It's the Culture, Stupid

It’s the culture, stupid.

While there were many important issues in last week’s historic election, the single most important one for the largest bloc of voters was not the economy, the Iraq War, or the Terror War. It was the cultural war.

Democrat John Kerry was defeated by a resolute army of voters who marched out in massive numbers to strike a peaceful blow at the ballot box for a traditionalist vision of American society.

In the national exit poll conducted for the Associated Press and major television networks, as posted at, voters were asked which of the following issues “mattered most in deciding their vote for President”: education, taxes, health care, Iraq, terrorism, economy/jobs, or moral values. This very poll, mind you, has been widely criticized for showing a bias in favor of Kerry that was not borne out by the actual election results (suggesting it must have surveyed a disproportionately large number of liberals). Even so, “moral values” topped the list of most important issues with 22% (followed by economy/jobs, 20%; terrorism, 19%; Iraq, 15%; health care, 8%; taxes, 5%; education, 4%).

Among the 22% who said moral values was most important in deciding their vote for President, 80% voted for George W. Bush.

What the Democrats needed on Election Day was a nation that placed less importance on moral values.

They also could have used an electorate that included fewer churchgoers and married people. According to the poll, Bush beat Kerry, 61% to 39%, among voters who attend religious services weekly. He won a remarkable 70% of Protestants who do so, and 56% of Catholics.

Kerry, by contrast, won 62% of those who say they “never” attend religious services. But they accounted for only 14% of voters.

Although Kerry was only the third Catholic ever nominated for President by a major U.S. party (Al Smith and John F. Kennedy were the first two), Bush beat him nationally among all Catholic voters (church-goers and non-churchgoers alike), 52% to 47%, becoming only the third Republican candidate for President in history to win the support of a majority of Roman Catholics, who made up 27% of the national electorate.

Marriage was a double-barreled issue in this election. Bush crushed Kerry among married voters generally, 57% to 42%, and also among married women, 55% to 44%. Married voters who have children went for Bush in a landslide, 59% to 40%.

Kerry, meanwhile, rolled up an impressive 58% of the unmarried vote.

In the year 2004, the basic human institution of marriage has become a massive demographic obstacle for the national Democratic Party.

Eleven states considered ballot initiatives to ban same-sex marriage (see page 5). The initiatives gathered large majorities everywhere. In the crucial state of Ohio–where advocates promoted it as prohibiting judges “from anti-democratic efforts to redefine marriage, such as was done by a bare majority of the judges of the Massachusetts Supreme Court”–it won 62%.

Moreover, there is strong evidence that moral values and the marriage issue gave President Bush the edge he needed in this decisive state.

Although the exit poll for Ohio (where unemployment exceeds the national rate) does indicate the economy was more of an issue here than elsewhere, it was balanced by a roughly equal concern for moral values. Twenty-four per cent of Ohio voters said the economy was the one most important issue deciding their vote, and 23% said it was moral values. But “economy” voters went 83% for Kerry, and “moral values” voters went 85% for Bush. Without moral values as a top issue (and a marriage initiative to sharply define it), Bush could have lost Ohio.

Bush also won 65% of Ohio voters who say they attend religious services weekly, including 69% of Protestants of that description and 65% of Catholics.

Sixty percent of married women voters in Ohio said they voted for Bush.

Forget “soccer moms” and “security moms.” In this election, a significant majority of Americans who are simply pursuing the traditional societal model of getting married, having kids and trying to raise those kids right–by, among other things, going to church regularly–voted Republican.

The America that still embraces the ideal of family depicted in the type of prime-time television shows (such as “Leave-it-to-Beaver”) that the networks don’t produce anymore came shouting out from this year network presidential exit poll. Its message was loud and clear: We don’t want a Massachusetts liberal running our country.

This poses a peculiar dilemma for the Democratic Party. To become a truly national party again it needs to do one of two things: Either seek an agenda that appeals more to traditional American families, or seek an America that has fewer of them.