A Conservative Agenda

New Hampshire voters have a fiscally conservative agenda. They want to hear the presidential candidates talk mostly about balancing the budget, cutting taxes and welfare reform. Discussions of economic conditions, or social issues such as health care reform, crime or even the moral crisis facing the nation, take a back seat. Balancing the budget was the issue named twice as frequently as any other when respondents were asked what they most want to hear discussed by the candidates.

Despite such conservative attitudes and despite a long Republican tradition in New Hampshire, the state’s voters were unexpectedly equivocal on political matters. They divided equally over whether Bill Clinton or the Republican leadership in Congress has the better position in the budget debate. The President’s approval ratings in the state are lower than they are in the nation as a whole (46%), but approval of GOP policies is lower yet (35%).

At 55%, Clinton’s favorablity rating among all registered voters is better than Dole’s (45%), and about the same as popular newcomer Steve Forbes’s (53%). Lamar Alexander is the only other GOP contender to achieve a favorable rating from most of the state’s likely primary voters. Gingrich, Gramm, and Buchanan were rated unfavorably by majorities of respondents.

Balance the Budget, Mr. President

Perhaps reflecting the focus of recent Washington debates, 32% of New Hampshire’s registered voters call on the next president to balance the budget as “the most important thing” he can do. The percentage is even higher among all likely primary voters (38%) and registered Republicans (43%). A cluster of four other issues are named next most often — improving the educational system (13% of registered voters), improving the job situation (also 13%), dealing with the moral breakdown in the country (12%), and dealing with the problems of the Medicare system (11%). Of these issues, registered Republicans mention moral breakdown more frequently (17%); Independents who are likely primary voters mention the job situation more frequently (15%).

Forbes is judged as the candidate who would do a better job than others of balancing the budget and improving the job situation. Voters were divided between Forbes and Dole on fixing Medicare. Buchanan rivaled the two front runners on dealing with the moral breakdown, while Alexander was cited frequently as the candidate best able to improve the education system.

High ethical standards is the most important personal characteristic or quality sought in the next president, according to 29% of likely primary voters. Saying what one believes, even if unpopular, ranks second (23%). Then comes sound judgement in a crisis (19%), compassion for the average citizen (13%), and forcefulness and decisiveness (11%). Respondents cited Dole as the candidate with whom they most identified three of those qualities (ethical standards, sound judgement, forcefulness), and Forbes was most associated with compassion and saying what one believes.

New Hampshire voters express lukewarm satisfaction with their earnings and, much as voters nationwide, considerable worry about their financial futures. Just one-in-five workers in the state are very satisfied with the amount of money they earn, 43% are somewhat satisfied, and as many as 25% are dissatisfied.

As for their longer term financial concerns, New Hampshire’s registered voters are as anxious as the average American with one major exception. They are significantly less concerned about affording health care in the future: 54% are “very concerned,” compared to 66% in a national survey three months earlier. Nonetheless, of the various concerns cited, fear of health care costs receives the highest level of anxiety among these respondents. In comparison, and very much like the national levels of an October, 1995 survey, 49% are very concerned that their children would not have good job opportunities; 46% are very concerned about not having enough money for their retirement; 42% are very concerned about being unable to save enough money to put a child through college; 37% are very concerned about losing their home or being unable to afford a home; and 30% are very concerned about losing their job or taking a pay cut.

Other Findings:

  • New Hampshire voters blame mainly “the people themselves” for the way things are going in the country (25%), followed by Republican leaders in Congress (18%), the news media (12%), and the President (11%).
  • By a margin of 61% to 28%, New Hampshire voters oppose changing the laws to make it more difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion. Opposition to this was only somewhat less among registered Republicans (52% to 35%).
  • Without a contest in the Democratic primary, interest in the GOP contest among Independents is substantially greater than four years ago. In 1992, 30% of unaffiliated registered voters said they planned to vote in the Republican primary. More than twice as many (68%) voice such intentions in 1996.
  • Clinton’s strong showing against Dole in New Hampshire reflects Dole’s weakness among women as well as Independent voters. Forbes performs better against the President mainly because of his greater appeal among Independents.