News Column

GOP Carried White, Male Vote

November 18, 2002

Steven Thomma

Republicans won midterm elections by carrying majorities of men and whites, marginally increasing their support among Hispanics and benefiting from a slightly lower turnout by African-Americans, according to a survey released Wednesday.

Overall, the survey showed, 50 percent of voters said they voted for Republicans and 46 percent for Democrats. Although small, that 4 percentage-point edge for Republicans was a marked improvement over the 49-49 percentage-point tie in the 2000 congressional elections. And it produced a significant result: Republicans defied a 60-year history of midterm losses in Congress for a first-term president's party by winning control of the Senate and increasing their majority in the House of Representatives.

"This small but dramatic shift was produced by historic events, by a president who took the stage and played his part boldly, by tactics and by money," said Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster. "And it was produced by the Democrats, who barely took the stage, failed to tell voters what this election was about and failed to offer bold critiques or alternatives, particularly on the economy."

Greenberg's survey offered the first demographic analysis of the Nov. 5 voting.

That is usually available on election night, but the consortium that conducts exit polling for the television networks lost confidence in its survey numbers and has not yet released them. The consortium has been reworking its system of using exit polls to predict results and analyze voting since 2000.

Greenberg's post-election survey of 2,647 voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points. His numbers are compared here with 1998 and 2000 numbers from Voter News Service exit polls.

Among the key findings: Republicans won a majority of votes from older people, married people, Protestants, those who earn more than $50,000 a year and those in rural America. They lost female voters by a ratio of 48 percent to 50 percent.

Notably, Republicans improved their standing vs. Democrats with several groups. Compared with 1998's midterm elections, this year Republicans increased their lead among men, whites and married people, and narrowed their losses among target groups courted by President Bush: Roman Catholics, Hispanics and union households.

But Republicans lost ground compared with 1998 in two important sectors.

They won a majority among those 60 and older by 51-46 percent despite an aggressive Democratic campaign on the issues of Social Security and the cost of prescription drugs. Yet that was a smaller edge than the GOP's 1998 ratio of 54-44 percent.

And Republicans carried the Protestant vote by 54-42 percent, down sharply from their 60-37 percent edge in 1998. One likely reason is a decline in political activism by many Christian conservatives, who have lost the motivation of opposing former President Clinton.

Democrats carried the majority of women, African-Americans, Hispanics, single people, those aged 18 to 29, union members, those who make less than $30,000 a year and residents of large cities.

These findings come from an election in which voting increased. An estimated 78.7 million Americans voted, 39.3 percent of those eligible, said the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, a non-partisan research group. That was up from 37.6 percent in 1998, the most recent year when no president was on the ballot.

Source: Copyright ©2002 Lexington Herald-Leader. All Rights Reserved.

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