30 Years' War

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NOVEMBER 15, 2004

30 Years' War

George W. Bush's victory shows that the political strategy that
conservative Republicans developed in the late 1970s is still
viable. Bush won a large swath of states and voters that were once
dependably Democratic by identifying Republicans as the party of
social conservatism and national security. Massachusetts Senator
John Kerry rallied a powerful coalition of minorities and
college-educated professionals based in postindustrial metropolitan
areas like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In the future,
this coalition may triumph on its own. But, in this election,
Democratic successes in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and West
could not make up for Republican successes in the South, the border
states, the Southwest, and the Great Plains. Fittingly, the
election was decided in Ohio--a state that combines the
metropolitan North and the small-town South.Bush's strategy evolved out of Republican travails during the long
era of New Deal Democratic dominance. Republicans understood after
1932 that they could no longer win elections simply as the party of
business. They had to attract working-class and middle-class
voters. After World War II, many Republicans tried mimicking New
Deal liberals, but, in the '70s, conservatives like Ronald Reagan
and Jesse Helms instead appealed to white, working-class voters
enraged by Democrats' support for civil rights, feminism, and
peaceful co-existence with the Soviet Union. Reagan won landslides
as the candidate of anti-communism and cultural conservatism. But,
in the 1990s, with the end of the cold war, Bill Clinton, armed
with a new centrism and a common touch, won back some of these
Democratic voters. He also took advantage of the growing backlash
against Republicans occurring among college-educated voters in
metropolitan areas. In the Clinton years, the Deep South became
almost uniformly Republican, but California, New Jersey, and
Illinois moved into the Democratic column.

Bush has refashioned Reagan's strategy to revive the older
Republican majority in the face of these defections. Like Reagan,
he has appealed to business and the wealthy with tax cuts, but he
has also presented himself as a simple Texan of conservative faith
whose favorite philosopher is Jesus, able to appeal to voters who
believe the country is in moral decline. And, because of September
11, he was able to rehabilitate the GOP's reputation as the party
of national security. Although that rehabilitation was complicated
by the failures of the Iraq war, Bush this year was able to reclaim
the Reagan mantle and peel away traditionally Democratic white,
working-class, rural and suburban voters.

Bush recreated the Reagan-era coalition by combining Brooks Brothers
and Wal- Mart, the upper class and the lower middle class. He won
wealthy voters--those who make over $200,000--by 63 to 35 percent.
But he also won voters who had not completed college by 53 to 47
percent. If minorities, who voted predominately for Kerry, are
excluded, Bush's margin among working voters was even higher. He
reached these voters, who made up the bulk of his support, through
opposition to gay marriage and abortion and through patriotic
appeal as the commander-in- chief in a war against terrorism that
seamlessly unites Osama bin Laden with Saddam Hussein. According to
the Los Angeles Times, Bush's voters accorded the most importance
to "moral/ethical values" and "terrorism/homeland security" in
deciding their vote.

Kerry's Democratic coalition, by contrast, was composed of
low-income minorities and upscale, college-educated
professionals--two groups that, not coincidentally, were the least
likely to accept the president's contention that the Iraq war was
part of the war on terrorism. In national exit polls, Kerry got
about 70 percent of the nonwhite vote. He tied Bush among voters
with college degrees and bested him by 55 to 44 percent among
voters who had engaged in postgraduate study. Kerry's voters, as
one might expect, cared most about jobs and the war in Iraq.
Luckily for Bush, however, voters without degrees still outnumber
those with them. In Colorado, Kerry won voters with college degrees
by 50 to 48 percent and those with postgraduate study by 55 to 43
percent. But Bush, by winning voters without degrees by 58 to 41
percent, was able to carry the state fairly easily.

Through his moral and martial appeals, Bush also won rural
voters--once a Democratic constituency--by 59 to 40 percent. And he
did extremely well among exurban voters. Bush couldn't win back
states like New Jersey and California, but, through his emphasis on
religion and family values, he strengthened the Republican hold on
the South and won states that had gone for Clinton, including
Kentucky, West Virginia, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Ohio.
Much of the white working class in these states consists of
evangelicals who live in small towns. According to a National
Annenberg Election Survey, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, and Ohio
are among the top 15 states in percentage of white, born-again,
evangelical Protestants. By opposing gay marriage and abortion,
Bush formed a majority coalition that combined these voters with
traditionally Republican farmers and businesspeople.

Kerry won not just big cities, but most of the large metropolitan
areas dominated by professionals and immigrants. Kerry did very
well in the West, Northeast, and parts of the Midwest because of
the growth of high-tech metro areas. Oregon, Washington, Minnesota,
and New Hampshire are now solidly in the Democratic fold. Illinois,
New York, and California have become as thoroughly Democratic as
Massachusetts. But, outside these states, Kerry's support among
urban voters failed to carry the day. In North Carolina, Kerry
actually did better than Al Gore in the state's key metro
areas--Gore lost Charlotte's Mecklenburg County in 2000, but Kerry
won it 52 to 48 percent. Nevertheless, Bush again won the state by
about 13 percent, because he slaughtered Kerry outside Charlotte
and Raleigh-Durham, winning 64 percent in the Greensboro area, 60
percent in the rural, small-town east, and 59 percent in the
mountain west.

Kerry's troubles extended to the battleground states that contained
significant numbers of evangelical and rural voters. While Kerry
took metropolitan South Florida and Orlando's Orange County, Bush
won the Sunshine State largely because he was able to increase his
margin from 2000 in rural and exurban counties, particularly
outside of Tampa and Orlando. In Hernando County, for example, Bush
won 6 percent more of the vote than he did in the last election.
Kerry did better than Gore in Ohio's Franklin County, where
Columbus and Ohio State University are located, but he failed to
build on Gore's margin in greater Cleveland. Meanwhile, Bush
enjoyed high turnout among evangelicals in southeast and southwest
Ohio. He got 65 percent of the vote in Butler and Preble counties
in the southwest and 58 percent in Washington County in the
southeast. And he carried Cincinnati's Hamilton County with over 53
percent.

Bush deserves some credit for his success in this election. Since
World War II, incumbents have only lost when they have faced
challenges within their party. That was George H.W. Bush's problem.
But his son oversaw a united party in spite of considerable
grumbling among conservatives in Washington about his foreign
policy. Bush has also continued to enjoy support from his initial
success against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, particularly among white,
working- class voters. Bush, they often say, makes them feel
"safer."

But Bush was also fortunate in his opponent. John Kerry was an able
debater, and his experience in Vietnam and on the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee partially neutralized arguments that would have
been made against other Democrats like former Vermont Governor
Howard Dean. But Kerry, an aloof New Englander, operated at a
distinct disadvantage among white, working-class voters. Unlike
Bill Clinton, he had trouble convincing voters that he "felt their
pain." In interviews conducted on the eve of the election, we asked
white, working-class Bush supporters in Martinsburg, West Virginia,
what they thought of Clinton. Even those who praised Bush for his
"family values" said they had voted for Clinton and thought he was
an "excellent president." But it wasn't Clinton's politics they
preferred; it was Clinton himself, despite the Monica Lewinsky
scandal. Gore had exactly the same problem with these voters in
2000. The Democrats need to find a candidate that can talk to both
PhDs and tractor- trailer drivers.

If they do this, the Democrats will be able to win presidential
elections. Kerry, after all, came very close to winning this time
despite his inadequacy as a candidate. Democrats showed that they
can hold their own in states like Colorado (where Democrat Ken
Salazar was elected to the Senate), Arizona, Nevada, and Virginia.
In many of these states, demography is on the Democrats' side.
Colorado is going to become more like California and less like Utah
or Montana, and Virginia is going to become more like New Jersey
and less like South Carolina. The future of Ohio is Franklin
County, not Butler County. Democrats also showed that they can
compete in raising money without relying on corporate contributions
and that the Internet is an important vehicle for organizing.

Bush himself is likely to suffer the malaise and confusion that has
beset every second-term president since Franklin Roosevelt. The
suppressed revolt over foreign policy in his party is likely to
break out. As a lame duck, he will have to contend with a House
leadership unwilling to be pushed around. And he will be faced with
decisions--including appointments to the Supreme Court-- in which
he will have to choose between infuriating his core constituencies
or inciting more GOP defections in states like Colorado and
Virginia. Bush got himself elected by waging a successful culture
war; but that is not going to help him in Washington--or around the
world--for the next four years.

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