If President Bush wins another term next Tuesday, most political pundits will reflexively chalk-it-up to his handling of the war on terror. But close analysis should reveal what I have thought for a while: that this year’s presidential election would not pivot on the conduct of the war on terror, but instead would ultimately turn on another less-noticed war: The culture war. Yes, the cultural issues–marriage, abortion, and religious freedom–will prove decisive in capturing the votes of those all-important swing-state voters, and in siphoning votes from some unlikely sources–the Democratic strongholds of minority and women voters.
For all the attention cultural issues like abortion and religious freedom get in the media, it has been commonly understood that in presidential elections these issues are generally only reliable in bringing each party’s base to the polls. That is to say, on voting day, issues like the economy, education, and healthcare move to the forefront of most voters’ minds. New polling suggests this has changed, however.
Despite the emergence of the war on terror, polls indicate that the percentage of voters who will be voting primarily on moral and cultural issues has increased significantly to a level of 15 to 18%, according to five national polls commissioned by Time since July. During the Clinton era, these voters made up about 10% of the electorate. And what’s more, the polls further reveal that these “values-voters” prefer George Bush by an overwhelming 10-to-1 margin.
Moreover, MSNBC’s polling firm, Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, shows that social issues are particularly important to voters in the 10 or so swing states both sides agree will determine the presidential election. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, for example, moral issues and family values are the most important set of issues for 12 and 15% of voters respectively. In the upper Midwest states of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan, values-first voters makeup 13 to 14% of voters. These are all states Al Gore won in 2000, yet each state boasts overwhelming support for a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. In these states, people don’t wake up worrying about marginal tax rates or campaign finance reform. When they cast their votes for president, they vote for the person they can trust and who shares their values and morals when it comes to the fundamental issues of life and the meaning and importance of marriage and the family.
By creating a cycle of dependency on the government, the Democrats have historically been able to count on the overwhelming support of minority voters. This is changing, however. Hispanics, especially first-generation Latino immigrants, tend to share the cultural values of conservative Republicans, and have seen their share of the electorate increase by 60% over the last eight years to the point where they are now the biggest minority group in America.
Significantly, many swing states such as Florida, Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada, have large Hispanic populations, and a new national poll conducted by Latino Opinions shows the President cutting into Kerry’s lead with this group because of his pro-life, pro-family positions. For example, the president enjoys wide support for backing parental notification laws for teen abortions, with Hispanics supporting him by a 69 to 26% margin. Bush’s committed defense of traditional marriage and opposition to partial-birth abortion also endear him to this group. On the other hand, Sen. Kerry is having trouble rallying support from this usually dependable demographic, not only because of his six votes in opposition to a ban on partial-birth abortion, but also because of his vote against allowing Miguel Estrada to be considered an appeals court judge nine times.
A critical mass of blacks, a group that voted 9-to-1 in favor of Al Gore in 2000, will break from the Democrat Party and vote for the president this year. A new poll by the Pew Research Center says that Kerry’s support has dropped to a low point of 73%, and if all of these missed votes go to Bush, that will mean two times as many blacks will support him than four years ago. Another poll conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies finds Kerry receiving only 69% support from blacks, while Bush garners 18%. What’s more, many of these black voters reside in the key battleground states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. While education reform, faith-based initiatives and the administration’s commitment to development in Africa have certainly played a role in bringing over black voters, the chief reason is that most black Christian conservatives agree with the president’s unambiguous support for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
While 70% of conservative black voters cast their ballot for Al Gore in 2000, only 49% support John Kerry. Bush is now at between 35 and 40% among this group, more than tripling the 11% he received in 2000.
Clearly, minority voters are seriously questioning the Democrats’ worn-out depiction of Republicans as racist elitists nostalgic for the days of Jim Crow. And while John Kerry will undoubtedly win the lion’s share of the minority vote, George Bush may siphon enough votes to secure a second term.
Democrats have traditionally held an edge among women voters (Gore garnered 54% to Bush’s 43% in 2000), but President Bush is making significant inroads and some polls now show him leading John Kerry among likely female voters. While the attacks of 9/11 and subsequent assaults, such as the terrorist takeover and massive death toll at a school in southern Russia, have brought rise to what some refer to as “security moms,” the reasons for Bush’s popularity among women are more complicated than that.
Women, who are more likely than men to vote but tend to decide late, have come to see a clear difference in the character of each candidate. Many women voters, especially married women with families, respect President Bush because he demonstrates a confidence, sincerity of faith and moral clarity seemingly absent in John Kerry.
Not only has the president endeared himself to female voters with his firm decision-making in the war on terror, but also his resoluteness on issues like marriage, partial-birth abortion, and school choice shows women that he is a man of conviction and strength.
Again, in 2000, Al Gore, like Bill Clinton, was able to garner the support not only of young, urban, single women who usually vote democratic, but also the older suburban “soccer moms” who resided in the Midwest. This year, however, many of these women have grown to become “security moms,” concerned not only about the security of our country, but about the security and health of their marriages and families.
The war on terror is certainly the elephant in this year’s election living room. And while the vote for President will be viewed largely as a referendum on George Bush’s handling of the war on terror and the war in Iraq, the other war, over our country’s values and ideals, will be just as important in determining who wins the election.