I collaborated on an article with John Judis and Marisa Katz, “30 Years War: How Bush Went Back to the 1970s“, which has just appeared in The New Republic. Here are some excerpt from the article, but I think you’ll be interested in reading the whole thing.
George W. Bush’s victory shows that the political strategy that conservative Republicans developed in the late 1970s is still viable. Bush won a large swath of states and voters that were once dependably Democratic by identifying Republicans as the party of social conservatism and national security. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry rallied a powerful coalition of minorities and college-educated professionals based in postindustrial metropolitan areas like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In the future, this coalition may triumph on its own. But, in this election, Democratic successes in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and West could not make up for Republican successes in the South, the border states, the Southwest, and the Great Plains. Fittingly, the election was decided in Ohio–a state that combines the metropolitan North and the small-town South.
…Bush recreated the Reagan-era coalition by combining Brooks Brothers and Wal-Mart, the upper class and the lower middle class. He won wealthy voters–those who make over $200,000–by 63 to 35 percent. But he also won voters who had not completed college by 53 to 47 percent. If minorities, who voted predominately for Kerry, are excluded, Bush’s margin among working voters was even higher. He reached these voters, who made up the bulk of his support, through opposition to gay marriage and abortion and through patriotic appeal as the commander-in-chief in a war against terrorism that seamlessly unites Osama bin Laden with Saddam Hussein. According to the Los Angeles Times, Bush’s voters accorded the most importance to “moral/ethical values” and “terrorism/homeland security” in deciding their vote.
Kerry’s Democratic coalition, by contrast, was composed of low-income minorities and upscale, college-educated professionals–two groups that, not coincidentally, were the least likely to accept the president’s contention that the Iraq war was part of the war on terrorism. In national exit polls, Kerry got about 70 percent of the nonwhite vote. He tied Bush among voters with college degrees and bested him by 55 to 44 percent among voters who had engaged in postgraduate study. Kerry’s voters, as one might expect, cared most about jobs and the war in Iraq. Luckily for Bush, however, voters without degrees still outnumber those with them. In Colorado, Kerry won voters with college degrees by 50 to 48 percent and those with postgraduate study by 55 to 43 percent. But Bush, by winning voters without degrees by 58 to 41 percent, was able to carry the state fairly easily.
….Kerry won not just big cities, but most of the large metropolitan areas dominated by professionals and immigrants. Kerry did very well in the West, Northeast, and parts of the Midwest because of the growth of high-tech metro areas. Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, and New Hampshire are now solidly in the Democratic fold. Illinois, New York, and California have become as thoroughly Democratic as Massachusetts. But, outside these states, Kerry’s support among urban voters failed to carry the day. In North Carolina, Kerry actually did better than Al Gore in the state’s key metro areas–Gore lost Charlotte’s Mecklenburg County in 2000, but Kerry won it 52 to 48 percent. Nevertheless, Bush again won the state by about 13 percent, because he slaughtered Kerry outside Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, winning 64 percent in the Greensboro area, 60 percent in the rural, small-town east, and 59 percent in the mountain west.
…Bush was also fortunate in his opponent. John Kerry was an able debater, and his experience in Vietnam and on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee partially neutralized arguments that would have been made against other Democrats like former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. But Kerry, an aloof New Englander, operated at a distinct disadvantage among white, working-class voters. Unlike Bill Clinton, he had trouble convincing voters that he “felt their pain.” In interviews conducted on the eve of the election, we asked white, working-class Bush supporters in Martinsburg, West Virginia, what they thought of Clinton. Even those who praised Bush for his “family values” said they had voted for Clinton and thought he was an “excellent president.” But it wasn’t Clinton’s politics they preferred; it was Clinton himself, despite the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Gore had exactly the same problem with these voters in 2000. The Democrats need to find a candidate that can talk to both PhDs and tractor-trailer drivers.
If they do this, the Democrats will be able to win presidential elections. Kerry, after all, came very close to winning this time despite his inadequacy as a candidate. Democrats showed that they can hold their own in states like Colorado (where Democrat Ken Salazar was elected to the Senate), Arizona, Nevada, and Virginia. In many of these states, demography is on the Democrats’ side. Colorado is going to become more like California and less like Utah or Montana, and Virginia is going to become more like New Jersey and less like South Carolina. The future of Ohio is Franklin County, not Butler County. Democrats also showed that they can compete in raising money without relying on corporate contributions and that the Internet is an important vehicle for organizing.