The 51 percent nation

Posted: Nov 08, 2004 12:00 AM

Love is stronger than hate. That is the lesson of the 2004 election results. Millions of Democrats and leftists have been seething with hatred for George W. Bush for years, and many of them lined up before the polls opened to cast their votes against him -- one reason, apparently, that the exit poll results turned out to favor Democrats more than did the actual results.
But Republicans full of love, or at least affection, for George W. Bush turned out steadily later in the day or sent in their ballots days before. They have watched "old media" -- The New York Times, the broadcast networks CBS, ABC and NBC -- beat up on Bush for the past year, and they have listened to the sneers and slurs directed at him by coastal elites for a long time. Now they had their chance to speak. They did so loudly and clearly, giving Bush the first popular-vote majority for president in 16 years.

 The line among political insiders was that turnout would increase from 2000 and that higher turnout would favor John Kerry. Right and wrong. Turnout was up 11 percent, but Bush's total votes were up 18 percent from 2000, while Kerry's were up just 10 percent from Al Gore's.

 The Democrats relied on labor unions and billionaire-financed 527 organizations for their turnout drives. They depended primarily on paid workers, some of whom were very good and some very poor; some signed up Mary Poppins, and one in Ohio was paid with crack cocaine. The Bush campaign built its own organization and relied primarily on volunteers, some 1.2 million of them. Volunteers were given varied tasks and numeric goals, and were repeatedly tested. They delivered on Election Day.

 On election night, most observers were focusing on central cities to see how many votes the Democrats would roll up. Working for Fox News, I concentrated on smaller counties in Florida, Ohio and other target states in which all or nearly all the precincts had reported results. I found a clear pattern in state after state. In small and medium-sized counties, turnout was up, by 10 percent, 20 percent, even 40 percent in fast-growing areas, and the Bush percentage was up as well, by 2, 4 or even 8 percentage points. Aggregate those increases, and you have more new Republican votes than new Democratic votes in Cuyahoga or Broward counties. That, repeated over and over again, is the story of this election. Karl Rove's strategy of concentrating on increasing Republican turnout worked.

 Four years ago, I wrote that this was a 49 percent nation. In the 1996, 1998 and 2000 House elections, Republicans led in the popular vote by 49 to 48 or 48.5 percent; the 2000 presidential election was a 48 to 48 percent tie. Americans seemed evenly divided, mainly on cultural and religious lines. In 2002, that changed a bit: Republicans won the House vote 51 percent to 46 percent, while Bush's job approval hovered around 65 percent.

 This year his job rating has hovered around 50 percent or below. He has been the target all year of vicious and biased coverage from old media, many if not most of whose personnel saw their job as removing this scourge from the presidency. The "60 Minutes" story about Bush's Air National Guard service, which was based on obviously forged documents, is only the most egregious example. Old media have headlined violence in Iraq and reported almost nothing about positive developments there; they highlighted the charges of self-promoter Joseph Wilson and spoke nary a word when they were proved bogus; they have given good economic news far less positive coverage than they did when Bill Clinton was in office.

 Yet the results of this election closely resemble the 2002 House results. Bush beat Kerry 51 percent to 48 percent; the popular vote for the House appears to be about 51 percent to 47 percent Republican. Voters knew the stakes -- polls showed majorities thought this was an important and consequential election -- and both candidates had plenty of opportunity to make their cases. Thanks to the 527s, more money was apparently spent against Bush than for him. So the results cannot be dismissed as an accident. We are now a 51 percent nation, a Republican majority, as once again in America, love has proved stronger than hate.