Monday, November 22, 2004

We Live in a Blue Country

Bush’s 2004 mandate: wolves are scary!

In a
recent "Point", Mark Hyman mocked the idea that President Bush did not win a mandate for his reelection. Citing the fact that George W. Bush got more votes than “anybody ever,” Hyman suggests that any evidence that the American people don’t support his policies must be bogus. After all, didn’t Dubya win the election?

There are a couple of small problems with Hyman’s analysis. First, Bush did get more votes than any other candidate. But do you know who comes in second in this category? Senator John Kerry. In fact, John Kerry received nearly two million more votes than Ronald Reagan did in his landslide reelection in 1984. Bush’s margin of victory, both in terms of popular and electoral votes, was the narrowest reelection of a president since 1916. If “mandate” means anything more than simply winning an election without a recount or the Supreme Court intervening, than 2004 doesn’t qualify. 1936, 1964, 1984, and 1996 were mandates—the sitting president decisively beat his opponent(s) in both the popular vote and Electoral College. Not so in 2004. The only reason this election wasn’t touted as a nail-biter of historic proportions was simply the fact that in 2000, it took weeks to sort things out, and the guy with less votes ended up the “winner.”

Second, Hyman’s argument is based on the fallacious notion that a presidential election correlates exactly with the specific opinions of the electorate on a variety of issues. In fact, as one can tell from looking at the ads and rhetoric of this or any other presidential race, the entire process is predicated on the conviction that voters do not go down a checklist of issues and compare their opinions with those of each candidate. If that was the case, we’d have actual debates, policy-wonkish speeches, and campaign ads that touted specific aspects of a candidate’s political agenda rather than showing us scary animals. The fact of the matter is that people (knowingly or not) often cast their vote for president for a candidate who’s specific policies they have no desire to see carried out.

The recent poll Hyman derides in his commentary bears this out, but you don’t need to rely on that one example. Some of the most enlightening post-election reading you’ll find comes from, a repository of poll results of all sorts done by independent and non-partisan organizations (well, except Fox News). Looking at polls taken on a variety of issues over the last year, we get a pretty accurate indication on where the country stands in regard to key national issues, and they’re standing quite a ways to Bush’s left. Here are some examples:

The Environment:

A majority of Americans believe the environment is getting worse. More Americans believe the environment should take priority over economic growth than the other way around. Nearly half of Americans believe George W. Bush has done a poor job handling the environment. The number of those who think Bush has strengthened environmental policy is in the single digits.

The Budget:

Americans favor balancing the budget over cutting taxes by a 2 to 1 margin.


The percentage of Americans who want Roe v. Wade upheld is 61%. Only 34% want Roe overturned.


58% of Americans disapprove of the Bush energy policy.

Foreign Policy:

Half of all Americans believe we should place a high priority on the desires of our allies when formulating foreign policy. Only 37 % say we should focus primarily on America’s self-interest. Americans who believe the Bush administration has done too little to work with our allies outnumber those who believe Bush has done enough byy a 2 to 1 majority.

Majorities of Americans believe we were too quick to use force in Iraq and that the U.S. has become less respected in the world under the Bush administration. Less than half of Americans feel the war in Iraq is “just.”

Huge majorities (80-85%) are in favor of U.S. participation in nuclear test ban treaties and a ban on landmines, treaties the Bush administration oposes.

Health Care:

69% of Americans believe it should be legal to purchase drugs from Canada.

A whopping 79% of Americans feel attaining universal healthcare coverage for all Americans is more important than holding down taxes (17%).

Two-thirds of Americans would rather have universal health care than the Bush tax cuts.

A majority of Americans favor legalizing the medical use of marijuana.

52% of Americans believe drug abuse should be treated more like a disease and less like a crime.

Civil Rights:

60% of Americans favor either marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples. Only 38% say same-sex partnerships should have no legal recognition.

Less than 50% of Americans favor a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

49% of Americans believe Affirmative Action is still needed. 43% do not.

Social Security:

When asked who has better policies on Social Security, 41% of Americans believe the Democrats in Congress do, while only 27% say President Bush and 16% say the Republicans in Congress.

Gun Law:

54% of Americans believe we need more restrictive gun laws. Only 11% say gun laws should be loosened.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans are dissatisfied that President Bush and the Republican Congress allowed the ban on assault weapons to expire.


Nearly two-thirds of Americans favor increasing spending on public education. Nearly the same number oppose cutting funding to school districts that don’t show improvement on standardized tests.


On the “War on Terror,” the centerpiece of Bush’s case for reelection, support for his handling of the terrorism issue has eroded constantly over the last two years, from approval rates in the mid to upper 70s in the spring of 2002 to barely over 50% in October of 2004.

Moral Issues:

A tiny fraction of the electorate said issues such as gay marriage or abortion were the leading factor in deciding their vote for president.

In short, you have to look long and hard to find any issue on which a majority of Americans stand with the Bush administration.

Except that wolves are really scary.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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