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Tuesday, November 9, 2004

There goes the 'moral values' surge!

The conventional wisdom has been amended. Here's E.J. Dionne Jr:

John Kerry was not defeated by the religious right. He was beaten by moderates who went — reluctantly in many cases — for President Bush. This will be hard for many Democrats to take. It's easier to salve those wounds by demonizing religious conservatives. . . .

Bush won not because there is a right-wing majority in the United States but because the president persuaded just enough of the nonconservative majority to go his way.

And here's some data that suggests that the Christian right — the highly politicized Evangelical movement — didn't really turn out for Bush in greater numbers than other groups this year. Catholics, however, did:

There was indeed a flood of evangelicals to the polls—but it now appears that the shift in the Catholic vote was just as important and, in crucial states, probably more so.

In addition, Bush also made gains among the moderately religious—and the secular—not just the heavy-duty religious voters who attend religious services weekly or more.

Bush’s strong performance among Catholics, it turns out, was crucial to his victory. Bush won Catholics 52%-47% this time, while Al Gore carried them 50%-46% in 2000. If Kerry had done as well as Gore, he would have had about a million more votes nationwide. According to Gallup Polls, only one Democrat since 1952 (Walter Mondale in 1984) lost the Catholic vote by this large a margin.

The Catholic impact was starker in key states. In Ohio, Bush got 55% of the Catholic vote in 2004 compared to just under 50% of them in 2000. That means a shift of 172,000 votes into the Republican column. Bush won the state by just 136,000 votes this year.

In Florida, Catholics made up 26% of the electorate in 2000. This year, they made up 28%. In 2000, 54% of Catholics went for Bush; in 2004, 57% of them voted for him. The combination of those two factors meant a gain of 400,000 voters in the Sunshine State—about Bush's margin of victory.

If you're looking for a silver lining to last week's eleven-state constitutional amendment bonanza banning gay marriage (with a vengeance), here's GLAD civil rights director Mary Bonauto and MassEquality campaign director Marty Rouse:

It's entirely too simplistic to pin Tuesday's national results on the fight for marriage equality. Even President Bush, obviously concerned about the moderate middle, came out in support of civil unions in the final days. Most significant, 62 percent of Americans left the polls favoring some sort of relationship recognition, from marriage to civil unions to domestic partnership. Many split their vote — voting for Bush but also favoring some recognition. Most of them came to that conclusion without the benefit of a deep and real dialogue on marriage. One could argue that they came to that decision in the midst of an onslaught of antigay rhetoric.

What we did learn from this election is that if voters have the opportunity to really explore the issue, they move toward marriage equality, not away from it. At a minimum, once they see how ending marriage discrimination affects their family, friends, and neighbors, they don't turn their backs on candidates or incumbents on this single issue.

Did the voters cite "moral values" as they left their polling places? Yes, but abortion and guns were cited more often than marriage, and it appears that those voters were equally troubled by the Viagra ads that play during "Everyone Loves Raymond." Cable television and its programming also took a big hit. Is it any surprise, then, that simplifying the results to marriage makes it easier if you happen to be an industry lobbyist in Washington or work with a right-wing institution?

And Paul Freedman explains that the gay marriage amendments probably had only a small impact on the presidential race, since the conservative groups that sponsored the amendments picked their fights carefully (just as, I might note, GLAD picked Vermont and Massachusetts carefully). Check out these numbers:

The evidence that having a gay-marriage ban on the ballot increased voter turnout is spotty. Marriage-ban states did see higher turnout than states without such measures. They also saw higher increases in turnout compared with four years ago. But these differences are relatively small. Based on preliminary turnout estimates, 59.5 percent of the eligible voting population turned out in marriage-ban states, whereas 59.1 percent turned out elsewhere. This is a microscopic gap when compared to other factors. For example, turnout in battleground states was more than 7.5 points higher than it was in less-competitive states, and it increased much more over 2000 as well.

It's true that states with bans on the ballot voted for Bush at higher rates than other states. His vote share averaged 7 points higher in gay-marriage-banning states than in other states (57.9 vs. 50.9). But four years ago, when same-sex marriage was but a twinkle in the eye of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Bush's vote share was 7.3 points higher in these same states than in other states. In other words, by a statistically insignificant margin, putting gay marriage on the ballot actually reduced the degree to which Bush's vote share in the affected states exceeded his vote share elsewhere.

Why did states with gay-marriage ballot measures vote so heavily for Bush? Because such measures don't appear on state ballots randomly. Opponents of gay marriage concentrate their efforts in states that are most hospitable to a ban and are most likely to vote for Bush even without such a ballot measure. A state's history of voting for Bush is more likely to lead to an anti-gay-marriage measure on that state's ballot than the other way around.

("Moderates, Not Moralists," E.J. Dionne Jr, Washington Post 11.9.04, reg req'd; "It Wasn't Just (or Even Mostly) the 'Religious Right,'" Steven Waldman and John Green, Beliefnet 11.9.04?; "Gay Marriage Is Not To Blame," Mary Bonauto and Marty Rouse, Boston Globe 11.9.04; "The Gay Marriage Myth," Paul Freed, Slate 11.5.04)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 9 November 2004 at 5:49 PM

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November 9, 2004 06:42 PM | Permalink for this comment

Good Lord. Just because EJ Dionne doesn't feel a moral calling doesn't mean we have to give up, too.

Our moral action is not dependent on right-wing moral action; it does not ebb and flow with theirs. If it did, we would limit ourselves to being reactive whiners. Regardless of why Bush won, religious liberals need to learn to frame issues morally, rather than programatically.

The gay marriage question asks us, for instance, whether we are a country which will protect everyone's civil rights, or only some; everyone's freedom to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or only some people's. These are moral issues, and insofar as we wait for the issues to be introduced and framed by those proposing a fear-based, competition-based, greed-based America, we lose. But we will do better.

EJ Dionne and other liberal analysts may slink back to positions of equivocation, but people of faith who feel the still, small voice stirring within, and burning within, cannot.

With love,


November 9, 2004 08:27 PM | Permalink for this comment

Oh, clearly I have mistitled the entry! I don't interpret Dionne to be saying that Democrats — much less religious liberals — can back off the morals conversation at all. In fact, I think he is pointing to a significant opportunity for liberals: The outcome of the Evangelical right's organizing was, relatively speaking, more modest than their own spokespeople have portrayed it. It serves the purposes of the Christian right to claim that they not only dominated the election but gave George W. Bush his mandate; by their logic, he owes them big-time, and liberals ought to fear and tremble before them. But Dionne's point is that, analytically, people have been overstating the degree to which anti-gay marriage votes drove up the president's turnout. He is pointing out that, as significant as those votes are, Bush's margin of victory is actually due to moderate voters (call them monthly churchgoing born-agains, mainline Protestants, and especially Catholics, not to mention a range of other swing voters) who broke for the president for a combination of reasons.

That's where the opportunity comes in. If the surge of right-wing Christian voters wasn't actually as decisive as they have made it out to be, perhaps religious liberals can come to terms with the basic fact that the Christian right is not growing. It's share of the vote didn't go up, nor do polls suggest that their base has significantly expanded. Instead, their organizing efforts have shaped the political conversation in a way that drew otherwise moderate voters to vote with them. (In the constitutional amendment votes, it's interesting that many people who oppose gay marriage but support civil unions nevertheless voted for constitutional amendments that ban gay marriage and civil unions, domestic partnership laws, and anything else remotely resembling them. In other words, they didn't pay attention to what they were really endorsing because the proponents of the amendments (the Christian right) shaped the public debate. A fairly stable minority — the Christian right — shaped a public debate in a way that moderates swung to their side.

Religious liberals can do this, too. By reframing the moral debate, our minority can reshape public perception even if our numbers don't significantly expand. The importance of the moral values debate, from a liberal perspective, is that there is considerable room for more liberal voices to operate — and the margins don't need to be that large for us to make a real difference. That's what I meant to be highlighting by drawing attention to these more cool-headed assessments of the strength of the "moral values" conservative voters.

No equivocation in these quarters, please! Preach it, Jake!


November 9, 2004 08:37 PM | Permalink for this comment

I should also mention that Dionne, a liberal Catholic, is also a columnist for the very fine lay Catholic magazine Commonweal.


November 9, 2004 09:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

Jeff Sharlet at the Revealer comments:

Bottom line: The politics-as-usual crowd wants you to believe there isn't a culture war, after all. Move along, folks, nothing to see. But the culture warriors in the trenches of the right, who've thrown their lives into causes close to their hearts, know it ain't so. And an increasing number in the great liberal/left/progressive/radical fog are recognizing the "reality" of culture war as well. It's not the wealth, stupid, it's the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world.


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