Yesterday, I discussed what went wrong in the final days of the Bush campaign, and how he lost undecided voters on election eve. But those miscues should not obscure the fact that in many ways Bush ran a brilliant campaign, stressing conservative issues and values. Undoubtedly it was the best Republican presidential effort since Reagan in 1980.
Exit polls showed that Bush made large inroads in a number of key demographic and voter-characteristic areas in this election, doing far better than either Papa Bush in ‘92 or Sen. Dole in ‘96. One might even say that the Republican presidential ascendancy put in place by Reagan in ‘80 and ‘84, and continued by Bush the Elder in ‘88, is now back on track.
As Alan Reynolds has noted, Bush made strong inroads among middle-income voters, significantly reducing Democratic victory margins in ‘92 and ‘96. Al Gore’s left-wing populist bashing of big business and rich people failed. In particular, Bush scored well in the crucial $30,000 to $50,000 income bracket, where he lost by only 4 percentage points.
Much of this stems from Bush’s broad backing by members of the investor class, i.e., those owning $10,000 or more of stocks. For example, of voters in the $30,000–$50,000 family-income group who are investors, Bush won 51% to 41%. Fortunately, the number of new investors in this group has expanded significantly since the last election. Ditto for the $30,000–$75,000 group, which gave Bush a 51-43 margin over Gore. (Investor’s Business Daily/Tipp Poll) These people have become wealth-creating property owners. They have no interest in the standard liberal Democratic class-warfare pap. Indeed, it is not a stretch to argue that these pro free-enterprise investors gave Bush his margin of victory (that is, if the Gorites don’t somehow manage to take it back).
Overall, investors gave Bush a 51% to 46% majority, which was actually about 6-percentage-points less than pre-election polls suggested. So, here too, he did lose some ground in the final days. But in a tie-breaking election like this, 5 points is an important 5 points.
Bush also improved Republican totals among Catholics. Though he lost by 49% to 47% among all Catholic voters, a majority of white Catholics favored the Texan, reversing the pattern of two Democratic victories in ‘92 and ‘96.
Speaking of religion, exit polls strongly infer that Bush was a huge favorite among churchgoers while Gore was supported by secularists. This continues a two-decade-long trend. For example, among the 14 % of voters who go to church more than once a week, Bush beat Gore 63% to 36%. However, among those who never go to services, Gore beat Bush 62% to 29%. And then, there’s Bush’s whopping 4-to-1 ratio among religious right voters, which was substantially better than Dole’s margin in 1996. The white religious right, making up 14% of the electorate, went for Bush by 79% to 19%. Bush carried Protestant voters 55% to 43%.
In another category, while Bush lost the Hispanic vote, he reduced the Democratic margin of victory from a 7-to-2 ratio in 1996 to a 2-to-1 ratio. So, cynical conservatives may be wrong. There is hope for future Republican victories in California and other states with high Latino populations. This year’s election results strongly suggest that Bush’s pro-business, traditional virtues, and school-choice message resonated well with Hispanic voters.
Along the political spectrum, Bush also did quite well among centrist voters. He got 45% from “moderate independents,” much better than the 30% garnered by Dole or the 28% by Papa Bush in ‘92. Bush got 26% of conservative Democrats up from 23 % by Dole and Bush the Elder. And among liberal Republicans, Bush got 67% compared to 48% for Dole. Meanwhile, moderate Republicans went 88% for Bush compared to 72% for Dole and only 63% for Papa Bush in ‘92. As for conservative Republicans, Bush got a sparkling 95% — up from Dole’s 88% in 1996 and equal to Reagan’s 95% in 1984.
Looking at all this, it is very clear that Bush’s core support came from conservatives, including both religious and economic conservatives, along with conservative-leaning moderates. This is worth noting as cabinet and other senior staff positions are parceled out. W. must not desert his base. There’s no point in choosing foggy minded wets if that means deserting or alienating the conservative base that (hopefully) won the election for him. He will need to form a broad-based administration that includes Democrats, but this should be done around specific conservative issues — where, for example, a John Breaux could oversee Medicare reform, or a Pat Moynihan could honcho private retirement accounts for Social Security.
But Bush’s very first appointment of Andy Card to the powerful chief-of-staff position could be a problem. Card is an old Massachusetts liberal Republican who was with Papa Bush in the 1980 primaries against Reagan, and who served as John Sununu’s deputy chief of staff during the 1990 tax-hike period which decimated Papa Bush’s domestic presidency and sunk him among conservatives. Perhaps Mr. Card, who is an affable person and a keen student of politics, has learned a thing or two, but at first blush it’s not an inspiring appointment.
Here’s a final point. For those who argue that a Bush win via the Electoral College (with either a tiny loss or a tiny win in the popular count) would devalue his presidential currency, history proves otherwise. Election Night results often prove to be ethereal. Remember that John F. Kennedy was able to turn his doubtful 1960 victory into a tax-cutting and space-program building agenda by 1962. Also recall that Bill Clinton’s meager 42% win in ‘92 did not stop him from gaining high job-approval ratings later on.
Conversely, Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 landslide was completely dissipated by his poor management of the economy and the Vietnam War. A few years later, Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide was completely undermined by his even worse economic policies and, of course, the Watergate mess.
In terms of a probable, razor-thin Bush victory, exit-polling data suggest that he could still put together solid public support for pro-growth economic policies, and also successfully promote his agenda of culturally conservative reforms on education and his pro-market plans for health care and retirement. For example, voters who said taxes mattered most in this election, (13%, 4th most important issue) favored Bush’s plan to reduce marginal tax rates by 79% to 17%. There was also a strong majority for Social Security private investment accounts. In other words, if he sticks to his policy message and maintains his core support groups, then he can build widespread popular support for effective governance.
Significant policy mandates can be created long after elections are over, but good politicians never forget the folks that put them over the finish line.