Monday, November 08, 2004

Did The Antiwar Vote Matter?

In my first post after the early election results were mostly counted, I lashed out with this bit of poison:

[...] Still feeling happy about alienating the anti-war voter? I thought so. [...]

...and, ever the faithful Democratic partisan, our own Sean pushed back with this:

Anti-war voter showed up at the polls, James. At least as far as I can tell. [...]

Well, now there are more exit poll numbers, conveniently collected into readily analyzable form. And guess what? It looks to me like the antiwar voter was not very well energized this election. She probably voted for Kerry, if she bothered to vote. But there's little evidence that she worked very hard at all to get other people out to vote.

That's completely consistent with my observations: the antiwar voter was deeply turned off by Kerry's answer to the "if I had known then when I know now" question, and I think it mattered that a lot of them weren't talking his campaign up when they talked to their friends. Most of us held our nose and voted for him anyway, but a lot more of us would have been highly motivated to help get out the antiwar vote if there had been a real antiwar candidate.

What are the exit poll numbers that make me think this is true? Percentage of voters whose most important issue was Iraq: 15%. Of those, a quarter voted for Bush, and I suppose very few of them were "antiwar" voters. (Hard to imagine that many antiwar voters were willing to believe like I did that Bush might be quicker to make a unilateral withdrawal than Kerry.) The rest, I assume, are the serious antiwar voters, whom I said were alienated by the Kerry position on the IraqWar™. So, that means the antiwar vote was probably somewhere between 10 to 12 percent of the turnout.

That's just not very big. At the height of popularity for the IraqWar™, polls were showing antiwar sentiment running at about 15%. In this election campaign that number could not have fallen much, and I would have expected heavier turnout among antiwar voters, not lighter. I think a larger turnout for Kerry would have been possible his campaign had taken an objectively antiwar stance on Iraq. They didn't, and I think they paid for it at the polls. And yes, I think the antiwar voter is paying along with all the rest of us on the losing side— but the difference is: the antiwar voter had already resigned herself to being on the losing side of the argument, no matter who won the election.

Worse, let's look at how well the "I will be better at waging the war in Iraq" message actually played for Kerry. First off, about 45% of the turnout said they thought the IraqWar™ was going well for the U.S.— and these people voted Bush at like 9 to 1 ratios. This means the Kerry message was aimed at only 55% of the turnout. How well did he do with those people? Well, 33% thought the war was going very badly, and they voted like 9 to 1 for Kerry. I bet almost all of these people would have still voted for Kerry if he had embraced an antiwar position on Iraq. The other 20% who thought the war was only going "somewhat badly" went for Kerry by only a 2 to 1 margin— but 36% of them went for Bush. So that's like, if my arithmetic is good, about 7% of the turnout who said, "Yeah, the war is going badly, but I think Bush is the better choice overall." The remaining 13% of the turnout said, "Okay, the war isn't going so well," and "Yeah, Kerry is the man." Many of these people were not voting on Iraq as their primary issue— which you can tell because they only went Kerry by 2 to 1, where the Iraq issue voters went for Kerry by 3 to 1. Probably most of them were not Iraq issue voters. Kerry's pathetic attempt to reach these people by telling them that his Vietnam experience made him a better CIC was a doomed effort from the get-go if you ask me, and the exit polls confirm it.

So, yeah— I think the antiwar voter mostly showed up at the polls and voted Kerry. But the exit polls do not show the highly energized and motivated antiwar vote that it would be reasonable to expect. And they also do not show that Kerry shaved off any significant percentage with his "I'm a better manager" message. The Kerry campaign alienated the antiwar vote, and it cost them more than it bought them at the polls. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

(No, I don't expect the D's to learn a valuable lesson here. I expect them to seek out and destroy the antiwar faction within the party, and blame them for their loss in the 2004 elections.)

UPDATE: In a post above, Sean says...
... I remain, so far, unconvinced of his conclusion that failure to motivate the antiwar voter specifically cost him the election, if I am paraphrasing his view correctly. ...

My conclusion is actually a little bit more nuanced, and I'm sorry I didn't convey it more clearly.

I conclude that one of the factors that could have made the difference was the alienation of the antiwar voter. I contend that if Kerry had been a real antiwar candidate, then he would have won. That is not to say that he lost for no other reason than this.

Sean spends a few column-inches whacking on Kerry and the Democratic Party "bag men" for not producing a coherent message, but he isn't really saying how the CoherentMessage™ he would have preferred would have been more successful than the one that was actually sent.

He and I are probably not going to see eye-to-eye about what the exit poll numbers show about antiwar motivation at the polls this last election without me delving even further into numbers wonkery. I shall resist the temptation.

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