- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2007

Voters who emphasize traditional values achieved resounding victories in the 2000, 2002 and 2004 elections. Their candidate, George W. Bush, captured the White House in 2000 and retained it four years later. Meanwhile, Republican congressional candidates, who have routinely received a disproportionately large share of support from traditional-values voters, achieved majority control in both chambers of Congress after all three elections. Values voters, however, suffered a serious setback in 2006, as their preferred political party lost control of both the Senate and the House.

These developments proffer serious questions: What does the future hold for traditional-values voters, their leadership and the issues dear to them, including abortion, the institution of marriage, bioethics, religious freedom, judicial activism, the education of their children and continuously evolving social and cultural mores? How will the political arena in 2008 and beyond be shaped as values voters revise their strategies and regroup? In a fascinating three-part series, “The Way Back for Values Voters” (May 14-16), Cheryl Wetzstein, who has been reporting on family and social values for The Washington Times since 1994, explored these questions in depth. Her series can be read at www.washingtontimes.com/national.

Before the 2006 setbacks, the political power exercised by values voters was impressive to behold. When President Bush won re-election in 2004 with a victory margin of less than 2.5 percent, he did so by increasing his 2000 popular-vote total by an astounding 11.6 million (23 percent) votes. In 2004 John Kerry received 8 million (16 percent) more votes than Al Gore captured in 2000, and Mr. Kerry still lost to Mr. Bush by more than three million votes. When the dust settled, the consensus view was that Mr. Bush rode to re-election victory by dramatically increasing his base of voters who focused on traditional values.

While the exit polls phrase their questions differently from one election to the next, the 2004 surge in traditional-values voters can be easily detected. In 2000, “white religious right” voters comprised 14 percent of the electorate and gave 80 percent of their vote to Mr. Bush. In 2004, “white evangelical/born-again” voters made up 23 percent of the electorate, and President Bush won 78 percent of their votes. That made the difference. Indeed, among the 77 percent of voters who did not identify themselves as “white evangelical/born-again,” Mr. Kerry won a resounding 56-43 majority — and lost the election. Moreover, fully 22 percent of 2004 voters identified “moral values” as the most important issue, while 20 percent selected “economy/jobs.” Mr. Kerry won the “economy/jobs” cohort by an 80-18 margin. Mr. Bush achieved an identical majority (80-18) among the 10-percent-larger “moral values” cohort — and won the election.

To regain the political momentum after the 2006 electoral debacle, some longtime values leaders have suggested what would amount to a paradigmatic revolution in coalition assemblage. Paul Weyrich, a conservative-movement leader who founded the Free Congress Foundation and co-founded the Heritage Foundation, has suggested that values voters become much more politically independent. He cites the 1960s-era civil rights coalition, which was effective within both political parties. Not well known is the fact that significantly higher proportions of Republican representatives (80 percent) and senators (82 percent) voted for the landmark 1964 civil rights bill than Democratic representatives (61 percent) and senators (69 percent). Stating that black males represent “the single-most pro-life subset in American politics,” Mr. Weyrich also notes that Hispanics are “very strong on family issues” and Asians are “very, very pro-family.”

Worrisome for Republicans, Democrats have been making inroads with the GOP’s religious base. For a decade Republicans enjoyed a 20-point advantage among voters who attend religious services weekly. That advantage declined to 12 points in 2006 (55-43). Among the 36 percent of the electorate who believed “values issues” were “extremely important,” Republican House candidates received 58 percent of the vote last year, much smaller than the 76-percent share they received in 2004 from voters who said “moral values” represented the most important issue . Worse, among the 21 percent who considered “values issues” to be “very important” in 2006, Democrats actually won a majority, 51-48. Democrats also won a bare majority (50-49) of white Catholics (20 percent of the electorate).

University of Maryland political science professor Thomas Schaller has characterized today’s 110th Congress as “the most pro-choice Congress in the history of the republic.” For values voters, it could get worse. If Hillary Rodham Clinton is elected president in 2008, Mr. Schaller informs us that the nation will have “the most pro-choice government in American history.”

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