Hard News by Russell Brown

Get yer evangelicals out

Clearly, Karl Rove got his four million evangelical Christians. That is the number reckoned to have stayed away from the polls in 2000, and, by coincidence, almost exactly Bush's margin in the popular vote in 2004. What seems to have surprised everyone - except, perhaps, Rove - is that final exit polling suggests that "moral values" was the key issue in voting decisions for more people than any other, terrorism included.

The ascent of gay marriage to the status of a constitutional issue - and the consequent flurry of ballot initiatives to ban it in key states - has proven to be hugely influential. The initiatives, and the controversy over stem cell research, helped get out a pivotal vote for Bush. The exit polls say that that 78% of people for whom "moral values" were a primary motivator, voted Bush - that's 18 million votes. A lot of those folks queueing for the polls in Ohio, who the Democrats assumed were their people, appear to have been evangelicals.

The Washington Post has a handy graphic of the exit poll profiles (and despite the misleading early numbers, they seem to have wound up fairly accurate) and a roundup of commentary on what they signify.

The numbers are fascinating. They say that on raw votes, Kerry won the Northeast, Midwest and West - losing a majority only in the populous South, where Bush swept the board. Kerry also had more than half the votes of women, all ethnic minorities (including blacks by 9 to 1), independents, self-described moderates, people who didn't vote last time, young people and the middle-aged. He took a majority of voters in all income brackets up to $50,000 per annum. He won Catholics, Jews (by 4 to 1) and non-believers, while Bush took 56% of Protestants and 76% of the evangelical Christians who made up nearly a quarter of those who voted. Kerry won a majority of those who did not vote last time, and picked up slightly more 2000 Bush voters than Bush won over 2000 Gore voters.

Kerry won huge majorities among those whose primary concern was the economy, health care, education or Iraq - while Bush got a bare majority of those who cared most about taxes, and more than three quarters of those most concerned about terrorism and those "moral values".

Ironically, New York City and Washington DC, the two cities which actually experienced the terrorist attacks, went resoundingly for Kerry, along with Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle. And the prairie states that no terrorist is ever going to bother with went Bush.

Perhaps none of this should have been a surprise. The Pew Surveys noted this year that 55% of Americans still consider engaging in homosexual behaviour to be a "sin", and 86% of evangelicals say they are regularly told by their churches that homosexuality should not be accepted. Pew also found in 2002 that the US has a degree of religious adherence found elsewhere only in failed states, third-world countries and predominantly Muslim nations. In this sense, they are not like the rest of us in the modern West.

Yes, the modern West still fuels itself so much on American brilliance; its science and technology, its prodigious creative work. But to a great extent, American brilliance didn't vote Bush. The places you want to visit, the dreaming spires - they didn't vote Bush.

So what happens next? Well, there's now an explicit mandate to intensify the war on American science. Reality will go even further out of fashion, and the move to force the teaching of creationism in public schools (detailed in a recent Wired magazine cover story, The Crusade Against Evolution) will undoubtedly accelerate.

Even on the rosiest estimates, it seems highly unlikely that the White House will be able to turn around its fiscal position in the roughly three years' patience that commentators are saying the international investment community will extend - not without raising taxes or making huge cuts to domestic spending. On the other hand, resource issues might provide a practical curb on foreign adventurism (it was interesting that the full translation of Bin Laden's pre-election video statement included a promise to financially bankrupt America). I wouldn't be surprised to see a cut-and-run from Iraq next year.

That looks a positively optimistic scenario compared to Sidney Blumenthal's morning-after forecast:

The new majority is more theocratic than Republican, as Republican was previously understood; the defeat of the old moderate Republican Party is far more decisive than the loss by the Democrats. And there are no checks and balances. The terminal illness of Chief Justice William Rehnquist signals new appointments to the Supreme Court that will alter law for more than a generation. Conservative promises to dismantle constitutional law established since the New Deal will be acted upon. Roe vs. Wade will be overturned and abortion outlawed.

On the other hand it remains possible that Bush will actually act on his word, steer a moderate course and seek to unify the nation. But he was effectively on notice from the relgious right this time - can he afford to ignore those voters? I guess we'll see. It was perhaps understandable that Don Brash should greet the result as an encouraging centre-right vote on Morning Report today - even though the American people have voted for the kind of lunatic fiscal policy that ought to be anathema to the centre-right. But it wasn't a National Party vote that delivered Bush his second term. It was a Destiny Church vote.