The Mythical Middle in American Politics

January 11, 2012 - 5:41 AM

Why did the Democrats run Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania in 2006 against Sen. Rick Santorum?

Why did President George W. Bush win a higher percentage of the African-American vote in Ohio in 2004 than he won nationwide?

Why did Proposition 8 win in California in 2008, while Sen. John McCain was losing the state in the presidential election?

The answer: The middle in American politics is not where the liberal media or establishment Republicans want you to think it is.

When Santorum beat liberal Democrat incumbent Harris Wofford in 1994 to win a seat in the U.S. Senate, the Allentown Morning Call ran a story analyzing the outcome. It betrayed a certain befuddlement.

"Earlier polls showed Santorum doing well with female voters despite his anti-abortion and pro-gun views," the paper said.

Eight years later, in a bad election cycle for Republicans, the Democrats retook the Senate seat Santorum had occupied for two terms. Their candidate that year was the son of the most famous pro-life Democrat in recent history — and in keeping with his family name, Bob Casey Jr. claimed he wanted Roe v. Wade overturned and most abortions prohibited.

In a Democratic state, the self-professed pro-life Casey won.

When George W. Bush ran for re-election in 2004, Ohio was a must-win state — as it often is in presidential elections.

African-Americans made up 10 percent of Ohio voters that year, according to the network exit poll. Sixteen percent of them voted for Bush. That was 7 points higher than the 9 percent of the black vote Bush won in Ohio in 2000 and 5 points higher than the 11 percent he won nationwide in 2004.

Considering that Bush beat Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, by only 2 points in Ohio, the 7 additional points Bush picked up among black Ohio voters in 2004 was an important part of his margin.

But why did more African-Americans come out to vote for Bush in Ohio in 2004 than had nationwide or had in Ohio itself four years earlier?

In the 2004 election, Ohio voted on whether to amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages and same-sex unions that approximate marriage. The amendment was far more popular than either Bush, who was viewed as a pro-marriage social conservative, or Kerry, who was not.

The amendment won 62 percent to 38 percent — with black voters supporting it 61 percent to 39 percent.

Without Ohio's 20 electoral votes, Bush would not have been re-elected. On the margin, an increase in support from socially conservative black voters helped put Bush over the top.

In the 2008 election, Sen. Barack Obama beat Sen. John McCain in California, 61 percent to 37 percent.

At the same time that McCain was being slaughtered by 24 points in the state, Proposition 8 was winning, 52 percent to 48 percent. Proposition 8 amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

According to the network exit poll, African-Americans, who made up 10 percent of California voters, supported the marriage amendment 70 percent to 30 percent. Latinos, who made up 18 percent of California voters, supported it 53 percent to 47 percent.

California's middle class supported the marriage amendment, too, according to the exit poll.

The $30,000-$50,000 income bracket, the $50,000-$75,000 income bracket and the $100,000-$150,000 income bracket all supported it 54 percent to 46 percent. The $75,000-$100,000 bracket split 50 percent to 50 percent.

But Californians making $150,000-$200,000 voted against the amendment 53 percent to 47 percent, while Californians making $200,000 or more voted against it 55 percent to 45 percent.

No wonder that when Barack Obama retreated from the wilds of Pennsylvania to mingle with high donors in San Francisco during his 2008 primary campaign, he felt it was safe for him to confide that in the small towns of Pennsylvania and the Midwest he had discovered what he called "bitter" people clinging to "guns or religion."

As Proposition 8 proved, people whose values Obama might describe in those same derisive terms still make up a majority even in California.

Every four years, the establishment media and members of the Republican establishment try to convince conservatives they need to support a moderate — that is, a social liberal — for president, so they can reach out to voters in the middle of the political spectrum.

But the middle of the American political spectrum is not with the liberals on cultural issues. It is with the conservatives.

Otherwise, Pennsylvania would not have a Democratic senator who claims to be pro-life. John Kerry might be president of the United States today.

And same-sex marriage might be legal in San Francisco.