The idea that Kerry mentioned Ms. Cheney deliberately, in the hope of
peeling off some votes from the un-compassionate conservative bloc, does not
seem to have found much favor.
It seems to me entirely plausible, though. By the third debate, it was late
in the campaign, and any big-issue voter has made up his mind. If you think
abortion is murder, you’re not going to vote for John Kerry; if you think US
forces should operate abroad only under daily orders signed by the UN
Security Council, you won’t be voting for Bush. We are down to secondary
appeals — peeling off groups of “undecided” (i.e. not-very-attentive,
no-big-issue) voters. How do you do that? Say something that catches their
A thing we are barely allowed to say out loud any more, but which comes out
clearly in polls, is that huge numbers of Americans don’t like the
promotion, or even the open expression, of homosexuality. For example:
Polled by Gallup in May 2003, 35 percent of persons responded “Not legal” to
the question: “Do you think homosexual relations between consenting adults
should or should not be legal?”
Now, 35 percent of the adult population would be 75.3 million. George W.
Bush and Al Gore got about 50 million votes each in the 2000 election.
Thus, the number of people who think homosexual acts should be *criminal* –
I’m not just talking about Derb-style tolerant disapproval here — is almost
certainly larger than the number of votes either candidate can hope to win
on November 2nd!
Of course, that hypothetical 75.3 million are not going to decide who to
vote for based on the candidates’ positions on homosexuality. At any rate,
very few of them are. The Gallup guy came along and asked them a question,
so they gave him an answer; but I doubt this is something they think about
much. Most of them will have other big issues in mind: the war, the
economy, and so on.
Still, some small proportion of that hypothetical 75.3 million don’t have a
big issue in mind, don’t have much of a clue who to vote for, and can
presumably be influenced on a minor issue like this. “What? Cheney’s
daughter’s a lesbian? Hmph! — I though the Bush people were traditional
values types…” A small proportion is worth a soundbite and some media
grumbling. One percent of 75.3 million is 753,000 — way more than the
popular-vote margin in 2000.
Some voter segments are just too big to ignore. A politician has to cast
his line where the fish are. Kerry has most of the homosexual vote; if he
can peel off a few of those tens of millions of un-compassionate
conservative votes as well, without alienating the homosexuals too much, he
has done a clever thing.
The way the poll numbers are moving, it looks as though this didn’t work.
From Kerry’s (or rather, I suppose, his advisers’) point of view, though, it
seems to me it was worth a try, from a calculating perspective.