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THREE weeks from today, headlines across the United States will announce the name of the nation's next president.

The election will cap a campaign season that many political analysts have called unusual. Voters are unenthusiastic about their choices. Many incumbents lost during the primaries, while others face difficult battles in the general election. At the top of the ticket, President Bush is fighting for another term, which would give him 16 years in the federal government's top two posts. A win by Gov. Bill Clinton would give the Democrats control of the White House for the first time in a decade. And long-shot

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candidate Ross Perot is running an unconventional independent campaign that has added an element of uncertainty to the major candidates' plans.

What are the underlying forces that have helped shape the political canvas on which Campaign '92 is being painted? What impact are these forces likely to have on next month's elections and future political contests? In this special report, Monitor correspondents across the nation examine the economic, demographic, and social changes that various regions of the United States - the Atlantic states, the South, Midwest, Southwest, Northwest, and New England - have undergone during the last dozen years.

Economically, the '80s seemed full of promise once the recession in the early part of the decade ended. The nation entered the longest peacetime recovery in its history. But by the beginning of the '90s, the recovery lost steam. Ever since, much of the nation has been gripped by a recession felt at all socioeconomic levels and evident in high unemployment, soft real estate markets, and declining industries from timber to mining to manufacturing. Meanwhile, service-sector jobs increased.

Demographically, immigration has been greatest in the West. Pacific Rim trade, flowing through ports such as Long Beach, Calif., has fueled growth in the region's coastal cities, attracting newcomers.

Across the nation, the middle class has continued its shift to the suburbs. In some major metropolitan areas, the middle and upper middle classes are moving beyond suburbia to what has become known as "exurbia." These have combined to increase the percentage of poor and minorities in the nation's large cities. The rural population, meanwhile, has continued to shrink.

Disturbed by economic uncertainty, uneasy voters seem to be looking for an alternative to the status quo. Governor Clinton is widely viewed as the favorite across every region, including many traditionally Republican states. Mr. Perot has impressed voters through his television ads and his performance during the first televised presidential debate Oct. 11.

Voters are not particularly optimistic, even in the Midwest, where the economy has performed better than in other regions. They are not confident that Clinton has the answers to their problems; nor do many of them believe that Mr. Bush's economic policies are adequate.

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In several regions, the parties themselves are shifting back toward the center of the political spectrum. The result might be "mixed-bag types of politicians who have a kind of cafeteria-style agenda of positions," says John Gorman, president of Opinion Dynamics, a polling organization in Cambridge, Mass.

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