Moral Values: A Decisive Issue?

<B>Dan Rather</B> On Issues That Powered Mr. Bush's Victory

No one knew for sure Tuesday night whether George W. Bush or John Kerry would be the next president.

Wednesday morning, it looked like the election would be decided in Ohio, and that the decision might not come for weeks.

By Wednesday afternoon, it was all over, including the shouting. Sen. John Kerry conceded that Mr. Bush won Ohio, and with it, the re-election.

But there was much more to the story than just who got more votes. Correspondent Dan Rather takes a look at the issues that powered President Bush's victory.
Mr. Bush's victory became official Wednesday afternoon, when the president spoke from Washington just an hour or so after Sen. Kerry threw in the towel.

"We are required now to work together for the good of our country. In the days ahead, we must find common cause," said Kerry. "We must join in common effort without remorse or recrimination, without anger or rancor."

But it may not be easy to find that common cause and effort. The election map showed a divided country -- more red states than blue states, more Republican votes than Democratic ones.

"On many issues, the voters divide almost evenly," says Kathy Frankovic, director of polls for CBS News. "It's very rare that we see on Election Day so many examples of a division that's almost even in the electorate."

But it's a country divided as much by values as by geography. Although Mr. Bush's victory was close, our exit polls told a different story -- a story of a country profoundly split on the issues voters considered most important.

Voters focused on four issues: moral values, the economy, terrorism and the war in Iraq. The issue most voters thought was most important was moral values.

For those voters, the choice was lopsided: 79 percent went for Mr. Bush, and only 18 percent for Kerry.

Was it the decisive issue in this election?

"There were 11 states with definition of marriage, opposition to same-sex marriage initiatives on the ballot," says Frankovic. "We were aware of the discussion of religion, so when this issue [moral values] beat out the economy, beat out terrorism, beat out Iraq, I think it was something that sort of struck us as important."

What exactly are those moral values? Different voters defined them differently, but those who voted for Mr. Bush oppose gay marriage and feel matrimony ought to be a union between a man and a woman. They also oppose abortion rights to some degree, and oppose broader government support for stem-cell research.

"I think we see a big difference in this country between those people who are church-goers, and those who could be called 'unchurched,'" says Frankovic. "When we look at those voters who say they attend religious services at least once a week, they voted heavily, more than 2 to 1, for George W. Bush."

"The nation is almost cleaved in half," says historian and writer Richard Reeves, who studies politics and presidents. "I think the rise of what was called moral values in the polls on this election defined a group of people whose families face, who want to live, and do live in what we would call an old-fashioned life ... more 'Father Knows Best' and less 'The Times They Are A Changin'.' And 'Father Knows Best' held on."

But who and what decides whether we remain divided?

"The president, obviously, is the single person with the most power and opportunity to bring people together," says Reeves. "And I think everybody in the country today hopes that there will be some sort of coming-together out of this election. But it's really up to one man."

So is the Democratic Party dead?

"Close to half the people in the country, maybe more, if you ask them what they are, they're not gonna say either a truck driver, they're gonna tell you 'I'm a Christian,'" says Reeves. "The Democratic Party has got to come to grips with that. It's an important part of being an American, for at least half the country."

What's the most important thing for us to know about this election?

"I think that the country is divided," says Reeves. "I think that the president is being given a chance to make good on his promise four years ago to be a uniter, not a divider. I think it's a real tough job."
  • Rebecca Leung

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