After two weeks of post election shock and denial, Democrats and voters for Sen. John Kerry are trying to determine what happened, and why. Amid the blogs and endless bloviation, rumors are the rule of the day and clarity is hard to come by. Commentator Connie Rice says the first step is to dispel some myths, size up the real danger and end the despair:
(10.) The "youth vote" campaigns failed.
Wrong. The youth vote, which broke more than 2 to 1 for Kerry, increased in absolute numbers substantially — but because almost 14 million more voted, for a 59.5 percent turnout, the youth vote percentage of the total stayed the same. MTV, Rock the Vote, Quincy Jones, Russell Simmons and the Hip Hop Voters should be proud of their increased registration and turnout. Keep on with this effort.
(9.) The white evangelical Protestant vote alone gave Bush his victory.
Evangelical Protestants — 56 of whom are Republicans — are central to the GOP base, but they were not the only key constituency. Republicans took substantial percentages of all non-black, highly religious folk in every Christian denomination, including an unprecedented 52 percent of the Catholic vote — which equaled the Protestant evangelical vote. The evangelical Protestant vote stayed at 23 percent of the total turnout, same as it was in 2000. What changed is that they turned out, making up 33 percent plus of Bush's 9.5 million new voters. The good news is that Catholics remain movable — and even in this election, 20 percent of Protestant evangelicals voted Democratic. So it's still God, guns, geography and race, with a slight gender divide.
(8.) We have fixed the voting problems of 2000.
Nope — all you need to know is that a programming glitch in Ohio's new voting machines created 4,000 Bush votes from a precinct with 800 registered voters. My organization alone (Advancement Project) had to file three lawsuits to enforce the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and fight registration challengers. If the provisional votes in Ohio had substantially exceeded Bush's margin of victory, we'd be recounting votes in court right now.
(7.) The Republicans won because the country turned significantly more conservative.
Voters describing themselves as conservative increased by 4 points to 33 percent since 2000. Moderates decreased 5 points to 45 percent — so a small step right, not a big step. More than anything, Republicans won the Electoral College tally because more people moved to the Sun Belt states — states that usually vote Republican. Karl Rove called it right by focusing on the migrant "ex-uban" voter. Bottom line? The country is still moderate and centrist — 55 percent of 2004 voters say abortion should remain legal, and a large majority agree strongly that church and state should remain separate.
(6.) The Republicans won the "get out the vote" ground war because they had more money.
Wrong. The parties both spent $125 million on get out the vote efforts. The winning difference was that the Republicans ran a party-controlled effort with highly trained volunteers. Their precinct lists had turnout targets with decimal precision — and because they were coordinated, they had a streamlined and elegant operation that didn't trip and stumble over each other. And most importantly, they used locals to get out the local vote. The Democratic effort was done by independent groups who did a good job of turning out five million new Democratic voters — but they were uncoordinated with the Democratic Party (by law) and with each other (by ego). The Democrats upped their game, but the Republicans upped theirs more.
(5.) Moral values trumped the election and show that the country is deeply divided along cultural fault lines.
This theory is overblown — the question that produced this notion didn't define "moral values," and other polls undercut this conclusion . Throughout the campaign, when voters were asked over and over to list their top concerns, moral values never made the top five. But when given moral values as one of four choices, 22 percent chose it. But with just a few percentage points difference, jobs or health care would have won out as the top issue. What is significant is that of the voters who chose moral values, Bush won 78 percent of their votes, and 75 percent of voters who listed terrorism as their top concern.
(4.) The United States is a sea of Republican "red states."
The winner-take-all Electoral College vote map hides the real story: the 2004 vote was an urban vs. rural, North vs. South battle. For example, in Texas Kerry won Austin, El Paso, Laredo and other Texas coastal cities. In Wyoming, Kerry took the one big city it has — Cheyenne — which was almost 40 percent of the state's total votes. Kerry took urban centers throughout the South, he took Billings, Montana, and Tucson and Flagstaff, Ariz. — all cities in the most conservative states. The urban vote is key to a recovery strategy.
(3.) The 11 state gay marriage bans that passed mean homophobia is on the rise.
Wrong — the country is far more tolerant of gays today than even 10 years ago. About 61 percent of voters support civil unions and protecting gay couples from discrimination — including many who voted to ban gay marriage.
(2.) Bush's hard-line Israeli policy caused many Jewish voters to vote Republican.
Wrong. More than 75 percent of the Jewish vote went to Kerry, second only to the 89 percent black vote for Kerry. Contrast that with only 58 percent of Latinos voting for Kerry.
(1.) The Republicans now have a lock on politics for the next 50 years.
This is the most dangerous myth of all. There is a lot that can turn this around before the 2006 elections further cement this Republican victory into a lock. The good news is that the country is still centrist and prefers moderate positions — when it can get the facts on an issue. Even better, a substantial number of voters belonging to all major U.S. religions — including conservative religious voters — want increased money to fight poverty, even if it means higher taxes. Majorities agree that the government should help the poor get on their feet, that the United States should fight AIDS overseas, intervene in Sudan, give more aid to poor countries... they even want stricter environmental protections. If even the conservative religious right shares progressive views on these issues, those voters are reachable and winnable on broader issues. A competent party can turn this around. Bush is the first president in decades to lose the independent vote, and he lost college-educated white males making $100,000 or more — a traditional Republican group. He made gains with "waitress moms," married women and even more of the no-college "Bubba vote." But these voters will be ready for real solutions after eight years of tax cuts, exploding deficits and disappearing jobs — get the agenda ready.