November 5, 2004

November 5, 2004 | Commentary on Political Thought

And The Moral Is …

Something significant occurred on Nov. 2. Virtually all of the commentators missed it before the election. Yet it popped up early in the exit polling, and now the talking heads are trying to explain what it means.

When asked which issue mattered most in deciding how they voted for president, almost a quarter of Americans said "moral values." According to numbers compiled in the National Election Pool of ABC, CNN, CBS, FOX, NBC and the Associated Press, a plurality of 22 percent (more than 25 million people) cited it. That's higher than the number that said healthcare (8 percent), Iraq (15 percent), terrorism (19 percent) or the economy and jobs (20 percent). What is going on here?

Several moral issues surfaced in the campaign, including the use of stem-cells for research, the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and the ban on partial-birth abortion. But the clearest example of the "moral values" vote in this election concerned marriage. In response to the Massachusetts Supreme Court's narrow decision to redefine marriage to include couples of the same sex, 13 states proposed constitutional amendments to protect the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Missouri passed its amendment in August by 71 percent; Louisiana passed its by 78 percent in September. The remaining 11 amendments were on the ballot and passed by powerful majorities: Arkansas (74 percent), Georgia (77 percent), Kentucky (75 percent), Michigan (59 percent), Mississippi (86 percent), Montana (66 percent), North Dakota (73 percent), Ohio (62 percent), Oklahoma (76 percent), Utah (66 percent), and even Oregon (57 percent). In every Senate race where marriage was a significant issue, a pro-marriage candidate won.

Disappointed Kerry supporters may be tempted to dismiss this as a mere wedge issue. But they do so at their peril. In fact, it heralds a significant new reality in American politics. To see why, let's dig a bit deeper.

Of those who cited "moral values" as their chief issue, 79 percent voted for President Bush over Sen. Kerry (18 percent). Of the 13 states that have amended their constitutions this election cycle to defend traditional marriage, Bush won every one except Oregon and Michigan. President Bush won the Roman Catholic vote (51 percent to 48 percent), as well as the Protestant vote (58 percent to 41 percent); he even garnered a quarter of the Jewish vote.

Those that identified themselves as Evangelical Christians -- 22 percent, or 25.3 million people -- went for George Bush by a margin of 77 percent to 22 percent. In this election, that particular voting block was twice as large as the black vote and only slightly less consistent in its voting allegiance.

Here is the statistic that powerfully captures this growing alignment. When asked how often they attended religious services, here is how the voters' answers correlated with their presidential choice: more than once a week (Bush, 63 percent); once a week (Bush, 58 percent); a few times a month (evenly divided for Bush and Kerry); a few times a year (Kerry, 55 percent); and never (Kerry, 64 percent). Forty percent of those that voted (46 million Americans) attend religious services weekly; 60 percent of them voted for President Bush.

Second only to party affiliation, the leading indicator of how one votes -- ahead of sex, race, age, income or level of education -- is how often one attends religious services.

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Toward the end of the campaign, Senator Kerry tried to correct the sense that he was out of touch with the cultural concerns of church-going Americans by talking about his personal faith and values, but it didn't work. He was unable to stem the tide of religious Americans going Republican.

Here is the moral of the story: Cultural liberalism is increasingly unattractive to a significant and growing segment of the American electorate. If this trend continues, and continues to solidify, the Democrats will never again be a majority party in the United States.

Spalding is director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at The Heritage Foundation, a public policy research organization in Washington, D.C.

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