They are better educated and much more affluent than most Americans. They are much more knowledgeable than most about what goes on inside the Beltway and, although they are among the least trusting of federal government, they are also among the most politically engaged voters.
Regular listeners of the Rush Limbaugh radio talk show, according to a new national survey conducted by The Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University, also turn out at the ballot box with more consistency than most other voters.
During the last two years, Rush Limbaugh, the 44-year-old conservative talk radio host, has been one of the loudest voices cheerleading the transformation of America's political landscape. But if Limbaugh has been the mouth of the Republican revolution, the 20 million people who regularly tune in to his shows have been its loyal foot soldiers.
More self-identified Limbaugh regulars have college diplomas than the population as a whole, and the survey shows that while 9 percent of all American households take in $75,000 a year or more, 19 percent of the dittoheads make that much.
Limbaugh and his affectionately called "dittoheads" marched onto the political scene in 1988. More recently, this group of mostly white, mostly male conservatives has been credited by pundits as being a core group of voters who helped with the 104th Congress of Rep. Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and the Republican Party in 1994. With voter registration topping 80 percent, more than half of the dittoheads say they are very interested in politics, compared to only a quarter of non-dittoheads.
Political participation notwithstanding, the federal government has become their prime target. Indeed, Limbaugh's regular listeners are among the most likely Americans to view the federal government as a "major threat" to their personal rights, freedoms and financial well-being. More than eight in 10 say they trust the federal government to do the right thing only "some" or "none" of the time, and a third say they have absolutely no confidence that the federal government can solve the problems it sets out to tackle.
"I believe that [the federal government] is far too large, far too bloated, and far too intrusive into people's lives," said Eloise Deihl from Dilworth, Minn., an "over 50" secretary at an insurance firm.
The press does not rate very highly among this group either, with almost six dittoheads in 10 saying they have very little confidence in the news media. "The reason I listen to Rush is because he represents how I feel," said Bob Aillery, 39, of Stamford, Conn. "I'm always so frustrated at most media in general because it does not represent how I feel, and 99 percent of what he says I agree with."
But they have hope for the Republican Congress. Four dittoheads in 10 have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the legislative branch, compared to one in 10 others.
"I trust them simply because it's not Congress as usual," Aillery said. "Up until the last election I didn't trust Congress worth two bits."
The mistrust most Limbaugh loyalists have for the federal government flows primarily from their perception of the government in Washington as inefficient, wasteful and too eager to spend too much on the wrong things. They believe that federal spending on the environment, Medicare and particularly public assistance to the poor should be cut.
"Look at welfare, it's horribly abused," continued Aillery, who runs his own engineering and contracting firm. "It's worse than the Soviet Union, because at least in the Soviet Union they expected them to work."
More than half of Limbaugh's regular listeners are white men between the ages of 30 and 49. More than 40 percent of female dittoheads are 60 years or older.
Limbaugh junkies tend more than other Americans to say they have a high degree of trust in other people, but perhaps none so much as the talk show host.
"I am a huge, huge admirer of his," declares Deihl. "You don't just build up a network like he has unless you're doing something right."
(C) 1996, The Washington Post