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Much noise is being made that the evangelical segment of the Republican electorate won this re-election for the President. That’s true only in the sense that everyone who showed up and voted for Bush had an effect. Attending a conservative evangelical church confirms that the pro-Republican organizing activism is alive and well, but the fact is that elections are driven by that combination of issues and personality which creates a sense of safety — and the President engendered that feeling of safety among more than evangelicals.

OK, having sucked you in on the wedge religion issue, this essay will get more boringly cerebral and discuss the core decisive emotion of voting, with a passing look at how the possibly decisive evangelicals might have reacted or played a part.

In general people of any stripe, I think, vote ultimately on the basis of *a sentiment of safety* -- that is they vote for the candidate that makes them feel more secure. Why are people in general biased to incumbents? They're known quantities...safe. Why do ethnic minorities tend to vote Democrat? Because, right or wrong, mostly wrong I think, they feel that Republicans are too prone to racism to be safely entrusted with leadership over them. This happens even though many from the African-American, Latino, and other communities share many of the same issue-type values as the Republicans; many or most, for example, are religious and socially conservative.

Kerry failed to persuade the voting public that G.W. Bush's continuation in office would make us less safe than he would be in office.

"Safe" does not necessarily mean physical security alone. Financial security, emotional securty, a sense of belonging and future prosperity for one's children and their upbringing. That sells. "Vote or Die!" was a valiant attempt by pro-Democrats to frame the election as one over a choice for safety. (Actually the Democrats could have gone for the jugular on many issues -- from Iraq to repeatedly pointing out to traditionalist voters Cheney's gay daughter as an example of moral inconsistency in their opponent's rhetoric (in order to keep them away from the polls) -- issues that would have undermined the President. But they did not, or did it half-way and clumsily.)

The President's talk of his faith and his dropping IN PUBLIC the name of Jesus in the first debate made many evangelicals feel safe amidst a world in which thy feel ridiculed. It made them feel safe in the same way it makes others very nervous.

As to the voters in general, in the end more gave the benefit of the doubt on the safety-centric issue of the war on terror/intervention in Iraq to the President. More may even feel he will protect children from the sins of the world they see manifested in things like gay marriage and abortion and Hollywood. More still probably feel he will not overtax their income and fear that it would be otherwise with a Democrat.

The question for the next round is: will the GOP's next candidate offer the same sense of safety? Will he/she have benefitted from the final 4 years of President Bush to build on that need? Or will a Democrat come along who will make America feel safer in 2008. The fact that such a question is hard/impossible to predict is why you can never predict the next race this far ahead.

Posted by Matthew Hogan at November 9, 2004 3:28 PM