The epochal Ward Cleaver echoed in the minds of American voters this election. His voice resonated deeply, influencing voters in surprising ways, and it’s not because John Kerry reminded them of Eddie Haskell (That was Al Gore).
Whether or not voters had kids — their own “Wally and the Beave” — made a huge difference in evaluations of which presidential candidate would lead the culture in the right direction. But the most striking pattern was among men with kids — the Ward Cleaver dads ? who overwhelmingly thought President Bush was more likely to lead the culture in the right direction. Despite all the debate and discussion about cultural values in this election — their impact among male voters has been largely overlooked.
While “security moms” displaced “soccer moms” in mainstream media analyses of election 2004 and “NASCAR dads” became shorthand for the surge of conservative, southern males, how men and women differed on issues of culture and values is less understood. Pre-election national survey results provide some interesting insights (The American Survey September 27-30, 2004, 800 registered voters, margin of error 3.5 percent). Voters overall gave Mr. Bush a slight edge on the questionof”which presidential candidate shared their views about the direction American culture should be moving” (Bush 43, Kerry 37).
Major differences exist, however, on the same question when we divided voters between those with kids and those without children (with kids: Bush 61, Kerry 25; without kids: Bush 38, Kerry 40). Clearly, parents in general heavily favored the president on the direction of culture.
Yet the differences become even more dramatic in analyzing men and women on this question — here the Ward Clever dads emerge.
Men with children favored the president on the question of agreement on cultural direction by nearly 60 percentage points (Bush 77, Kerry 18), while men without kids slightly favored Mr. Kerry (Bush 37, Kerry 43). The pattern among women still strongly favors President Bush, but the differencesare smaller — a 25 percent advantage for thepresident among women with kids and a statistical tie among those without children.
Many analysts, including myself, assumed that the “values voters” popularized in this election were mothers with kids, concerned about the increasing moral relativism and cultural coarseness in the world around them. These data support that idea. Yet men with kids are even more divided and intense on the issue — a less-understood pattern.
While the conventional wisdom focused on “security moms” and their passion for protecting their kids from everything from threats to physical safety to moral degradation, dads overwhelmingly had the same concerns and felt even more convinced that Mr. Bush would lead the culture in the right direction.
The cardigan sweater may have left the White House with Jimmy Carter, but Mr. Bush spoke a language that appealed to dads, who saw him expressing a value set akin to Ward Cleaver’s when he sat down in the den with Wally and the Beave. No doubt, it was a simpler and somewhat unrealistic world, but definitely more desirable than the one surrounding them today.