How To Explain GWB's 2004 Election?

Those who have read my posts know I am no fan of the man or his policies. Those who have not, take my word for it.

So, I am not here to debate:

(1) GWB “stole” the 2000 election (he didn’t);
(2) GWB blows (sure).
(3) Iraq was a bad (yes) illegal (not sure what that means) war.

My question is just: given that “everyone knows” (certainly here, but there seems now to be a broader social consensus) that GWB’s two terms were “disastrous” or something like it, and given that none of the policies that made it so were first introduced after 2004 – how’d he get re-elected? Any narrative of his awfulness as president is going to have to explain this “waiter, my soup is awful, and another thing, the portions are too small” aspect of his tenure in office. How could the 2004 race even be close?

Is incumbency that strong? Did it really take that long to determine there were no WMDs, or that the invasion was stupid? Was Kerry that bad? Are Republican strategists so deviously competent that the Swift Boat thing earned him ten million votes (and if so, why did the “genius” Rove fail so badly in the 2006 Congressional races, and why was McCain as hapless as he just showed?)?

Same sex marriage was made legal by the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

Rove/Republicans got ballot measures banning same sex marriage in key states, such as Ohio. This issue motivated enough people to vote for Bush which was seen as a vote against same sex marriage while Kerry was seen as the Massachusetts liberal who would be in favor of it.
Yes, I know Kerry didn’t support SSM in his platform.

There were two main explanations:

  1. Kerry was a bad candidate.  The Democratic support for him was luke warm at best, and he was an unispired speaker.  The best you could say about him was that he wasn't President Bush, but billions of people could make that same claim.
  2. By loading up state elections with initiatives on gay marriage (13 states had them on the ballot) social conservative voters were more likely to come out to the polls.  George Bush's narrow win in Ohio has been attributed to a large turnout of Amish voters who supported the ban on gay marriage.

While I agree completely with the main point here (anti-gay ballot initiatives turned out conservative voters in huge numbers), do you have a cite for the Amish thing? I had heard that Republicans were heavily courting Amish voters, but traditionally the Amish abstain from voting, so it would surprise me to find out their votes were the deciding factor.

It seems to me that there is a substantial segment of the American public that doesn’t object to Bush’s policies in principle but only to his limited success.

In 2004 you could still hope that another fifty legions of Sardaukar would be all that is needed to prove that the Iraq war had been a good idea all along.

My personal impression is that Bush’s campaign frightened people into believing that if Bush was not reelected, then The Terrorists would go door to door blowing YOU! and YOUR FAMILY! and EVERYBODY! up with nuclear bombs. (And frightening them into believing that gay marriage would turn everybody gay and also lead to inter-species marriage.) My impression at the time was that any time Kerry started gaining, there would be another Terror Alert.

Because a good chunk of Americans did swallow the idea that there was a big war going on and that you did not need to pay for it, with the gay issue also in the mix. I do think that mainly the idea of “not changing horses midstream” took hold for just enough people to vote for the worse option.

As Tom, The Dancing Bug comic reported: the America that woke up after the election of 2004 was not the same as the America from 2008:

I’ve always been skeptical of the notion that the same-sex marriage ballot initiatives really helped reelect Bush. My state of Michigan voted for Kerry and to ban same-sex marriage. Voters in California banned gay marriage the same night they selected Obama as president. Most Democratic leaning voters don’t appear to approve of gay marriage any more than Republican leaning voters do.

If more conservatives went to the pools in 2004, it was because more liberal voters did too. Everyone expected 2004 to have a high turnout and that is what motivated the partisans to go vote.

Bush won in 2004 because the economy wasn’t as weak as it is now and the Iraq war didn’t look as bad as it did after 2004. Also, Katrina didn’t happen until 2005 and that was what did a lot to highlight the incompetence of this administration. Bush also only squeaked by with 50.7% of the vote, so a better challenger than Kerry should have been able to defeat him. It was narrow victory for Bush, he just had slightly more people liking him than the other doofus.

AKA ‘a mandate’.


Here is a link describing some of the Amish enthusiasm for President Bush in the 2004 elections. The full text is not available online but the headline reads:

Amish here come out to vote in record numbers
GOP registration drive appears to have succeeded

Although given the relatively small number of Amish voters, they probably weren’t as decisive as all that. I withdraw my comment about the Amish influencing the 2004 elections.

A combination of fearmongering, and stoking up the reliable “Guns, God, and Gays” vote.

No sitting war president has ever lost reelection. Even then, Mr. Bush managed to almost lose it.

Also, Swift Boating, and gay marriage.

Put more positively, it was the appeal to patriotism, which is why I always try to stay as neutral as I can about any country including my own. The few times I’ve been drawn to support (or at least tolerate) obnoxious and toxic positions–early Vietnam, post-9/11–it was the appeal to my blind patriotism, my solicited hatred and fear of things foriegn and threadening that did it, and in retrospect whenever it happened it has always made me later much more dug in in my opposition to those who so appealed to me than I ever would have been without that stomach-turning appeal.

I oppose patriotism for this reason–never trust it. When asked to identify yourself ferociously with no better appeal than “your country”= “you” available, mistrust it even harder.

Kerry was going to pull the troops.

There were lots of reasons. It was a brilliant campaign. They attacked Kerry’s strengths and created of zeitgeist of anti-war = anti-America, and Democrat = pussy. Also, a lot more people still supported the war at that time, thought it was connected to 9/11, and still thought we were going to find WMDs. And of course the social issues. Bigots were fooled into thinking Bush would get an anti-gay marriage amendment passed, and Christians were fooled into thinking he’d stop abortion (although I don’t remember that specific issue being a big deal on the stump in 2004, there is a sizeable subset of voters who seem to think every Republican is going to do this, presumably through their SCOTUS appointments.) All this and, as has been pointed out, it was still a modest victory.

Al Franken presented a convincing case in The Truth (with jokes) that those measures actually hurt Bush, just not noticeably.

I get tired of the both sides pulling this one:

He’s evil incarnate. Satan himself. He’s ruining the country! We must not allow him to get reelected!

Okay, well why the hell couldn’t you guys get YOUR guy voted in and Satan voted out?

Because either he aint near as bad as you portray, or your guy sucks WORSE, or some of BOTH. No need for all this fancy smancy analysis.

The repubs thought it about clinton, the dems thought it about reagan and bush 2.

grip over.

Here’s a chart of Bush’s popularity over nearly his entire time in office:

Notice that this can be summarized quickly by saying that his popularity jumped up to huge levels immediately after September 11, 2001 and has dropped steadily since then, with only a couple of brief upticks. It appears that a lot of people decided that it was important to support the President no matter what after 9/11. Since then, they have gradually dropped away from supporting him. Had the 2004 election been six months or so later, he would have lost because his support would have dropped below half. I don’t know what issues made people change their mind. I’m not sure it matters.

Notice that there was no uptick in support at the time of the election. His support was rather on a flat line in that year. Any notion of what allowed Bush to win the 2004 election would have to take into account this chart. If the issues you conjecture as being important don’t match this chart, they can’t be the ones that decided the 2004 election.

You can’t beat something with nothing.

The election boiled down to a choice between [list=A][li]Bush, and []Other[/list]The economy was doing well, Kerry had nothing in particular to distinguish him from any other empty suit, and Kerry couldn’t run on an anti-Iraq war platform because [list=A][]The war didn’t directly affect very many people who didn’t want to be affected - we have an all-volunteer military[]Kerry voted for the AUMF (and against the first Gulf War, thus demonstrating that even when he was right, he was wrong)[]Kerry has spent most of his career distancing himself from his record as a war hero, and his attempts to reclaim it (along with his decorations) rang rather falsesome of the Swiftboat allegations were true. None of the forged National Guard documents were. [/list]You’re not going to get an accurate picture of how an American election worked from a board like this one. Too many yellow dog Democrats. [/li]

That’s a pretty good summary.

I also think the middle class could never quite get their arms around what Kerry stood for in a concise, packageable way. He won the rich educated elite vote, and the poor urban vote. Usually when you peg the ends like that, and lose the middle, it’s sign that something in the message isn’t resonating.