Traditional values and voters
In 2004, voters who emphasize traditional values played a crucial role in reelecting President Bush and increasing Republican control of both chambers of Congress. In 2006, however, traditional-values voters were unable to stem the Democratic tide, and, based on exit-polling data, some even contributed to it. Last year Democrats captured control of both bodies of Congress by defeating six incumbent Republican senators and winning 30 House seats held by Republicans. In her extraordinary three-part series (“The Way Back for Values Voters,” which began in the May 21 edition), Cheryl Wetzstein, who has been reporting on family and social issues for The Washington Times since 1994, provides an in-depth analysis of what happened in 2006 by focusing on the abortion issue and the role of women. Throughout the series, she examined the future of the traditional-values movement, looked at the coalition of groups on the other side and reviewed the political strategies of both for 2008 and beyond.
Citing the Iraq war as the “real wallop” and detecting “a perfect storm in the political season,” Joseph Cella, president of Fidelis, a Michigan-based Catholic traditional-values group, told The Washington Times that the 2006 election was “a real shot across the bow for social conserva- tives and the Republican Party.” Mrs. Wetzstein catalogued the cascading events that contributed to the electoral rout: the Katrina relief debacle; the perception of overreaching in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case; scandals involving prominent Christian leaders Ralph Reed and the Rev. Ted Haggard and numerous Republican representatives (including Mark Foley’s sex scandal with former congressional pages); and a book by the former deputy director of the White House’s faith-based initiative office charging that President Bush’s policies were more sop than strategy.
Several voting trends are worrisome for traditional-values advocates. Compared to 2004, according to a study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Democrats increased their share of the vote by 5 percentage points (from 22 percent to 27 percent) among white evangelical Protestants, who comprised 22 percent of the electorate; by 5 points (from 45 percent to 50 percent) among white Catholics, who made up 20 percent of 2006 voters; and by 3 points (from 44 percent to 47 percent) among white mainline Protestants, who totaled 22 percent of the electorate. The Republicans’ 15-point advantage (57-42) in 2004 among weekly church attendees dropped to 7 points (53-46) last year, according to a CNN exit poll.
An analysis of CNN 2006 exit polls for House races by Lake Research Partners revealed major Democratic gains among women, who comprised 51 percent of voters. The six-point advantage (52-46) that Democrats enjoyed among women in 2004 increased to 13 points (56-43) last year, more than enough to overwhelm the fourpoint advantage (51-47) Republicans enjoyed among men. After voting for Republicans 54-45 in 2004, white women split their vote (49-49) last year. The Republicans’ nine-point advantage (52-43) in 2004 among married women (32 percent of the electorate) collapsed to 1 point (50-49) in 2006. Unmarried women (14 percent of voters) voted for Democrats 66-32 last year. Regarding minorities of both genders, Democrats enjoyed an 89-10 advantage among blacks and a 69-29 majority among Hispanics (up from 56-39 in 2004). Democrats narrowed their 22-point (6038) disadvantage among white men in 2004 to 8 points (53-45) last year.
Women’s votes clearly made the difference in the narrow defeats of Republican incumbent senators: George Allen of Virginia lost the women’s vote 55-45; Conrad Burns of Montana lost the women’s vote 52-45; and Jim Talent of Missouri lost the women’s vote 51-45. In all three cases, not only did each Republican incumbent win the men’s vote, but each also received 100 percent ratings from the Christian Coalition in 2004.
“If traditional-values candidates took a beating in the 2006 elections,” Mrs. Wetzstein began her second installment, “prolife causes were pulverized.” Even in states “as red as Dorothy’s ruby slippers,” Mrs. Wetzstein reported that voters defeated pro-life measures and officials. After South Dakota’s lawmakers and Republican governor enacted a virtual ban on abortion, pro-choice forces placed the issue on the ballot and overturned the law in a 56-44 vote. Kansas voters replaced their crusading pro-life attorney general with a Democrat who effectively promised not to pursue the incumbent’s agenda, which included investigating illegal lateterm abortions. Missouri voters narrowly approved an amendment that will permit state funding of embryonic stem-cell research, which pro-life forces opposed.
The Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 decision to uphold the ban on partial-birth abortion represented a major dividend from the re-election of President Bush, whose two recent Supreme Court appointments were in the majority. In a subsequent editorial, we shall examine how the traditional-values movement plans to regroup after the 2006 debacle and regain the momentum that produced the recent Supreme Court victory.