3 November 2004 — According to the exit poll, 22% of the electorate said “moral values” was the issue that mattered most in how they voted – compared to 20% who cited the economy, 19% who cited terrorism, and just 15% who said Iraq was the key issue.
Campaigns by organisations such as the Sojouners community in Washington DC encouraged Evangelicals and other Christians to consider poverty, justice and the war in Iraq as legitimate Christian concerns. However, their calls would appear to have fallen on many deaf ears.
Four out of five voters who cited moral values as their key election issue voted for President Bush – as did the same proportion of those who cited terrorism.
In contrast, those most concerned about the economy voted four to one for Senator Kerry, as did three in four of those who cited Iraq as their main concern.
During the campaign itself, polls showed a steady rise in the number citing moral issues like abortion as the top issue facing the country. George Bush too attempted to corner the conservative Christian vote using the last of three TV debates with Democrat rival John Kerry to co-opt God to his campaign.
In the 2000 election, many analysts saw a nation split down the middle – with Democrats increasingly concentrated in urban, coastal regions, with liberal values, while Republicans were more rural, southern or Middle Western, and held conservative values on issues like gun control and abortion.
What has divided voters more in this election, however, are views on the Iraq war, and on new moral issues like stem cell research and same-sex marriage.
Those against gay marriage, for example, voted strongly for Mr Bush, as did those opposed to abortion.
And the electorate divided sharply over Iraq, with the 47% disapproving of the decision to go to war strongly backing Senator Kerry.
Divisions in the American electorate are best expressed by the sharp divide in voting patterns by church attendance.
Two-thirds of voters who attend religious services regularly (once a week or more) backed President Bush rather than Senator Kerry – and they make up 40% of the electorate.
Those who never attend services, in contrast, backed the Democrats by the same margin – but they make up only 15% of the electorate.
The ability of the Republican party to mobilise its religious base may well prove to have been the decisive factor in what is one of the closest elections in US history.
However it was also one of the ugliest and most bitter, even prompting Christians in the UK to send election monitors to the USA.
The religion card, played heavily by both sides, was also troublesome for both candidates. Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson claimed that he warned President Bush before U.S. troops invaded Iraq that the United States would sustain casualties but that Bush responded, “Oh, no, we’re not going to have any casualties.”
Evangelicals criticised Bush’s ‘theology of war’, whilst others launched a campaign to make it clear that God was “neither a Republican nor a Democrat”.
A conservative US lawyer’s even attempted to enlist the Vatican in his drive to declare Senator John F. Kerry a heretic over his abortion views.
The exit poll was conducted for AP and the US networks by Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International during the voting on 2 November. The sample size was 13,531 and the margin of error is +/-1%
© 2004 Ekklesia. Posted on Religioscope with permission. An initiative of the Anvil Trust, Ekklesia is a not-for-profit think-tank which works to promote theological ideas in the public square. Website: www.ekklesia.co.uk