November 06, 2004

Bush's Win Was About Terror, Not Religion

Everyone is now spinning the Bush win on Tuesday into a win for evangelicals and anti-gay marriage advocates. We're hearing the media outlets parade - rather awkwardly - words like values and faith, almost as if hearing them for the first time or remembering them after a long absence. Others play this off as a ploy to the GOP base. Unfortunately, they're wrong on both counts.

Religion was not the main factor of this victory.

First, the anti-marriage sentiments extend WELL beyond the Bush base into the blue collar, Catholic, black and rural Democrats. That's why every initiative pre-empting gay marriage won by very safe margins, even in Oregon. While we had to wait a half day for Kerry to concede Ohio due to its relative proximity, the initiative to ban same-sex marriage (and, unlike all the other propositions this Tuesday, to also ban same-sex civil unions) trounced to victory: 62-38. All told, over 5.25 million people voted on the prop, which is only slightly less than voted in the presidential race for Ohio (down-ballot issues and props see smaller turnout usually).

So what, right? Well, that's a big deal. More than 10% of Ohio's voters voted for a very strongly conservative anti-gay marriage amendment and for Kerry to be President. Seems strange, but it's true. These voters didn't think Kerry needed to have more rural, provincial or faith-laden values. They voted for the strongest prop of its type in the country and for the Democrat who didn't support it. The reason is because nobody was talking about it very often in the media. People care about it, but Bush was not stressing same-sex marriage in the campaign, certainly not before the last week or two.

We were hearing about Iraq, terror, jobs, outsourcing, Al Qaqaa's lost 380 tons of HE, and all the rest. Education and Mary Cheney were getting more press than the candidates' views on homosexuality.

That's the President's mandate: the war on terror, where polls show people trusted him by 15 and 16 point margins over Kerry. That was what the campaign truly turned on, that's what the media played up, that is what we were all hearing, that's how Bush was ahead. Terror and Iraq were the signature issues, and Kerry at the end decided to forgo a turn to domestic issues and stress the failures in Iraq and the lost weapons. The campaign was dominated by it.

Bush won because Americans were upset with Iraq but wanted to hold Bush to the fire to fix it and wanted to keep Bush around for terror protection. Bush to win it, Kerry to end it - they wanted to win it and get out. But more critically, they wanted Bush for the wider war on terror. That's the mandate, that's the crux. Ignore gay marriage, the country wants terrorists stopped.

Now, for those of you who clicked the link at the top, you'll see a map (unfortunately undated, sorry, I found it at for those who care) of the US with religious statistics of the ARIS for each when clicked. You'll notice some interesting statistics. What four states are reliably Republican for the last three decades or so, including the 2004 election? Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Nebraska. They are the major Republican strongholds, the major states. Not the South, not Texas, but those four Western states have been huge, reliable margins for the Republican for a long time. What are their religious affiliations?

Wyoming - 20% no religion, 18% Catholic
Idaho - 19% no religion, 15% Catholic, 14% Mormon
Utah - 57% Mormon, 17% no religion
Nebraska - 27% Catholic, 15% Lutheran, 9% no religion

All four went for Bush at levels of 68-72 percent. In two, no religion at all was the plurality, and in none do the Baptists outnumber those without religion. The super-Mormon state of Utah and the abstention-dominated Idaho and Wyoming were Bush's three best states. They and Nebraska went for Bush at almost the exact same levels in 2000, when there was no Federal Marriage Amendment and the Defense of Marriage Act seemed to have settled the issue.

Now the best Kerry states from 2004 are DC, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York.

DC - 27% Catholic, 19% Baptist, 13% no religion
Massachusetts - 44% Catholic, 16% no religion
Rhode Island - 51% Catholic, 15% no religion
Vermont - 28% Catholic, 22% no religion
New York - 38% Catholic, 13% no religion

So the five top Kerry states are much more religious - notably Catholic - than Wyoming, Idaho and Nebraska, three of Bush's best states. This would suggest that the religiosity of Utah is a poor explanation for the result of the election.

What about the swing states? New Mexico, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania?

New Mexico - 40% Catholic, 18% no religion, 10% Baptist
Iowa - 23% Catholic, 16% Lutheran, 13% no religion, 13% Methodist
Wisconsin - 28% Catholic, 22% Lutheran, 14% no religion
Ohio - 19% Catholic, 15% no religion, 14% Baptist, 10% Methodist
Nevada - 24% Catholic, 20% no religion, 15% Baptist
Pennsylvania - 27% Catholic, 12% no religion

Not a very clear picture, except that religion is not a major determinant of the state's voting behavior. Catholics seem to be the biggest factor in going left or right, but then Catholics are the very same people we would expect to go against gay marriage. It doesn't make sense overall. Religiosity is not the factor here.

Granted, this is a rough statistical analysis and I'm no sociologist. Granted, there was a clear mandate against gay marriage in every state that had it on the ballot this year. But that was not the main issue this year, and neither was religion.

If people saw Bush as against same-sex marriage and Kerry as for it, then Bush would have won by much bigger margins. This election was not about faith or gays, and it was not about guns or abortion - we barely heard anything specific on any of these. The only real distinction that we heard much about was a little bit of stem cell - which polls show clearly favors Kerry - and some abortion-related issues that were largely unaddressed. They were not central the campaign, and if anything the last thing we heard about gay marriage was what: Bush is pro-civil union. Not exactly your Buchananite seasoned culture warrior.

It was about the character and personality of the candidates - Bush as resolute and strong, Kerry as sniveling and indecisive. It was about the foreign policy of the candidates - Bush with a clear vision to spread freedom and take the fight to the terrorists, Kerry with a vacillating foreign policy and a clear preference to impress Europe. It was about Iraq - do you want to win it or end it. It was about the economy and trade - do you want tax cuts and increased trade or tax hikes and more trade obstacles.

This election was not about gays and faith. It was not guns and abortion. It was security, terror, Iraq, and economy, taxes and trade. Those are the issues that decided it, and Americans wanted Bush on those issues.


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