Most voters didn't know anything about the "Contract With America" before the November elections, panelists said Thursday night at Kansas University.
The biggest myth of the 1994 election was that voters put Republicans in charge of the U.S. House of Representatives because of the "Contract With America," a panel of Kansas University faculty members said Thursday night at a function sponsored by the KU Democrats.
The professors, all Democrats, said polls showed that most voters had not heard of the GOP's issues agenda. Nor did voters know much about Newt Gingrich before the election swept him into power, the professors told a gathering of about 40 people in the Kansas Union.
"It is a myth, I think, that the contract won the elections for the Republicans," said Burdett Loomis, professor of political science and government. "In fact, as the campaign went on in the fall, Republicans tried, and Newt Gingrich tried, to move away from the contract."
Loomis said the contract came from GOP polls that found 10 issues popular among the electorate, such as tax reform, welfare reform, a balanced budget and middle-class tax cuts.
Another panelist, Diana Prentice Carlin, an assistant professor of communications, said, "The elections in November were not a mandate for the contract."
Carlin said surveys taken in December showed that between 55 and 70 percent of the electorate had never heard of the contract. And "a very high percentage of the people had not heard of Newt Gingrich."
The real reason Republicans took control was because Democrats suffered from labels that they were liberal, immoral, anti-life and tax-and-spend, she said. And the Democrats should have taken more steps to reform Congress.
Carlin is the wife of former Gov. John Carlin, who lost his bid for the 2nd Congressional District seat to Sam Brownback, a Republican who did not sign the contract.
Allan Cigler, a political science and government professor, also said there was no perception among voters that there even was a contract.
"To say there is a mandate ... just doesn't cut it," he said.
There were some issues in the contract that are important to put on the table for discussion, he said, but the bulk of the contract is "not well thought out at all."
Forrest Swall, a former state legislator who is an assistant professor of social welfare, said the welfare reforms called for in the contract have been criticized as the "Contract With Disaster."
Swall, who is the chairman of the Douglas County Democratic Party, said many people believe most of those on welfare are women having children who don't want to work or refuse to work. However, the reality is that most welfare recipients are children, he said.