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
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
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.
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
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.