Sunday, November 07, 2004

Why Did Kerry Lose? Rural, Blue-Collar and Older Voters Voted for Cultural Issues

Democratic Pollster Stan Greenberg, speaking at the National Press Club Wednesday, spelled it out.

Just as core Democrats dated Dean but married Kerry during the primaries, the same could be said of rural, blue-collar and older voters during the general election. They looked at Kerry, and even leaned his way until the final days of the campaign, when they went with their gut -- and against their economic interest -- and voted Bush.

What did Greenberg find:

With 10 days to go before the election, rural, blue-collar and older voters were split between Bush and Kerry, but ultimately, these voters fell back on cultural issues in deciding to vote for Bush. These are voters who are generally conservative on cultural issues, but who were swinging away from the president because of his poor performance as president. After Kerry's solid performance in the debates, these people were leaning toward the challenger.

But ultimately, they swung back. Why?

First, events in the news and the Bush-Cheney campaign agenda kept the nation focused on Iraq and terrorism. And Kerry lacked a bold economic narrative, Greenberg said -- his collection of policy statements wasn't enough to keep these voters' interested.

What does that mean? Perhaps that when Kerry said he'd only roll back taxes on the rich, and Bush said that Kerry's numbers didn't add up, working-class and rural voters bought into the notion of Kerry being a "tax-and-spend liberal." The neocon agenda has so conditioned Americans to look down on liberalism -- to some, it's become akin to socialism or communism -- that these voters were more interested in the stereotype of Kerry than their own situations.

The conservative echo chamber talked about Kerry's $2 trillion of spending plans, neglecting to point out Bush's $3 trillion of spending -- not including some $2 trillion of estimated costs that might be incurred through privatization of Social Security. Bush touted negligible job gains -- job creation barely kept up with population growth in the 13 months prior to the election -- and Kerry failed to put those job gains into context for the average American.

Statistically, rural, blue-collar voters have not done that well during Bush's term, with wages not keeping up with inflation, and high job losses, especially in fields like manufacturing. But through the conservative haze -- all the bluster of Limbaugh and Hannity, all the misdirection from Bush and Cheney -- these voters nonetheless didn't see Kerry as an improvement.

Among the elderly, Greenberg noted the 2004 campaign was not focused on Social Security like it was in 2000. ("Remember the 'lock box'?" asked Greenberg.) Consequently, seniors, like many, essentially fell back on cultural issues, as well as national security, in making their final decision. This would help explain why states like Florida were solid Bush victories.

"Democrats need to think about how faith and values build a greater affinity with voters," said Greenberg. He also said that because the Catholic leadership refused to give Kerry communion for being on the wrong side of the church's abortion teachings, that helped fuel the belief that he wasn't "similarly religious" as Bush.

It's not clear whether the Democrats were blind-sided by the 11 state initiatives regarding gay marriage. In truth, only Ohio was truly in play among the states that passed initiatives.

But it would seem the combination of cultural issues, perhaps combined with a larger-than-expected turnout among rural, white, religious Christian voters in Ohio may have overcome the various Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts, which focused on younger and first-time voters, minorities, and independents and moderate Republicans turned off by Bush. The GOP went for a very specific group -- and we all heard about Republican get-out-the-vote efforts via churches -- while the Democrats cast a wide net. In the end, the Republican strategy won in the Buckeye State, and the presidency went again to Bush.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. But I think you have to give a little more leeway to the Gay issue. Didn't Florida have a ban on Gay marriage on the ballot as well?
Even so, the attention on the Gay ban in Red states likely help mobilize the morality ghouls in the Blue states.
A mischevious idea on the part of the GOP to stick this Gay issue on the ballot for one purpose only -- to get more Bushies/Evangelical Christians out to the polls.
It is now being said that the Democrats should have similarily conjured up a mandate issue -- say something to do with education or tax reform -- on the ballot. Maybe this would have pried more Kerry supporters out to the polls. Just where were the young voters?
As David suggested, it is indeed sad that many people placed morality above their own social and economic well-being.
I'm sure many are thinking it's time to move on and deal with the reality of four more years of Bush (eeeyewww! as my daughter said). But I think it's worthwhile to examine these issues retrospectively to plan for a victory strategy for the next campaigns in 2006 and 2008.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You just don't get it. You had a message, a theme, what have you. It was heard clearly by the American people. And, by and large, it was rejected. You can continue to whine, complain, theorize, conspirate, or whatever else it is you do, but in the meantime, I think the Republicans will just go about being a majority party for quite some time. Keep up the great work. We could not do it without bad thinking like yours.

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If my thinking is "bad" then your's is horrendous. Fact: Bush won the election because of cultural/morality issues moved the most people, who somehow believed Bush, the advocate of unprovoked war, bombing innocent women and children, and the death penalty, better represented this issue.
To see stupidity in motion, just read some of the many articles where people gave their reasona for voting for Bush. "After 9-11, I think Bin Laden is scared of Bush. That's why he hasn't attacked us since" "I don't want to have to wade into a liberal cesspool under Kerry"
"Bush never changes his mind. I think that's a good quality for a leader."
Reading your comment was an equal assault on my intelligence.

1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first two responses are part of the conservative mindset that Bush got a mandate (maybe twice). The truth is he won by a single state -- Ohio.

Last time, he won by a single state -- Florida.

Be gracious in winning, oh conservative posters. You have to look at the same people on the way up as you do on the way down.

No one is suggesting on this site that the results were fixed. No one is whining about Kerry's loss. It seems to me David just analyzed the data, just as all of us have. Agree or disagree with him, but there's no need to act like a bunch of spoiled brats.

3:43 PM  

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