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Portrait of two Americas

Results reinforce idea of schism in nation's political landscape

Posted: Monday, November 08, 2004

WASHINGTON The nation is emerging from the 2004 presidential election with two very different portraits of itself sketched by two very different halves of its population.

George Bush's voters go to church more often than John Kerry's and are more likely to oppose gay marriage and abortion. They are more likely to own guns and to feel better-off financially than they did four years ago.

Sure, they are concerned about terrorism. But they are more concerned about moral values.

Most think things are going well for the United States in Iraq, and that the war has made America more secure.

They are satisfied with the Republican Bush administration; many are enthusiastic.

Voters who supported the Democratic nominee, by contrast, are more worried about the economy. They view moral values and terrorism more like afterthoughts. They go to church, but less frequently. Few see any improvement in their financial situation over the past four years.

They gave their votes to the Massachusetts senator because they thought he represented hope for change. They are far more worried about events in Iraq and the job situation at home. Almost half feel angry at the administration.

It all adds up to two different mindsets, reinforcing the idea of a schism in the political landscape.

Bush's victory left Emma Starr, a writer from New York, feeling devastated and more than a bit disconnected from the other half of America.

''We should have two distinct nations,'' she said after getting word of Kerry's concession as she left a Brooklyn food co-op. ''Why should we be forced to live together under the rule of an evil dictator?''

For every voter like Starr, there was at least one like Clifford Barneman, a psychologist from Little Egg Harbor Township in New Jersey. He voted for Bush as a ''man of his word'' who had strong values.

The profiles of Bush and Kerry voters are drawn in part from Associated Press exit polls of voters as they left polling places. But they also take into account voters' harder-to-capture feelings about the country's direction and the men who fought so hard to lead it for the next four years.

Much has been made, for example, of the role of evangelical Christians in the election. Some 44 percent of Bush voters described themselves this way, compared with a still sizable 25 percent of Kerry's voters.

Analyst Steven Waldman, who follows religion and politics as editor in chief of the Web site www.Beliefnet.com said the evangelicals' lopsided support for Bush is ''both more vague and deeper'' than shared views on specific issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

''Many evangelical Christians believe that they are held in contempt by the mainstream media and much of America,'' Waldman said. ''With Bush, they have someone in the White House who they feel is one of them and stands up for their own faith, makes them feel like they don't have to be embarrassed about being Christian.''

The thought is echoed by GOP pollster Whit Ayres. ''Taken together, values create a Rorschach test that 'this guy thinks like I do,''' he said.

The idea clearly resonated for Bush in the South. While Kerry's voters came about evenly from all parts of the country, more than one-third of Bush's voters were Southerners.

Tom Morris, a political scientist and president of Emory & Henry College in rural Emory, Va., said Democrats make a mistake in trying to lure Southerners strictly with policy proposals.

''While policies are important, cultural values are the bedrock of the South,'' Morris said. ''Southerners have to believe that you embrace those values, that they are part of who you are.''

If Bush's voters were more likely to be frequent churchgoers, Kerry's were more likely to be worried about pocketbook issues such as the cost of health care. They make less money and are twice as likely to have lost a job in the past four years. They are less likely to draw a connection between Iraq and the war on terrorism.

In rural central Iowa, voters in the Edwards family weighed in on both sides of the equation.

Scott Edwards, who voted in Huxley, cast a ballot for Bush out of ''gut instinct.''

''It's more of a trust issue,'' he said.

His parents, Ron and Sue Edwards, voted for Kerry at a small church about 15 miles south of where their son voted for Bush, citing their concern about the economy and the invasion of Iraq.

''I don't think the president has the right to make a move like that without United Nations backing,'' said Ron Edwards. ''This has cost the taxpayers a lot of money.''

''And lives,'' Sue Edwards added.

During the fall campaign, much was made of the potential impact of security moms white women with young children whose votes were thought to be tied to their concerns about terrorism. It turns out these women did not report any more concern about terrorism than did other women.

But they did attach a higher priority to moral values. One-third of white moms with kids picked values as their top concern, compared with about 22 percent of all white women. And more than three-fourths of values voters gave their ballots to Bush.

Associated Press writer Will Lester in Washington, Michael Weissenstein in New York and Bob Lewis in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.



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