 3 percent of the GNP.
Yeah but the GNP per person has been going up very very sharply so that well you know it's if you want to say that poverty is related to certain ideas like lack of food lack of shelter lack of clothing lack of medical care in terms of some absolute values then it's shrinking. You know if you want to say that if the bottom 20 percent of the population will then always be the bottom 20 percent of the population obviously you know but there are areas that remain unchanged their absolute amount has gone up but they're still getting their 3 percent. Right but but when you relate that to the ability to acquire the necessities of life. It is much easier to acquire the necessities of life on 3 percent 970 share of the GNP than it wasn't 3 percent of 1040 towards the offer and stuff. Well they suffer less. You're right I mean you know it's not that they suffer suffer in style or that they suffer less than they used to. It's not to say that you know poverty doesn't exist or that it isn't a major problem but it's in my judgment less of a problem that it's gone on this major issue a major component of the future of political behavior namely the nature of the electorate.
You're going to make very solid predictions that it's going to remain at least in a statistical sense unchanged for the next 20 years that would be my judgment you know what's number two in our second thought that we deal with is a substantive one of what is the the major issue the major issues that are motivating American voters today. Since the time of the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt. Through let's say the mid 1980s the basic motive force of American voters was what you might call the economic issue this dealt with minimum wage laws social security unemployment benefits full employment. This sort of thing these were the hallmarks of the Roosevelt New Deal growing out of the depression rolling out of the pression and it set up a system of party images where the Democratic Party was the party of the little guy who was against the fat cats which was the Republican Party not necessarily valid images but
those were the images functioning images real images in the snow that people acted on. That's right. That they were perceived and they acted on them. And I my own judgment being a card carrying Democrat is there is some validity to it not obviously not total validity but nor is it is it totally false now. Somewhere in along the mid 1960s that driving issue of American politics this economic issue was joined by another issue another major issue took its place along with the economic issue on the anvil of American politics that was an issue that we call the the social issue for lack of a better phrase and it deals with with the deep social turmoil and social problems that Americans are facing today. The so-called Law and Order crime in the streets is one aspect of an aspect of the race problem. Civil rights civil rights black
rebellion this sort of thing is is another aspect of school integration to an extent. No question. Thirdly the whole new to use that word permissive society promiscuity drugs this sort of thing has people deeply concerned and deeply upset. Student agitation student rebellion and at times these became the hallmarks of a of a of a deep driving concern of the American people. You're not saying here though that there was necessarily any substantive change that is not an accurate reflection of reality necessarily. Well no I think you know in large measure it wasn't a reflection of reality you did have through the 1950s in the 1980s a sharply rising crime rate that deeply concerned people. You had a boiling over at times of the race question along with great with great progress. You
had incidents of ghettos going up in flames and this sort of thing which deeply concerned the American people. You did have among the younger generation particularly what was perceived as and I think to some extent. Validly a changing set of values in terms of things being sexual or things religious. You had a changing sorts of political values at least by the people who the media focused so much attention on particularly during the Vietnam War when the dissenters were granted a great deal of media time. And when for example television showed a kid burning an American flag. This sort of an image registered deeply and poignantly with the mass of American voters. So these sorts of social issues.
It became very potent in the mid 1980s. This is largely a result of flag burning for example strong centrist tendency voters and this is the sort of thing they normally did not do. That's right on the right so it's a shock and a great shock on the eyes as is the idea that suddenly in most of the major cities in the United States people felt they couldn't walk out the streets at night. You talk I have felt as a as a liberal Democrat or as whatever used to be a liberal Democrat I'm not sure what it means anymore that this is something that liberals should have picked up on rather than than conservative when you've got a situation in the United States as you do now in many many big cities where elderly people are afraid not only to go out in the streets at night but are afraid to go out in the streets during the day. And if we Liberal Democrats are the party against repression in the party the civil libertarian party you know that state. Why do we let this be an issue that
concerns the George Wallace is in the Barry Goldwater's. This is an issue and it ought to be an issue as far as I mean it concerns the people who have traditionally looked to the Democratic Party that concerns blacks is concerned the inner city ethnics adjoining the black neighborhood to concerned the elderly. It does not concern particularly those small town in Middletown republican bankers and doctors. So you're saying that the Liberal Democrat that he followed is logic should expand his interest from government repression and civil liberties of civil liberties to private suppression of course civil liberties. In my judgement that has not been the case. Well it's been the case belatedly it seemed to me that what has now is this movement toward attention to the social issue really began with George Wallace in 1964 when he ran in the primaries with Barry Goldwater in 1964. Certainly was reflected in the 168 campaigns of both Wallace and President Nixon.
When you say became an issue here been you mean became an issue in the sense of formulating new parties or new party factions. Well. We want the rights movement goes back to 60 became the substantive idea that parties and candidates campaigned on. This would be I guess a working definition of an issue. If you can also then then substantiate that it is motivating voters. And there is evidence that this has been happening that this happened throughout the 1960s and of people voting for Law and Order mayoral candidates for example against against moderates in a you know rejection against liberals who are perceived of as saying well this is somehow an unclean demagoguing dirty issue whereas in fact as I mentioned before people were very concerned about it and they felt they had every right for a redress of grievances from their government and didn't feel they were getting it from from the Liberal Democrats. So very interesting what's happened just in the last two election campaigns in 1968 you recall sort of the the running ranking
cliche among liberals about law and order was a law and order is a code word for racism. Remember that once you're in 1960 there's 1968 two years later to show how fast these things can move. The same people were saying new cliche law and order is not a partisan issue. Same people this shows you and there's a lot of there's a lot of political distance between those two. I mean with what what's happening is it is a person saying hey we're getting the pants beat off us on this issue. And instead of saying that you know they're therefore going to water and we're somehow against Law and Order and Law and Order is somehow bad or bigoted. We just say look it's a motherhood issue and everybody's for it and you know it is that I might take. Well it takes better than then saying that it's you know that it's a code word for racism it doesn't take totally. You can't completely break away from the stereotypes that the voters have have latched onto your head. But you can try and if it helps Yeah it's not wholly successful but it helps.
But your point so far is that since the Depression we've had one major cluster of issues around economics since the 60s the early 60s we've added a new cluster around social Quickstrike and that now you've got this situation now stands in my judgment the way it will continue to stand at least for the forseeable future is that you're going to have a tradeoff between these two sorts of issues economic and social which is really split on party lines. Well both parties you know in our system both parties try to grab off as many goodies as they can know the Democrats are going to continue to say hey we're the party the little guy and we're also the party you know we're for enlightened law and order. The Republicans of course have never particularly acquiesced to this idea of their being they being the party of the fat cats and they are of course going you know the president invited George Meany to dinner in a few months ago and they want very much to be seen as also really the party the little guy there was a party in the middle america the party of middle America exactly. So while continuing to say that you know of course we are strong for law and order a lot of our friends proactively John Mitchell and those Democrats are
really going to have very soon because most markets are going to be going on both issues. If there isn't a split there you go. Are there other issues you haven't discussed. Well example Prime pointing out now the fact that both parties are saying that they're for all the good things it does not mean that there isn't a split because the splits come up come about in large measure or in partial measure in terms of voter perceptions and voter perceptions are are not holy in fertile by any means that when they say that. Republicans are taking a harder line on Law and Order than Democrats. As much as Democrats might protest that they're probably right and I would still tend to go along with what the Democrats are saying that. But if you ask a typical typical Republican how he would deal with campus unrest and you ask a typical typical liberal Democrat the same question you would get a somewhat different answers with the thing you're saying that that pattern will continue.
Well it would seem to me that it would. But what about if you haven't told us about it seems to me that the nation is terribly distraught by foreign policy issues in particular by Vietnam. On the one hand and on the other hand we have what many claim is going to be the issue of the 70s pollution ecology conservation and so forth. How do you handle that in your view of the future. Well let me take the last one first. My feeling is that the ecology and the environment is not going to emerge as a major cutting issue in American politics largely because it is really a year a motherhood sort of an issue. Both parties are for clean air. Both parties are for clean water. Both parties are against smog. So it will be very difficult for anyone to say for any presidential candidate for example to say you know I am Mr Clean and all those other guys want to put
puts in the air. So and I think people said that it would emerge as a major issue in the 1970 congressional and senatorial elections and it didn't. And I would be dubious that any politician would be foolish enough to somehow get boxed into a corner that he is the candidate of dirty air dirty water comes a cutting issue in certain local circumstances where you have got to make a choice really between jobs in filth or jobs and pollution where you where you've got a big factory and you say well we're going to enforce the code or the factories going to leave. The problem becomes the problem in a company town that's sort of a thing and that could then have a great effect in a local circumstance. But my feeling that I wouldn't feel that in terms of national elections even of statewide senatorial election. That that will become that the issue can never be defined quite that precisely as to become a cutting issue. But can it be redefined in terms of your conventional category economics for example can the
ecology issue be recast into the problem of one party wanting to so to speak throw the burden on the manufactures the soak the rich to get to the guy who's doing it whereas the other party may want to distribute the responsibility have it paid for by the consumer. Have it done at a local level and so what it seems to be you can break the issue of ecology into economic strategies. Yeah it could happen that way but again I would just be dubious that it would because again you have now a situation that in the model that you just described it would be the theoretically the Republicans who would be the Democrats who want to go on the soak the rich kind of thing and go after the manufacturers but you just had Mr. Nixon a Republican president signing a law about automobile pollution that that is a pretty strict and tough law hitting directly at the automobile companies and I wouldn't think that any. Republican candidate that I can think of is going to allow himself to be put in that position. You know the friend of the man who is putting putting gunk in
your river. I mean it's just that I would grant you certainly that if if he if any Republican presidential candidate of the future is so perceived he would be in great trouble. But I don't think that that would be. It's just too too obvious an issue. What about foreign policy down the well or foreign policy generally speaking in recent American political history foreign policy has not been the cutting edge of our politics people tend to vote more on the things that they can more immediately see feel and touch the bread and butter pocketbook issues ability to go out in the streets at night. Even in 1968 when you had a presidential election going at the same time when you had high casualty rates in Vietnam. In my judgment and the judgment of many people even then the actual substantive question the substance of foreign policy question of Vietnam
were we right to be there or we were wrong to be there. What is the role of America in world affairs. That was not what was being debated and voted on in the United States you can sustain that presumably. Yes yes I mean it's beyond question Are you saying well I know it's not beyond question. It's in our book the real majority that the scam and I worked on we go through the poll data very carefully and go through certain elections and certain voting results. And this is the conclusion we come to and it is shared by many people and it is not shared by many people. I think generally speaking the people who were in the in the peace movement in 1968 tended to view almost every election primary general convention as pro-war anti-war. The data does not seem to bear that out. And particularly when you actually came down to the to the election itself. All three candidates of course Humphrey Nixon Wallace took essentially the same position on the war which
is that you know we're looking for peace with honor. So when you have three candidates taking the same position it's very hard to say that people are voting on that issue you know. And they were in they they not only took that position position probably there is poll data that shows just the week before the election their positions were perceived of as almost identical by the voters. So it seemed to us that they were voting on different issues. So you tell us now about the main considerations the nature of the electorate which will remain the same for the next 20 years the issues which are going to be largely the traditional ones of economics and the new is new since the 60s continuing issues. So let me just say one earth and you don't see pollution the environment foreign policy or the war becoming a significant new issue always with the caviar that this is a that it's a great misnomer to call this whole field political science that really nobody really knows and the ranking rule in this in this business is expect expect the unexpected but in
so far as one can look ahead which is not it's not a terribly good field to do it but insofar as one can look ahead that would be my judgment which you just described. You have a third major component you mention in your we. Say that the basic strategy of politicians in the United States is a strategy of centrism is that what tends to emerge over the long haul in the United States is a battle by by politicians over the the centrepoint in an attitudinal spectrum. Let me just explain it perhaps with less gobbledygook it to you if you would think you're a liberal Democrat. Oh I hear things like attitudinal spectrum scare scare me when I have to to write them. Take an issue that might conceivably come to the fore in the near future. The one of legalization of marijuana.
Now if you use this as a model and stretched out the available positions as to what the positions that a politician might take and rank them. From 0 to 100 you might say the the 1 percent position would be the real hardliner who said well look anybody who was even seen within who has even who has been found with possession of marijuana ought to be locked away in a concentration camp for 30 years that would be about the most. Repression is the hardline sort of position I could imagine. And the 99 percent position would be the one that says marijuana is the most wonderful thing in the world we want to sell it to little little boys and girls in the candy store. Obviously dealing in those two extremes if either politician came out. If a politician came out on the 1 percent position or the 99 percent position the other one the way our politics works. I would immediately tend to trim it as close to him as he could. In other words that the if you take a ninety nine position ninety nine percent position I can come up with a
95 percent position and say Well certainly marijuana is very dangerous but I don't think and we want to have it legalized. But maybe not sell to little children and candy stores. Therefore in a two man race taking all the votes from zero to 95 the converse is also true if you're if somebody stakes out a hawk position your position is well they ought to put them in concentration camps but what they want to do is give them a five year sentence. So what happens in fact is of course neither of the extremes but both parties brokering in toward that. The 49 50 51 percent position or attempting to educate the electorate and say well the 51 percent position is not the correct one. Come with me and I'll show you how the 63 percent position goes but they are working always toward that center not toward extremes. And we find this again and again in all sorts of elections and there is no reason for me to think that that's sort of a brokerage is going to change in our politics. So intrinsic to our political structure is the fact that things have to kind of move toward a middle position
toward a moderate position with the understanding that that that middle position itself change is dead and that there is a trend in the affairs of men that that moves those middle positions. Well thank you Ben Wattenberg co-author of the real majority. This is about the most stimulating and informative discussion of the future of American political behavior. This is your code for the world future society saying thank you and good night. This is the national educational radio network.
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The future of
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The Future of American Political Behavior
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