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Who Killed Cock Robin?

Many on the soi-disant Left in the US are saying that the Republican victory is due to the Christian Right, and some conclude then that the paramount task for the Left is to attack religion (forgetting perhaps the conscious ambiguity in the famous image of the people’s painkiller). Recalling the truism that, in the absence of a correct analysis, the best will in the world can only err, we might try to find out why Bush won. Who voted for him?

Bush won by more than 3.5 million votes, after losing by a half million in 2000. And almost 80% of those voters said that they’d made up their minds more than a month ago on whom to vote for. Contrary to early reports, turn-out this year wasn’t much higher than usual — almost half of the eligible voters didn’t vote. First-time voters, who tended to vote for Kerry, were only 11% of those voting.

More women voted than men, and more of them voted for Kerry than Bush (but not so many as voted for Gore). A high percentage of white men and a low percentage of non-white women voted for Bush — 88% of all African- Americans voted for Kerry (but Gore got 90%). People under thirty were the least-likely age group to vote — but the most likely to vote for Kerry.

The more money you made, the more likely you were to vote Republican. More than half of people with incomes under $50,000 voted for Kerry; more than half of those with incomes over $50,000 voted for Bush — and many more of them voted. Union members voted for Kerry 3-2 and they turned out more than non-union members, but they still made up less than 15% of the electorate, because there are so few union members in the country. Gun-owners however made up more than 40% of voters, and they went 3-2 for Bush. On education levels, only those with some post-graduate education tended to vote for Kerry, but they were only 16% of the electorate; all others tended to vote for Bush.

Over half of the voters were Protestant, and almost 60% of them voted for Bush. Over a quarter were Catholic, and just over half of them voted for Bush. Jews on the contrary voted for Kerry by 3-1 (Gore did better), but they were only 3% of the electorate. The more you went to church, the more likely you were to vote for Bush — but less than 10% of the electorate said religious faith was the most important characteristic of a candidate.

For all Kerry’s “reporting for duty” shtik, veterans favored Bush by 8% over non-veterans. Married people voted for Bush in the same percentage as veterans (57%), while the numbers were reversed for the unmarried.

Although 70% of voters said that they were “very concerned” about health care, they said the most important issues were moral values, terrorism, the economy, and Iraq (almost equally). Those who named moral values and terrorism voted overwhelmingly for Bush; the economy and Iraq, for Kerry. Remarkably, well over half of the voters said the US was safer from terrorism now than it was four years ago, although by 52%-46% they thought that the Iraq war had not made the US more secure.

Bush voters said the most important characteristic of their candidate was that he was a “strong leader” with a “clear stand on the issues”; Kerry voters, that he would “bring change.” A fourth of the electorate said that they were voting primarily against someone — 70% of them against Bush, 30% against Kerry. By 54%-41%, voters thought that Bush paid more attention to large corporations than to ordinary Americans. But two-thirds of the electorate thought Kerry’s attacks were unfair, while 60% thought that Bush’s were.

The typical Bush voter looks like a middle-aged married white man with an adequate income, a Protestant and perhaps a gun owner but not a union member, who probably attended college. Although he admits Iraq is a mess, he thinks Bush is a clear leader who has dealt strongly with terrorism even if he is backed by major corporate interests. He’s worried about “security,” both his own and the country’s — health care, and the fabric of American society. If he lives in Florida or Nevada, he may well have voted for a ballot initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage — which won by a large margin in those two Bush states.

He may belong to that group that Seth Ackerman describes: “their biggest concern is that they think the society and culture have gotten too selfish, which they equate with libertinism; in other words, they don’t really distinguish between the Enron exec who rips off his workers to pay for a luxury party in Greece and the mythical girl who gets an abortion so she can fit into her prom dress.” He sees Kerry as “weak, waffling, and weird” (in Paul Begala’s words), and he thinks Kerry’s attacks on Bush were unclear and unfair.

He doesn’t see himself as an idiot (unless perhaps he’s a Red Sox rooter) and he doesn’t think he gets his ideas unduly from his church; instead, he sees his religious participation as a way to express his social views — which American Evangelicalism has typically done, both in its progressive phase, when it was a mainstay of abolitionism and the labor movement, and when it turned socially conservative, about the time of the First World War.

Finally, it’s at least as reasonable to blame Bush’s election on women as it is to blame it on Evangelicals (i.e., not very reasonable at all). They make up about the same percentage of those voting (54%), but, while the percentage of women voting Republican increased by 5% over 2000, the percentage of Protestants voting Republican increased by only 3%. And by no means are all Protestants Evangelicals. If women had split their vote in 2004 as they did in 2000, Kerry would have won.

Most Americans understand that their presidential elections are a vast game played by big money, the PR industry and the media — corporate entities all. Those corporate interests throw up candidates whose differences are far more a matter of style rather than of substance. Therefore those who decide to vote choose the style they like, knowing that they’ll get about the same substance. Almost half don’t bother to choose, knowing that the choice will not make too much difference to their lives. Those who do, choose the candidate whose “character” suggests that he’ll hurt them least, largely by leaving them alone, and/or troubling other people.

On the matter of religion, it may have been rightly said that, if God had meant us to vote, She would have sent us candidates.

Carl Estabrook is a Visiting Scholar University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a CounterPunch columnist. He can be reached at: galliher@alexia.lis.uiuc.edu

 

 

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