Finally, in the Democracy Corps poll, the 19 percent of voters who named "moral values" as the main issue-area (from a list of nine) influencing their presidential vote were examined for their pro/con responses to Kerry and Bush on specific issues. Different types of issues headed the responses of each of the four groups examined. In none of the groups was a controversial social issue named most frequently as a specific reason behind its vote. Those issues were usually accorded second-tier status.
For example, Kerry voters who said moral values was their main vote criterion named "tax cuts for the middle class instead of richest" (22 percent) and health care (22 percent) more often than "women's rights, including abortion" (12 percent) and stem-cell research (10 percent) as specific reasons for their votes. Bush voters citing moral values as their main vote criterion named Bush's "religious faith" (51 percent) ahead of abortion (37 percent) and gay marriage (19 percent). Bush as a decisive leader (36 percent) and his response to 9/11 (29 percent) also received relatively high marks under "moral values."
The top reasons given for not voting for Kerry by voters motivated primarily by moral values were his "flip-flopping on issues" (44 percent of all voters) and his position on abortion (43 percent), followed by his position on gay marriage (34 percent). The main reason given for not voting for Bush by voters driven mainly by moral values were "job losses, outsourcing and little economic growth" (26 percent of all voters), "big tax cuts for wealthy and corporations"(22 percent) and "rising budget deficits" (21 percent)-all well ahead of "limits on stem-cell research" (9 percent) and "women's rights, including abortion position" (8 percent).
We have seen that a variety of polls having different list-and open-ended formats show fairly consistently that Bush enjoyed advantages on the post-9/11 war on terrorism and moral values, while Kerry had advantages on the issues of Iraq and the economy in deciding people's votes. Beyond issues, Bush had a distinct advantage in personal image, appearing as a decisive leader ready to wage the war on terrorism, while Kerry was handicapped by a widespread image of indecisiveness.
So what is President Bush's election mandate? The answer depends on how "mandate" is defined. If it is meant to derive from the will of the majority of the entire American electorate, then Bush certainly has a mandate to continue fighting the war on terrorism at home and abroad. This is a mandate supported by three-fourths of the public, including 59 percent of Democrats, as well as 73 percent of independents and 90 percent of Republicans. If a mandate can be derived from a small majority or even plurality of the electorate, including the president's own party, then Bush would appear to have a clear mandate also to "promote legislation that addresses moral values and standards," supported by 55 percent of the entire public, including 77 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of independents, but opposed by 59 percent of Democrats.
However, this does not mean there is a similar mandate for banning gay marriage and restricting abortion and federal support for stem-cell research. Small majorities of the total public (51-53 percent) said President Bush does not have a mandate to pursue these policies, which are opposed by two-thirds of Democrats as well as a plurality of independents (51 percent on the average), but are supported to varying degrees by Republicans (from a narrow 46 percent plurality for limiting federal funding for stem-cell research to a 59 percent majority for "amending the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriages"). Thus, the mandate for pursuing these specific social issues comes strictly from a small majority (54 percent average on these three issues) within the president's own party. They are not called "hot-button" social issues without reason.
Alvin Richman is a senior public opinion analyst in the Office of Research at the U.S.Department of State. All views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. government or the Department of State.