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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scandal Failed to Turn Electorate Against President

The votes Americans cast in the midterm elections will inevitably have an impact on the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton and hence on the remaining months of his presidency. But according to a survey of voters leaving the polls, that was not what most had on their minds.

"This election will have an effect on Clinton's future," said Ferrel Guillory of the University of North Carolina, one of the election's swing states. "But that doesn't mean Clinton's past had much effect on this election. Everything I've seen and heard suggests the opposite."

But because the Democrats fared better than expected, bucking historical precedent, some of the steam is likely to go out of the impeachment process. And one major reason, the polls suggested, was broad public disapproval of the way Republican leaders in Congress have handled the Clinton investigation.

Voters turned out two incumbent Republican senators, Alfonse D'Amato of New York and Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina, both of whom waged harsh, negative television campaigns.

Across the country, nearly six voters in 10 said their votes had been cast neither in support of nor in opposition to Clinton, but for other reasons. About two in 10 told interviewers for a consortium of five television networks and The Associated Press that they were expressing backing for the president, and about the same number said they were expressing disapproval of him.

Still, preliminary tallies suggested the Democrats may have succeeded in stimulating a sizable black voter turnout.

If the vote did not turn upon the president, it may have been substantially affected by resentment of the tactics of Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel, and the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. The weaker-than-expected Republican showing will mean not only fewer anti-Clinton votes in the House and Senate, but also less zealous pursuit of the president.

Among those elected were all 435 representatives to be called upon next year, if the process unfolds as expected, to vote "yea" or "nay" on articles of impeachment. Also chosen were a third of those who will sit as jurors if the House sends the case to the Senate for trial.

Clearly, neither Republican efforts to demonize the president for his relationship with Monica Lewinsky through a late flurry of ads in pivotal districts, nor Democratic efforts to picture congressional Republicans as mindless partisans determined to savage Clinton, succeeded in making the election a referendum on the president in an election in which fewer than four of 10 eligible voters participated.

It was not, in fact, a referendum at all. Unlike the Republican sweep of four years ago, this was a typical midterm election in the sense that people tended to respond to the candidates themselves and to issues that seemed important locally rather than to national imperatives.