NTTimes - Moral Values Cited as a Defining Issue of the Election
By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
ven in a time of war and economic hardship, Americans said they were motivated to vote for President Bush on Tuesday by moral values as much as anything else, according to a survey of voters as they left their polling places. In the survey, a striking portrait of one influential group emerged - that of a traditional, church-going electorate that leans conservative on social issues and strongly backed Mr. Bush in his victory over Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee.
Mr. Bush appealed overwhelmingly to voters on terrorism and to many others on his ability to handle the economy. But what gave him the edge in the election, which he won 51 percent to 48 percent, was a perceived sense of morality and traditional values.
Asked what one issue mattered most to them in choosing a president, "moral values" ranked at the top with the economy/jobs, terrorism and the war in Iraq. Trailing significantly were health care, taxes and education.
Of the people who chose "moral values" as their top issue, 80 percent voted for Mr. Bush. (For people who chose the economy/jobs, 80 percent voted for Mr. Kerry.) Nearly one-quarter of the electorate was made up of white evangelical and born-again Christians, and they voted four to one for Mr. Bush.
Mr. Bush beat his Democratic opponent in almost all religious categories except among Jews, three-fourths of whom favored Mr. Kerry. But they made up only 3 percent of the electorate. Mr. Bush did particularly well among white Catholics, winning 56 percent of them compared with Mr. Kerry's 43 percent, despite Mr. Kerry's being the first Roman Catholic nominated for president since John F. Kennedy in 1960.
As the Democrats pick up the pieces after this election, a likely priority will be to consider how to recapture these so-called Reagan Democrats, the mostly Catholic, blue-collar cultural conservatives who were disaffected from the party of Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale but had been brought back into the fold by Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
Asked what one quality mattered most in choosing a president, 8 percent of all those surveyed on Tuesday chose "he has strong religious faith,'' and 91 percent of the people who chose that quality voted for Mr. Bush. By contrast, 7 percent chose "he is intelligent,'' and 91 percent of those people voted for Mr. Kerry.
The quality that mattered most to about a quarter of the voters was "he will bring about needed change,'' and 95 percent of the voters who picked that quality voted for Mr. Kerry. But that desire for change and the perception that Mr. Kerry was the better agent of change were overwhelmed by other voters with other priorities.
For example, Mr. Kerry had an advantage with 52 percent of those surveyed saying that the war in Iraq was going badly, compared to 44 percent who said it was going well. And 52 percent said the war in Iraq had not improved the long-term security of the United States.
But he apparently failed to convince voters that the war in Iraq was separate from the war on terrorism, and 55 percent of voters saw Iraq as just that - part of the war on terrorism, compared with only 42 percent who did not. And more voters trusted Mr. Bush to do a better job on terrorism.
Still, the issues of morality and values seemed to hurt Mr. Kerry as much as anything.
Church attendance remained a strong indicator of political preference. Of those who attend church more than once a week, 61 percent voted for Mr. Bush and 39 percent for Mr. Kerry. Of those who never attend church, the numbers were reversed.
Three-quarters of those who want to outlaw abortion in some or all cases voted for Mr. Bush. Four in 10 voters said there should be no recognition of gay and lesbian couples; three-quarters of those voters voted for Mr. Bush.
Another striking aspect of the survey was how differently New Yorkers perceive the world compared with their fellow Americans in the heartland. Exit polls showed that 23 percent of voters in New York State regarded the war in Iraq as the campaign's most important issue, and 12 percent regarded moral issues as most important. The situation was reversed in the swing states that line the Mississippi River, from Minnesota to Arkansas, where moral values outranked Iraq.
Women voters continue to favor the Democratic Party, though not as starkly as they did four years ago. Mr. Bush did better among women this year, winning 48 percent of them, than he did in 2000, when he won 43 percent. As a result, Mr. Kerry drew somewhat fewer women than Al Gore, the Democratic nominee in 2000, drew four years ago