Election 2000: A Partial Postmortem – United States

Election 2000: A Partial Postmortem – United States – Brief Article

Edd Doerr

As we go to press, the final outcome of the 2000 presidential election hinges upon the vote of the electoral college. Meanwhile, other election results give cause for both celebration and concern.

Voters in California and Michigan crushed ballot initiatives designed to divert public funds to sectarian private schools through voucher plans. California voters defeated vouchers 71 percent to 29 percent–a total almost identical to that by which the Golden State slapped down a similar measure in 1993. Michigan’s 68 percent to 32 percent rejection of vouchers was similar to its 1978 victory over a similar plan by 74 percent to 26 percent. Even Catholic voters in these two states rejected vouchers two to one in 2000.

Despite losing twenty-three referenda on vouchers or their analogs from coast to coast since 1966, by an average margin of better than two to one, interests hostile to public education and church-state separation have pledged to continue their efforts. Catholic church officials in Michigan reportedly spent nearly $2 million to promote the failed voucher plan, apparently indifferent to the interests of the more than 80 percent of Catholic kids who attend public schools.

Other good news on November 7 included the defeat of Missouri Senator John Ashcroft by Governor Mel Carnahan, who was tragically killed in a plane crash a couple of weeks before the elections. Ashcroft was the main sponsor of so-called charitable-choice legislation in Congress, designed to provide unregulated tax aid to “faith-based” charities. Charitable choice has been vigorously advocated by fundamentalist guru Marvin Olasky, a key domestic policy adviser to George W. Bush.

But the Y2K elections also raised the specter of political polarization along religious lines, as exit polls clearly showed.

Although all the exit polls didn’t quite agree, the Catholic vote apparently went to Al Gore by either 53 percent to 46 percent or by 49 percent to 47 percent–down from Clinton’s 1996 garnering of the vote by 54 percent to 37 percent. Had Gore chosen a northern Catholic, such as Senator Tom Harkin or former Senator George Mitchell, as his running mate, he probably would have done considerably better. The Jewish vote went to Gore over Bush by 79 percent to 18 percent, compared to 78 percent to 16 percent in 1996, so having Senator Joseph Lieberman on the Democratic ticket didn’t seem to help much.

The twelve most heavily Catholic states–except Louisiana and New Hampshire–went for Gore. The vice-president also won the vast majority of the twenty-five most heavily Catholic metro areas.

The white Protestant vote, heavily influenced by the politicized and powerful religious right, tilted sharply to Bush. The whole white Protestant vote went to Bush, 63 percent to 34 percent; while the fundamentalist/evangelical portion of the white Protestant vote went to Bush, 79 percent to 19 percent. Bush carried the old South (with Florida uncertain at this writing), the border states, and the non-Southern but generally conservative states of Kansas and Indiana.

The African American vote, mainly Protestant, went to Gore, 90 percent to 8 percent. The Latino, mostly Catholic, vote went to Gore, 67 percent to 31 percent.

Pro-choice voters strongly chose Gore, while anti-choice voters tended to vote for Bush, as might have been expected.

Religious voters other than Catholics, Protestants, and Jews went for Gore, 63 percent to 27 percent, with 9 percent for Nader. “Secular” voters chose Gore over Bush, 62 percent to 29 percent, with 9 percent for Nader.

Frequency of church attendance also correlates strongly with partisan voting. Voters who attend church more often than weekly supported Bush over Gore, 62 percent to 36 percent. Weekly churchgoers voted 56 percent to 41 percent for Bush. Monthly attendees preferred Gore over Bush, 51 percent to 45 percent. Those who rarely attend chose Gore, 55 percent to 41 percent; while voters who reported never attending services preferred Gore to Bush, 62 percent to 29 percent, with Nader again registering 9 percent.

These data seem to suggest a growing polarization along lines related to religious preference and degree of–for lack of a better word–religiosity and views toward such religious liberty and church-state issues as sectarian school vouchers, abortion rights, and school prayer.

Jewish, African-American Protestant, secular, “other religious,” and moderate-to-liberal Catholics tend to be Democratic, while Protestant fundamentalists and evangelicals and conservative Catholics tend to be Republican. This trend is moving toward the political divisiveness along religious lines that the Supreme Court warned against in the early 1970s and that history abundantly shows has been an important contributing factor to some of the most brutal and lethal conflicts the world has seen.

All of this highlights the importance of women and men of good will across the religious spectrum working together to defend and strengthen the vitally important constitutional principle of church-state separation. Only a massive cooperative effort toward this end can succeed.

One final note: unnoticed by the media while the pre-election hoopla ensued was an important ruling on behalf of church-state separation. On October 24, U.S. District Court Judge Aleta A. Trauger in Nashville, Tennessee, handed down a decision in Steele v. Industrial Development Board. Judge Trauger ruled that a tax-exempt bond issue to aid David Lipscomb University, a Church of Christ institution, was unconstitutional. The seventy-seven-page opinion held Lipscomb to be “pervasively sectarian” and ruled that “Metropolitan Government cannot support or promote religion–any religion–and be in conformity with the First Amendment.”

The suit was filed nine years ago by two members of the American Humanist Association (one of whom, Harold Steele, died in 1998) and three other persons and was supported by Americans for Religious Liberty. Nashville attorney Joe Johnston, who represented the plaintiffs, said he is pleased with the ruling, which is being appealed.

Edd Doerr is president of the American Humanist Association and executive director of Americans for Religious Liberty. He would like to thank religio-political demographer Al Menendez for his assistance in gathering data for this column.

COPYRIGHT 2001 American Humanist Association

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group