Joel Mowbray

On statewide ballot initiatives, voters supported gay marriage bans in Arizona, Florida and California.  In Florida, Amendment 2 needed to clear the 60% threshold the state sets for amending the constitution, and the measure garnered 62% support.  McCain lost Florida, 51% to 49%. 

Even on what is presumed to be safe liberal territory—the environment—the electorate did not tilt leftward.  As reported on the Wall Street Journal web site, “Among five major energy and environmental ballot initiatives from California to Missouri, all but one were voted down.”  The one that passed, Proposition C in Missouri, encountered no serious opposition.

The ideological composition of the electorate, in fact, was almost identical to 2004.  Liberals went from 21% in 2004 to 22%, and moderates were 45% four years ago versus 44%.  Democrats enjoyed a small uptick in voters who label themselves Democrats, from 37% to 39%.  So while Democrats added some new adherents, most of their new seven-point margin in party ID owes to an exodus from the GOP.

Right-leaning Bush voters swung to Obama

Two key right-leaning constituencies deserted Republicans: “Security Moms” and Catholics.  Though the media has made the “gender gap” a household term, the more apt classification was a “marriage gap.”  Single women were heavily Democrat, and married women leaned Republican.  “Security Moms” became the label for married mothers attracted to the hawkishness of the GOP.

Security Moms

Almost 30% of the women who voted in this election were married with kids, and Obama won them 51%-47%.  The same exit poll question was not asked four years ago, but most estimates are that Bush won that group handily in 2004.  The demographic has become a key part of the GOP coalition.  Highly respected Republican strategist Michael Meyers, president of TargetPoint Consulting, consulted the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign and the Republican National Committee and he was among the pioneers of micro-targeting and crafting strategies to reach groups such as Security Moms.  He says bluntly, “We cannot win without winning married moms.  Period.”


McCain also lost ground among religious voters, but not in the manner predicted.  Confounding expectations from this spring, McCain performed just as well with white evangelical Christians as Bush did in 2004.  Catholic voters, however, shifted in large numbers for Obama.  Bush won the historically Democratic constituency 52%-47% four years ago.  He did this by winning weekly church-going Catholics by a robust 56%-43%, while essentially splitting Catholics who attend church less often or not at all.  McCain, on the other hand, roughly split weekly church-going Catholics with Obama, and trailed badly among less devout Catholics, 58-40%.

Falling from Bush’s 44% of the Latino vote to 31% clearly hurt McCain’s figures in the Catholic vote.  But that drop alone could not account for much more than half of the loss he experienced overall among Catholics.  The bulk of the remaining Catholic voters that switched from Bush in 2004 to Obama this year likely came from cultural conservatives, including so-called values voters and Reagan Democrats.

In perhaps his most honest moment of the campaign, Barack Obama in June told the New York Times, “I am like a Rorschach test.”  Unlike most politicians who seek to define themselves sharply, Obama proudly defined himself as whatever different voters wanted him to be.  Accomplishing this feat in a heated election was a tall order, but in governing, it becomes nearly impossible.  In policy battles, there are winners and losers because lines are drawn, and sides must be taken.

For Obama to maintain the coalition that elected him, he needs to come down on the right side of that line more often than most in his party would like.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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