Union Tribune

May 27, 2002

Politicians fight to win over Office Park Dads
Old party loyalties are overshadowed by issues 


By DANA WILKIE
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON He reached the legal drinking age a long time
ago, but is still far from the senior's discount. He commutes from
the suburbs, works in a cubicle, likes his military strong and his
stem-cell research legal.

He is the Office Park Dad the latest in demographic research,
and the apparent successor to the Soccer Mom and the New
Economy Voter.

He represents perhaps one of every seven voters, and because
he has few political loyalties, he will in coming elections be the
target of countless surveys, speeches and ads as Democrats and
Republicans try to win him over.

"They're struggling with day-care, struggling with a mortgage,
struggling with car payments," said the author of "American
Metropolitics: The New Suburban Reality," Myron Orfield. "They
are volatile toward Democrats because any little bit of taxes hits
them hard, and toward Republicans because their school
funding keeps going down and down."

The Office Park Dad is a term coined by former Bill Clinton
pollster Mark Penn, who believes this group could help
Democrats win coming elections if the party concentrates on
what these dads care about a strong national defense, low
interest rates and affordable college tuition.

Pollsters agree this group may become a new focus for
politicians increasingly consumed with appealing to
independent, middle-of-the-road voters those who choose
candidates not because of their party, but because of their
stands on issues.

The Office Park Dad, according to pollsters and demographers, is
between 25 and 50, with a working wife and kids at home. He
earns a median income of $56,000 a year, typically at a
white-collar, high-tech job. At night, he goes home to a bedroom
suburb or a satellite community just now acquiring urban
problems such as crowded schools, traffic problems and a local
tax base not keeping pace with population growth.

More than most men, he's worried about education, health care
and the environment, which Democrats tend to champion. Yet
he likes the GOP's stand on lower taxes, limited government and
free markets.

"I'd call them younger, middle-class, married men," said Charlie
Black, who did polling for President Bush in the 2000 election.
"They're not necessarily with us on the social issues, but they are
economic conservatives. And they're very tax-sensitive."

Possible profiles

In San Diego County, men who fit that profile might be
acquainted with Joe Panetta, chief executive officer and
president of BIOCOM/San Diego, a trade group representing 400
biotech and biomedical companies.

"It sounds like a lot of people I know," Panetta said. "You see that
profile at the midmanager level, and with the scientists in
particular. They're very independent thinkers. They're not all
that political, but they pay attention to politics."

Someone, say, like Guy Cardineau. He's a scientist and manager
with Dow AgroSciences, the genetic crop-engineering subsidiary
of Dow Chemical Co.

Cardineau commutes from Poway, works in Sorrento Valley and
has three kids. He supports some gun controls and legalized
abortion, but also welfare reform and free trade. Registered with
neither party, he voted for George Bush senior in 1988, but for
Bill Clinton in 1992. At 51, he is a bit older than the average
Office Park Dad. 

"My attitude is, there are things the parties espouse that I agree
with, and things I don't agree with," said Cardineau, who decided
late in 2000 to support George W. Bush, although like many in
biotech he prefers that the president not try to ban stem-cell
research, which holds hope for curing disease. "Instead, I try to
vote for the candidate."

Certainly, suburban men in high-tech jobs with moderate
political leanings have been around before now, experts said.
But for various reasons, they are now more willing to choose
candidates of either party.

Dick Bennett, president of the American Research Group, a
national polling firm, notes that as their neighborhoods acquired
urban problems, and as their wives got more involved in
politics, these men looked at candidates differently. "The women
they're married to in large respect, the Soccer Moms are
saying, 'How can you support him or her when they're not even
talking about the things important to us?' " Bennett said. "And the
men are going, 'OK.' "

Growing trend

In fact, Bennett said, the advent of the Office Park Dad is just the
latest in a growing political trend the movement of the U.S.
electorate from embracing parties to embracing issues. Party
bickering and inflexible ideology no longer represent the
complicated views of many voters, Bennett said. As a result, this
nation's vote is increasingly up for grabs, which has forced
candidates to adhere to middle-of-the-road positions to win
elections.

"Even 20 years ago, if you didn't belong to the right party, you
wouldn't get a job or business," Bennett said. "Today, voters tell
us again and again that it's the day-to-day living that matters,
and that neither party is being responsive."

Pollsters say many Office Park Dads moved toward Bush late in
the 2000 campaign, perhaps because they liked his plans to
lower taxes and improve schools.

Democrats believe they can make inroads with the group by
laying off issues that drive them away prescription drug
coverage, for instance and focusing on those that get their
attention.

Linda Divall, who does polling for Republicans, said that won't be
easy. "(Office Park Dads) like the president very much, and
they're very supportive of his moral clarity on issues, such as
the way he's approached the war," Divall said. "It will be a
difficult battle (for Democrats) to get those voters."