‘Values voters’ made the difference in the vote

Almost immediately following the Nov. 2 elections, the political left and their media allies began to blame socially conservative voters for the defeat of Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry. To cite just one example, a Chicago Tribune cover story was headlined, “Bush rides moral issues, terror fears to second term.” Some on the right side of the political spectrum responded to the “values voters” explanation by claiming that it was just a story line employed by the media to save liberal face on the war in Iraq. What’s the truth?

Without doubt, many Republicans, including President George W. Bush, won close races because they were willing to stand up for life and family. Exit polls and surveys conducted before and after the election affirm this.

Candidates’ positions

On the campaign trail, Bush typically outlined five areas in which he differed from Kerry and he included among them life and family issues. On the second last day of the campaign, Bush said in a Milwaukee speech, “I stand for marriage and family, which are the foundations of our society. I stand for a culture of life in which every person matters and every being counts.” In the last debate, when asked if he thought homosexuality was a choice, the president replied that he didn’t know, but that gays were owed respect as human beings. However, he added: “But as we respect someone’s rights, and as we profess tolerance, we shouldn’t change – or have to change – our basic views on the sanctity of marriage.”

Bush proudly noted that he signed into law a ban on partial-birth abortion, protection for unborn victims of violence and survivors of abortion, signed an executive order banning financial support for overseas abortions and limiting federal funding on embryonic stem cell research. He also fought for a cloning ban and protection for the traditional definition of marriage.

On the other hand, Kerry took the too-cute position of claiming he was personally opposed to abortion “as a Catholic,” but emphasized that he could never impose “an article of faith” on the rest of the country. This was a desperate attempt to reach out to middle-of-the-road voters who were uncomfortable with widespread abortion-on-demand. It simply did not work. One reason it didn’t is that people saw it as empty rhetoric, considering his pro-abortion voting record in the Senate, where he repeatedly opposed a ban on partial-birth abortion and a law protecting unborn victims of violence.

National Right to Life Committee chief congressional relations representative Douglas Johnson said Kerry’s attempt to appear in the centre on moral issues was an example of a political “extreme makeover” as he tried “to present himself as at least somewhat sympathetic to pro-life concerns” during the presidential debates. Johnson said Kerry “has been absolutely consistent in his implacable opposition to all genuine pro-life legislation, right up to his most recent vote in opposition to the Unborn Victims of Violence Act.”

Also, he said he supported the traditional definition of marriage, but voted against the Defence of Marriage Act, which would have defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others (which was signed by then-president Bill Clinton).

Also, Kerry cynically campaigned on the issue of embryonic stem cell research, promising to open up the federal taps to fund it. The Democratic National Convention had Ronald Reagan Jr. misleadingly talk about how embryonic stem cell research cures were just around the corner. Kerry was more ebullient – he talked about how the U.S. had “the option to cure” a litany of ailments. Kerry’s running mate, Senator John Edwards, dishonestly said that if the Democrats won the White House, “people like Christopher Reeve would get out of their wheelchairs.” Senate Majority Leader and former physician Bill Frist (R, Tenn.) said Kerry’s running on embryonic stem cell research showed that “he is not interested in the facts and will say or do anything to gain him a political edge, regardless of the truth.”

Kerry threatened to impose a litmus test for Supreme Court appointees – that they support Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Furthermore, he repeatedly said he would rescind the Mexico City policy, which prohibits American aid for pro-abortion international agencies

Rise of the religious right

The idea that the United States, or even the so-called Red States (states that went for President George W. Bush), are uniformly pro-life or religious is wrong. The nasty tone of the post-electon coverage – a Globe and Mail column ran under the headline “Triumph of Bible Belt imperialism” – fails to reflect a slightly-more-nuanced, but nonetheless very clear, reality: that without the support of pro-life voters and people of faith, the generally pro-life Republican party would not have gained political ground. Exit polls and pre- and post-election surveys found that being pro-life was a significant political advantage and that Bush gained among religious voters .

According to exit polls, Bush increased his hold on evangelical voters and turned the tide with Catholic voters. In 2000, Bush won 70 per cent of the evangelical vote – the lowest of any Republican since Ronald Reagan. Bush strategist Karl Rove also noted that fewer evangelicals voted in 2000 than in other recent elections. Since the 2000 election, Rove has let “Bush be Bush” and has had him talk freely about his faith. Perhaps even more than any particular issue, Bush’s candid discussions about prayer and holding Christian moral values spoke directly to evangelicals – on Nov. 2, Bush carried 78 per cent of the evangelical vote.

Among Catholic voters, Bush held a slight 51-48 per cent edge, reversing the trend of Catholics to support Democrats. But among Catholics who go to Mass weekly, Bush won 55-44 per cent. The Economist reported that this election “consolidated the tendency of the most observant members of any church, regardless of denomination, to vote Republican.”

Ironically, if Kerry had been a pro-abortion Protestant, he may have won, but because bishops spoke out about against the idea that one could be both pro-abortion and a Catholic in good standing, many Catholic voters knew of their responsibility to not support pro-abortion politicians.

Moral issues were important

During the campaign, a Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll found that 19 per cent of likely voters said the abortion issue had an impact on which candidates they were willing to support. Self-identified pro-life voters were almost three times more likely to describe themselves as single-issue voterd than those who described themselves as “pro-choice.” That is, 30 per cent of pro-life Americans would only vote for a pro-life candidate, whereas just 11 per cent of “pro-choice” respondents would only vote for pro-abortion politicians.

Putting the Gallup data another way, 13 per cent of all voters would consider only a pro-life candidate, whereas just six per cent of all voters would consider only a pro-abortion candidate. That’s a seven-point advantage for pro-life candidates, regardless of party. As a result, Lydia Saad, senior Gallup poll editor, said, “Pro-life voters may have the greater impact at the polls. The reason lies in their level of intensity.”

Saad said: “Abortion, though not the most talked-about subject this presidential election, may be an important stealth issue that could impact the outcome in key states, or even nationally.”

Polls commissioned by Time and MSNBC/Knight-Ridder in September also found moral issues near the top of voters’ concerns. Furthermore, this was especially true in swing states such as Florida, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio, and states once considered Democrat but moving Republican, such as Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Before election day, Saad predicted that if you subtracted the single-issue pro-life supporters, Bush would have lost. Indeed, far from being a electoral liability, Bush’s pro-life position got him elected. Saad said, “Given the current state of abortion attitudes, Bush, in particular, has good reason to hold firm to his pro-life position and to communicate his views to the pro-life voters who stand ready to give him a second term.”

Exit polls showed moral issues were decisive. The National Election Pool exit poll asked voters what was the issue that influenced them the most. Running ahead of such choices as the war in Iraq, terrorism, the economy/jobs and healthcare, were “moral values.” Nearly a quarter – 22 per cent – cited moral values as the most important consideration in deciding whom to support for president. Bush had the support of 80 per cent of such voters, compared to 18 per cent for Kerry. That is, by a better than four-to-one margin, Bush won the so-called values voters. According to one statistical analysis, if such voters hadn’t come to the polls at all, Bush would have lost by 10 points.

(Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer attempted to diminish the exit poll findings, noting that “moral values” covers a wide range of issues, whereas if the two foreign policy concerns, Iraq and terrorism, were lumped together, they would have been the most important issue. True, but it still stands that moral issues were still important to a plurality of voters and were decisive in numerous races.)

Post-election polling confirmed the importance of moral issues, finding that a majority of Americans are pro-life and that the abortion issue gave pro-life candidates such as President Bush a 12 per cent advantage. A Wirthlin Worldwide poll of more than 1,000 voters after the election found that 42 per cent of respondents said abortion affected how they voted in the previous week and that among such voters, pro-life candidates benefited by a two to one margin. A quarter of respondents said they supported pro-life candidates. That margin would be responsible for the victories of Bush and every new pro-life Republican senator, not to mention numerous other congressional and state-level candidates. (All seven new Republican senators are pro-life.)

David O’Steen, executive director of National Right to Life, pointed to numerous close races, including key matches in the so-called presidential battleground states of Ohio and Florida, in which pro-lifers more than delivered the margin of victory. If just 10 per cent of pro-life voters stayed home in Ohio, for example, Kerry would have won the state comfortably and become president.

As Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said, there was ample evidence “that value voters have given President George W. Bush a second term.”

A mandate

Despite the worries of those on the political left that there are now two Americas – a “moralistic” middle America and a “liberal” and “tolerant” coastal America – it is the Democrats and their pro-abortion allies who are out of touch.

Following Kerry’s Nov. 3 concession, Elizabeth Cavendish, interim president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, “We are deeply disappointed by these election results,” although she added that Bush’s win does not give “him a mandate to roll back women’s rights.” Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt echoed Cavendish’s spin: “These election results are not a mandate to move the country yet further to the right on women’s rights.”

Although NARAL, Planned Parenthood and the National Organization of Women claimed Bush has no mandate to act on abortion, the election was a repudiation of their radical agenda, considering the extensive, but ultimately unsuccessful, efforts to scare Americans into believing that abortion was on the verge of being abolished in the United States. NARAL, for example, claimed to have contacted 12 million voters, while NARAL, NOW and other groups aired numerous advertisements in five key states, including Ohio. The ads misleadingly claimed “a woman’s right to choose” hung upon a one-vote margin on the Supreme Court. (In recent decisions, Roe has stood on a 6-3 margin so, in fact, it hangs on a two-vote margin.) Cavendish threatened that Bush “will face an even bigger mobilization if he now tries to pack the Supreme Court with new ‘anti-choice’ zealots.”

The talking heads, whose idea of the United States is New York, Washington and Los Angeles, discovered a whole new America, which was starkly at odds with what Bush derisively called “Hollywood values.” Speaking to the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C. after the election, William Bennett said, “The charge that the right wing or the Christian right has taken over this country, and that this is what explains moral values, is false. In fact, what President Bush stood for, ran on and won on is a centre-right morality; what we might call common moral sense. America has not turned far right. What the president stood for is mainstream.”

Marriage amendments

Citizens in 11 states voted on amendments to their state constitutions to prohibit same-sex “marriages,” and in each state, traditional marriage was a big winner, outpacing the margin of victory of Bush over Kerry every time. Even in states that Kerry won, such as Michigan and Oregon, voters rejected the idea of endorsing gay “weddings.” The New York Times reported, “Proposed state constitutional amendments banning same-sex ‘marriage’ increased the turnout of socially conservative voters in many of the 11 states where the measures appeared on the ballot” Nov. 2. Ohio was one such state, where the amendment also banned same-sex civil unions. The ballot initiative won there 62-38 per cent but Bush eeked out a victory of less than two per cent. Political strategists and political commentators both say that the ballot initiatives brought out huge numbers of evangelicals who, while in the voting booth, also voted for socially conservative candidates on the ticket.

Washington Post columnist George F. Will said that two MVPs for the Republicans were also two radically pro-gay Democrats: the Massachusetts Supreme Court and San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. Eleven months before the election, the SCOM unleashed the same-sex “marriage” issue on America, while Newsom’s blithe dismissal of California law as he issued marriage certificates to homosexuals exacerbated the feeling that the country’s political and judicial elite would push a radical agenda upon the nation regardless of the concerns of the majority. On Nov. 2, voters in 11 states joined the voters of Missouri and Louisiana who earlier this year passed amendments outlawing same-sex “marriage.” The closest margin was 57-43 in liberal-leaning Oregon. In most states, the margin of victory for traditional marriage was two or three to one.

Stem cell research

The only setback for the pro-life and pro-family movements was the passing of Proposition 71 in California. Voters there backed a bond issue to finance stem cell research, including embryonic stem cell research. The law will allow the destruction of human beings at the embryonic stage in order to perform experiments using their stem cells. Biotech companies funded the campaign to pass Prop 71, which also enjoyed the support of numerous celebrities including the late Christopher Reeve. Proponents of ESCR say they hope their success in the Golden State will pressure the federal government to fund it, too.

Critics call the funding, which over the next decade will cost the state $6 billion, corporate welfare. They note also note that phamaceutical companies want state funding for such research because they are not confident the research will bear fruit so that they can recoup their investments.


Bush won by more than 3.5 million votes, garnered nearly 60 million votes (the most of any candidate in history) and scored a decisive 286-electoral-vote majority (compared to Kerry’s 252). Jeffrey Bell and Frank Cannon, two Washington consultants writing in the Weekly Standard, wondered, “How is it possible that in a time of war and global crisis, voters see ‘moral values’ as comparably important – an issue that was central in delivering re-election to a consequential, controversial wartime president?” They then replied: “The answer is that voters can weigh more than one big worry at the same time.” Iraq and the assault on traditional morals – an assault conducted by Hollywood and an imperial judiciary – were of imminent concern to many voters. If Bush had not been clear on his abortion and marriage positions, and if he was afraid of public declarations of faith, many voters would have gone down their list of other issues or stayed home. But by addressing the concerns of millions of Americans about the kind of society they wanted – a nation secure not just from foreign terrorists and safe from assaults on decency at home – Bush won.

If both parties continue in the directions they are going – Republicans generally pro-life and Democrats hostile to the morality of most Americans – 2004 could prove to be the beginning of a major re-alignment in American politics.