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Lack of burning issues in '84 - a plus for Reagan, a minus for Democrats

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A few hours before New Hampshire voters went to the polls, a top campaign aide for one of the Democratic presidential candidates was asked: ''What are the burning issues for the American people this year?''

His succinct reply: ''Nothing.''

The aide had been working in New Hampshire for more than a year. He had traveled to all parts of the state, spoken to hundreds of voters, and watched his candidate make scores of speeches. The public, he said, wasn't very excited about anything.

Across the United States, Democratic candidates have pounded away at foreign policy issues, unemployment, high interest rates, and the federal deficit.

Many voters have just yawned.

Political analysts who monitor public attitudes say that unlike other election years, no single issue is stirring voter interest in 1984.

That's not the way it was in years past.

When John F. Kennedy ran in 1960, the public was upset about Soviet space success and what Kennedy termed ''the missile gap.''

In 1968 and 1972, the hot issue was the war in Vietnam.

In 1976, it was Watergate and moral decay.

In 1980, it was the Iranian hostages and economic inflation.

This year, no focus of concern has emerged. Analysts see that as a major plus for Ronald Reagan.

Studies by the Gallup Organization, ABC-TV, and others show that one of the problems mentioned most often remains unemployment and the lingering effects of the last recession.

From a political standpoint, however, that doesn't look very worrisome for the White House.

In the ABC/Washington Post poll, for example, 18 percent of those questioned listed unemployment as the most pressing problem in the nation. But that is far less than the 42 percent who listed it back in October 1982, when that concern was at its peak. As the recession fades from memory, so does unemployment as a political issue.

Then there's the ''war'' issue. This includes people troubled about the threat of nuclear war, and those who think of President Reagan as a ''quick draw'' cowboy.

That concern is rising - named as No. 1 by 20 percent of the public in the ABC/Post poll last month, compared with 6 percent a year earlier.

Even there, however, Democratic candidates are having trouble turning the issue into votes.

Jim Shriver, an analyst with the Gallup Organization, says that issues like ''fear of war'' are ephemeral. They don't really have very much effect on the way people vote.


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