America's Democrats are losing an uphill battle for votes

With the economy slumping and the war in Iraq booming, the Democrats face the Nov. 2 elections with only two significant disadvantages: foreign and domestic policy. It's enough. On foreign policy, not since JFK has the electorate dared entrust the White House to a Democrat in troubled times, as the last Democrat not to see the world situation deteriorate badly on his watch was Grover Cleveland. Thus, paradoxically, John Kerry's attempt to win votes by saying things look bad abroad can only succeed if it fails.

Conventional wisdom says domestic issues favour Democrats. So Wednesday night's third debate was meant to be Senator Kerry's big moment. Unfortunately, in the U.S. there are other domestic issues than "give me a dollar" and they do not help his party.

Wags have said America's two domestic issues are sex and taxes, with one party in favour and the other against. It's not quite fair; surveys suggest married people have more and better sex than singles. A recent study even said Amish bedrooms get especially steamy. (Who knew?) But in any event sex, and moral issues more generally, do not favour the Democrats.

It may be an article of faith among politically correct commentators that the monolithic voting bloc known as "women" prefer the Democrats because women are nicer than men and Democrats are nicer than Republicans Q.E.D. But actually, married American women lean Republican, especially those with children in the house; it is single women hoping to marry Mr. State who vote Democrat. And the Democrats' supposed trump card, abortion, is not a winning issue at all.

Democrats for Life of America says in 1977-78 42 per cent of their party's 292-member majority in the House of Representatives voted pro-life while today just 15 per cent of their 204-member minority does. If so, I calculate 169 pro-choice Democrats in 1977-78 and 173 now, meaning abortion alone cost them their three-generation majority status, at least in the House. It is also driving once firmly Democratic Roman Catholics to the GOP, and they number over 60 million. Finally, the million abortions a year since Roe v. Wade in 1973 have cost electoral college votes in Democrat-leaning states, probably enough to lose Al Gore the 2000 election even if the growing ranks of missing voters were not primarily from Democratic demographics.

So the Democrats' only hope is voters' desire for public largesse. But even there the United States is increasingly out of step with other developed countries. For one thing, its populace remains actively religious and does not vote by bread alone. In 2000, about 63 per cent of those who attended church at least once a week voted for George W. Bush, while Al Gore took the votes of 61 per cent of those who never went. As the invaluable Almanac of American Politics observes, in that year, "if the only thing you knew about a person was his income and from that guessed how he would vote, you would have been wrong almost half the time." But if you knew his views on religion, abortion and gun control, "you would have been right almost always."

Moreover, Almanac authors Michael Barone and Richard E. Cohen argue, even on straightforward economic issues American politics has changed. Until recently, most voters had few assets to fall back on, so in hard times they looked to the party that stood for immediate assistance regardless of long-term consequences. But now "something like 70 per cent of Americans age 55 to 64 have wealth, mostly in the form of housing equity and financial investments, totaling $300,000 or more" and about half of all voters own stocks, usually in small private retirement accounts. When times are tough, they increasingly turn to the party of long-term growth, not immediate relief. So the Democrats have even less chance of capturing either House of Congress than the House of White.

If you have been reading in the newspapers about a country south of us where a big-eared belligerent rich moron from Texas is about to be trounced by a wise, sensitive yet strong New England megamillionaire, I can only plead that I did not write those stories. There are three big issues in American politics: sex, taxes and terrorism. And they all favour the Republicans.

So long, John Kerry. And the party you rode in on.

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The Bank of Canada clarifies that it cost nine cents per note to print the new $20s over and above about $12 million in startup costs for all the new notes. As most of those costs would have arisen to redesign only one new note, it affects my detailed calculations, but not my general point last Wednesday.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson