The Boston Phoenix October 5 - 12, 2000


Back to the future

In their pursuit of votes, the candidates have made more appearances than ever on the chat-show circuit. But this election may hinge on something more old-fashioned: labor support.

by Seth Gitell

Al Gore and George W. Bush have taken their campaigns to the people as no presidential candidates have before them. Both politicians appeared on Oprah Winfrey's show (Bush even kissed her). Gore has hit The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Bush donned a shiny purple shirt with a matching tie for Regis Philbin's show (with guest host Susan Hawk of Survivor). To be sure, this strategy isn't new. During the 1960 campaign, John F. Kennedy went on Edward R. Murrow's Person to Person and Richard Nixon appeared on Jack Paar's Tonight Show. But no presidential candidate in history -- not even Bill Clinton, who immortalized the strategy by donning shades to play the saxophone for Arsenio Hall -- has pandered to the chat demographic as enthusiastically as Bush and Gore have. As some wags have noted, the only show left for them to do is Hollywood Squares.

The irony is that the 2000 presidential election will probably turn on something as old-school as the labor vote. According to Republican Ed Goeas, who oversees the Battleground Poll, surveys done as recently as last weekend show that union members give Gore some key support -- perhaps enough to cut into Bush's lead with male voters. While both candidates try to appeal to women by appearing on television talk shows, Goeas says the most recent polling data show Bush beating Gore among men 51 percent to 35 percent. Among white men, the gap increases to 53 to 34 percent. And among white, married men, Bush leads by 61 to 28 percent. But nationwide, Gore leads Bush among union members by 30 points; in union families, Gore leads by 15 points.

There are two reasons why winning support via the labor vote is more important than winning voters via Oprah. One is that the labor vote is a much easier chunk of the electorate to target than the chat demographic. The other, and more significant, reason is that labor could swing the election in key Midwestern states. With the polls showing that this presidential race may be the closest since 1960 (when Kennedy defeated Nixon by winning Cook County, Illinois), labor support in the Rust Belt may prove to be the key to victory.

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Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell[a]

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