2004/11/03

A few reflections on the election

Looking at the election results, a couple of things strike me. First, nearly all of the 50 states cast their electoral votes the same way they did in 2000. New Hampshire switched its 4 votes to the Democrats, and Iowa and New Mexico [which haven't been finalized yet] look likely to have switched their combined 12 votes to Bush this time. The swing states were generally very close margins [with the exception of Florida, where Bush had a comfortable 5% lead]. Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Wisconsin had the candidates within 1% of each other. Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania had margins of 2-3%. With that, I think that if 9/11 had not occurred, Bush would have been voted out of office. It looked like not a lot of people changed their minds from the last election, and I would guess that a lot of those who did change their mind for Bush did so because of the Republican's successful campaign of "Vote for Bush or terrorists will kill you."

Second, this will be interesting to see what lesson the Democrats take from this defeat [as well as the decisive Senate and House defeats]. My prediction is that they didn't lose by enough to actually do honest soul searching on why; rather, they will only shift personnel and presentation; expect the "Hillary the Democrat's Savior" meme in the next couple years. I doubt they will take the defeat as a sign that they can't get a majority of Americans behind their platform and either change the platform, or split into more directed parties.

Third, whither the Republican Party? I was hoping they would lose the Presidency [and the religious conservative Alan Keyes' Illinois Senate bid, which they did lose] and gain in the Senate and House. I hoped they would then be dumbstruck as to how they could lose reelection in the middle of a War, something that has never happened in American history. This could have led them to realize that they can't put forward as blatantly a religious candidate as they did and expect the fundamentalist Christian voters of the country to carry him. This would have been a good thing for our culture; alas, it is not to be.

Now, considering that Bush did win with a fairly comfortable lead, although nowhere near as overwhelmingly as Reagan and Clinton won their second terms, how are the Republicans and the Bush administration going to take the win? We already see in Cheney's victory speech that he believes that they have been given a mandate by the country: "in the election of 2004, we did more than campaign on a record. President Bush ran forthrightly on a clear agenda for this nation’s future and the nation responded by giving him a mandate. Now we move forward to serve and to guard the country we love." And what is the nature of this "mandate?" From Bush's victory speech:
We will continue our economic progress. We'll reform our outdated tax code. We'll strengthen the Social Security for the next generation. We'll make public schools all they can be. And we will uphold our deepest values of family and faith. We'll help the emerging democracies of Iraq and Afghanistan so they can grow in strength and defend their freedom. And then our service men and women will come home with the honor they have earned. With good allies at our side, we will fight this war on terror with every resource of our national power so our children can live in freedom and in peace." [emphasis added]
A New York Times article [registration required] entitled "President Seems Poised to Claim a New Mandate" says "a third of all voters yesterday identified themselves as evangelicals, according to surveys of voters leaving the polls."

Robert Tracinski, writing in TIA Daily, dismisses Bill Bennett's claim of a mandate to legislate morals:
This election gave Bush a mandate to fight the war, and that is how the administration is interpreting it. But now Bill Bennett is trying to steal the Bush mandate for the religious right, claiming that "morals trumped terrorism" and that Bush has a mandate to "promote a more decent society, through both politics and law." Let's hope that the Bush administration is smart enough to ignore this insidious advice.
However, the article by Bill Bennett uses the L.A. Times' exit polls to back up his claim. I believe that this is not a case of Mr. Bennett projecting, but a valid reading of the poll data that President Bush will probably take to heart.

CNN's exit poll data shows that the single most important issue was Moral Values [22% cited it as the most important], which is probably code for Christian/altruistic values for all or nearly all respondents. This was followed by Economy/Jobs at 20%, Terrorism at 19%, Iraq at 15%, Health Care at 8%, Taxes at 5% and Education at 4%. Bush got 80% of those who cited Moral Values as the most important issue to vote for him. He also got the vote of 86% of those who cited Terrorism. Of those who cited Taxes, he got a slight majority: 57%. For those who cited one of the other issues listed [a total of 47% of the respondents], he got, at most, 26% of their votes [Economy/Jobs 18%, Iraq 26%, Health Care 23%, Education 26%].

26% said that abortion should be mostly illegal and 16% said it should be always illegal; Bush got 73% and 77% of the vote of these two categories, respectively. 21% said it should always be legal, 34% said it should mostly be legal; Bush only received 25% and 38% of the votes in those categories.

The L.A. Times' national exit poll asked, "What issues, if any, were most important to you in deciding how you would vote for president today?" Among Bush voters: Moral/ethical values 52%, Terrorism/homeland security 45%, Jobs/the economy 18%, Situation in Iraq 11% [N.B.: respondents could choose more than one issue].

From these two exit polls, I think the Republicans will conclude that they have a large Moral mandate, and a nearly as large mandate on the way that President Bush has been waging the war on "terror." Both of these are disastrous. Look for a serious push against Roe v. Wade in the next 4 years, unless Bush only gets to appoint 1 Supreme Court Justice, and look for an even stronger Iran and North Korea, an emboldened China [especially against Taiwan], and the very strong probability of another Islamic theocracy in Iraq, because, hey, "democracy is democracy."

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