Pollsters: Blacks, Hispanics helped Bush

President Bush owes his reelection to increased support from the Hispanic and African-American communities, a pair of top pollsters said yesterday.

At a breakfast sponsored by The Hill and Toyota, Celinda Lake and Ed Goeas of George Washington University’s Battleground Poll attributed Bush’s 51-to-48-percent victory to support from minorities as well as from married, female and religious voters.
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“It will be very hard [for Democrats] to trump social issues without a more aggressive economic message,” Celinda Lake of the Battleground Poll said yesterday.

Bush’s support among Hispanic voters rose from 35 percent in 2000 to 44 percent this year, while he won 11 percent of the African-American vote last week. Goeas said that the surge among Hispanics and African-Americans for Bush accounted for 2.5 percentage points of his 3.2 percent margin over Kerry.

Outgoing Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie last week boldly predicted Republicans would win 30 percent of the African-American vote in 2008.

The gender, marriage and religious gaps were all prominent this year. Bush had an 11-point lead over Kerry among male voters, while Kerry had a three-point lead among female voters. Security concerns were a major factor for women across the country, Lake said, noting that women in Sioux City, Iowa, and Florida were concerned that their family members could be victims of a terrorist attack.

Lake said the terrorist attacks on a school in southern Russia in September helped fuel terrorism fears among women across the country.

Bush enjoyed a 15-point lead among married voters, while single voters favored Kerry by 18 points. Voters who go to church weekly supported Bush by 22 points. Bush had a one-point lead among those who attend church once a month, but secular voters chose Kerry by 14 points. White Christian conservatives were “extremely intense and extremely loyal to the president,” Goeas said.

But in the 11 states that had initiatives banning gay marriage on the ballot, turnout was not significantly higher, Lake noted. In battleground states without such initiatives, turnout was up 6.9 percent; in states with such bans, turnout increased 6 percent. In non-battleground states with initiatives, turnout increased by 4.4 percent, compared to a rise of 1.1 percent in states without initiatives.

Neither candidate got the traction he sought on economy and the war on terrorism.

“Bush needed consistently good news on both to get traction,” Goeas said. “Kerry needed consistently bad news on both to get traction.”

Part of Kerry’s problem was that he believed bad news would be enough for voters to throw out the incumbent, Goeas said. Instead, he said, voters looked to character issues — such as honesty and leadership, which favored Bush — to help them make their decisions.

Still, Goeas indicated that the media have overblown how “morals” helped Bush defeat Kerry. While they were a factor, Goeas said an overlooked key to Bush’s reelection was that 55 percent of voters connected the war in Iraq to the war on terrorism.

Another problem for Kerry was that voters did not see much difference in how Bush
and Kerry would handle the economy. In Ohio, for example, 65 percent of voters knew someone who had lost a job and 55 percent thought their state’s economy was in bad shape. However, Democrats “did not offer a clear enough economic
alternative,” Lake said.

One of the issues for Democrats to think about in the future, she said, is “how to articulate a more comprehensive, more aggressive economic theme.”

“It will be very, very hard to trump social issues without a more aggressive economic message,” Lake noted.

Republicans were vulnerable on the issue of a 23 percent national sales tax, she added, suggesting that intense criticism of Sen.-elect Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) may cause Republicans to reconsider pursuing such a tax.

Another task for Democrats is to look for ways they can talk about their values in a compelling way. While Democrats won the Catholic vote in 2000, they lost it this year, even though Kerry is Catholic.

Lake said she expects the administration to push for immigration reform and faith-based initiatives as a result of the election. Whether the parties come together or are polarized in the 109th Congress “depends on how fast these judicial fights come up,” she said. “That will set a tone.”

Asked about the role of first lady Laura Bush and Teresa Heinz Kerry, Lake said candidates’ spouses and vice presidents generally don’t affect the overall vote by more than a few points. But wives are “very important in saying something about their man.”

Voters “really knew [the Bush] family,” Lake said, adding that Laura Bush enjoys a 74 percent favorability rating. On the Thursday night before the election, polls showed Bush losing by a significant margin in Cuyahoga County. On Friday morning, Laura Bush was there campaigning for her husband, Goeas said.

“The campaign put the right person in the right place at the right time,” Goeas said.

However, “voters had a hard time getting a feel for either John Kerry or Teresa Heinz Kerry,” Lake said.

This year marked the first time since 1936 that a president running for reelection increased his party’s margins in the House and Senate. Goeas credited presidential coattails with helping congressional candidates, particularly Sen.-elect Richard Burr (R) in North Carolina. While polls showed a 2-point race between Burr and Democrat Erskine Bowles three weeks before the election, Burr won a decisive 12-point victory on Election Day.

“Presidential coattails aren’t driven by the size of the victory” but rather how much the gap closes in the campaign’s final days, Goeas said.

Bush also increased his percentage of the vote over 2000 in all but four states: Maryland, Oregon, Vermont and Wyoming.

Part of the reason the exit polls — which Tuesday afternoon predicted a Kerry victory — were so wrong is that they relied heavily on single women, who favored Kerry.

Married and more conservative voters may not have taken the time to complete the exit-poll surveys and may have had a distrust of exit polls because of the 2000 race, Goeas noted.

Goeas suggested tinkering with exit polls at the time they’re conducted to make sure a representative sample is being polled. Giving the media a heads-up about which voters the poll includes would also be helpful.

Lake and Goeas praised both parties for turning out voters this year. “Both sides were very, very successful in mobilizing their base and had record turnout because of that,” Lake said.

As for the 2008 presidential race, Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.) top the list of likely candidates. But Goeas warned that Clinton might be another candidate who “looks better on paper than in reality in the general election.”

With Democrats comprising just 22 of the nation’s 50 governors, the party may have a hard time fielding a winning candidate. When voters chose lawmakers, they want a person “smart enough to legislate,” Goeas said. But in looking for presidents, voters want a person “strong enough to govern.”

Lake had a different view, however. “We have a lot of governors that didn’t feel ready for 2004, but will definitely feel ready for 2008.”

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