NELSON: Fascinating, some might say factoid, but I’ll just say fact, in your book, The Values Campaign, the poll–and this again, brings back to mind, things that were enormously significant culturally at the time–half of Bush’s supporters said they had seen the film, The Passion of the Christ, the Mel Gibson film, which was so controversial. Half of Bush supporters, only 15 percent of Kerry supporters. What does that signify?
ROZELL: The cultural divide, right? The other factoid in there was almost all of Kerry’s supporters said they had seen the Michael Moore film, Fahrenheit 9/11, and only 3 percent of Bush supporters said, or at least admitted, [00:52:00] that they had ever seen that film. So this of course was a time when Americans were really starting to latch on to this message of red versus blue America, that we’re a divided country now, right? Almost like we’re two different countries. You have this group of Americans here who adore Mel Gibson’s film and they want to show their support for it, and they turn out in droves and they vote for Bush. And this group of Americans who find this somehow offensive, and they’re not going to go see that movie, and they’re all voting for the other candidate. So even in popular culture, right? I mean, you can find how much of a difference there exists and how these kind of beliefs line up politically as well, that you can predict a Bush voter based on what movies that person liked, or a Kerry voter based on [00:53:00] what popular culture that person happens to like.
NELSON: Finally, the exit poll. Not finally in our interview but finally, we’re getting around to something we’ve both referred to: the exit poll question in 2004, “What is the one issue that mattered the most to you?” And as you pointed out, there were six alternatives, most of them sort of traditionally important political things, and then “moral values,” which more people chose than any of the others.
NELSON: First of all, why was that question controversial in terms of how people interpreted the meaning, and then what do you think the meaning was of it ranking first?
ROZELL: So, among the six questions, that one came out number one, and the immediate analysis that came out of the election was that those were Bush voters. [00:54:00] Those were people who were concerned primarily about the gay marriage initiatives, the referenda in the various states, as well as abortion, and this signified the incredible power of the religious conservative movement in American politics. They elevated moral issues to the top of concerns of election criteria that voters relied upon in that campaign cycle, and they turned out powerfully for Bush. Now, you ask why was that controversial, the phrase moral values is rather amorphous; it means different things to different people. So, my more progressive leaning friends who study these issues say well, I could have said moral values is important because I think it’s morally wrong that there’s too many guns in America, or it’s morally wrong that there’s too much poverty, and moral values, that’s what that means to me and we need to be [00:55:00] doing something about those issues, and those are more important to me than whether we’re in a recession or not. The security issue, yeah that’s important, but I feel safe right now, so I’m going to say moral issues. There’s no way for us to discern how many people who said moral issues is most important may have been projecting their preference on issues, unrelated to what religious conservatives care about the most, but I think it’s a safe assumption, when you look at the exit polling data and the percentage of people who chose moral values and voted for George Bush, that these were indeed the evangelical and born again social conservatives.
NELSON: You said in your book, 80 percent of those who chose moral values voted for Bush.
ROZELL: Voted for Bush, so there you go, right there.
NELSON: That sort of seems to settle that.
ROZELL: I think that settles it, yeah.
NELSON: I’d like to turn — because [00:56:00] you’ve written about so many different aspects of contemporary American politics, — to the Bush campaign in connection with other elections that were going on in 2004, and preface this by saying almost always, in the post-World War II era, in fact always, until 2004, when a president has been reelected–Eisenhower, Nixon, Clinton, Reagan–ehen the president has been reelected, his party actually lost seats in the Senate elections.
ROZELL: That’s right.
NELSON: Even though most of those elections are just national landslides for the president. In 2004, the result was different, and we’ll talk about the result in a minute, but do you think the strategy was different? In other words, do you think that Bush actively saw his reelection as one that should have direct consequences for the congressional elections? [00:57:00]
ROZELL: Yeah, I think he did. I think he wanted a broad based party victory. He did not want to go into his second term politically weakened, as other reelected presidents have, by bigger numbers for the opposition party in the Congress. Although he had projected himself as he said, a uniter, not a divider, and a bipartisan style leader, when he talked about his leadership as Governor of Texas, he was a highly partisan leader who relied upon partisan majorities in Congress, on most of the policy initiatives that he cared about, once he became president. He didn’t really see a bipartisan vehicle for moving much of his agenda through, so he needed his victory to be a party victory, not just a Bush victory, right? We had discussed earlier, that Nixon had a lonely victory for reelection in 1972.
NELSON: And Reagan. [00:58:00]
ROZELL: And Reagan too, that’s right. Nixon never used the word Republican, if I recall, when he ran for reelection in 1972. It was about himself. So I think Bush learned a lesson from history in that regard, that the presidential victory is much more meaningful if the president can go into his second term in a much more strengthened position. You know the history of second term presidencies, right? That they have not been all entirely successful, to put it mildly. And so I think Bush did indeed want to be strengthened going into his second term, so he could make a big push on a number of issues. Remember his response after he won the election. I don’t remember the exact date that he said this but he said, “I now have political capital and I’m going to spend it.” He was saying, this was a broad partisan based, [00:59:00] you know party based victory, not just for himself, but for the Republicans, and he had won political capital by this time, winning a majority of the vote handily, but also by bringing more Republicans in. The consensus view, among many observers, as you remember, immediately after that election, was that he had a free hand to do what he wants in policy, beginning early in 2005, he was unstoppable.