The Public Interest

The Shifting Sands of Public Opinion: Is Liberalism Back?

William G. Mayer

Spring 1992

THE FINAL POLLS won't start to close on the night of November 3, 1992 until 7:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, but a few hours later, with most of the actual votes still uncounted, politicians and pundits will already be arguing about how to interpret them. Such debates have become a recurrent feature of American elections. Most presidential contests, and even many mid-term elections, are closely scrutinized by our national sages and prognosticators to see what they reveal about the elusive and fickle "'mood" of the American public. The general tenor of such analysis is probably familiar to most political observers. Ill 1960, it was said, the American people were restless, ready for something new. In 1964, they lurched sharply to the left. In 1968, depending on whc)m one talked to, they had either become liberal because of Vietnam or conservative because of crime. Over the next three elections, they moved right, center, and then right again, a little bit like a drunken sailor.

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