Demographics of the 2002 House Vote

The Long Lost 2002 Midterm Election Exit Polls

by Steve Sailer

UPI, November 2003


First of a five part series...

First: Initial reads of voters in error

Nov. 18, 2003 (UPI) -- An analysis by United Press International of recently released results from the long-lost 2002 national exit poll undermines some fashionable myths about why the Republican Party gained ground in last year's election for the House of Representatives.

Because the survey aggregation system of the now-defunct Voter News Service, providers of the lone national exit poll, crashed on Election Day 2002, no definitive data had been available on who voted for whom and why. Lacking hard numbers, pundits and strategists have pushed their pet theories.

Democrats have increasingly argued that the results show they must appeal more to "NASCAR dads," or as Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean more controversially phrased it, "guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks."

In contrast, Republicans have often claimed that the GOP victory stemmed from the party broadening its tent to attract more ethnic minorities and other growing demographic groups.

These conflicting explanations can now be tested. The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research assembled the records of 17,872 interviews of voters leaving the polls on Nov. 5, 2002, and had them reviewed by a panel of statisticians. They determined that "the 2002 data is of comparable utility and quality to past VNS exit polls," so Roper now sells the raw data.

UPI's analysis suggests that both popular theories for the GOP's 2002 improvement -- "NASCAR dads" and "minority outreach" -- are largely wrong.

In 2000, the Republican candidates for the House of Representatives outpolled the Democratic candidates by 49 percent to 48 percent. Last year, that margin grew to 51 percent vs. 45 percent, even though the president's party has historically lost ground in midterm elections.

Despite the overall gains, the GOP did worse in 2002 among rural and minority voters.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Republican increases of 2002 over 2000 stemmed primarily from the GOP strengthening its appeal to its traditional bases: whites, suburbanites, Protestants, the affluent, the well-educated, the non-union, the conservative and the middle-aged.

If these citizens need a snappy moniker like "NASCAR dads," they could be called "white bread voters."

Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation who is one of a handful of analysts to have also crunched through this data, told UPI, "The demographic theme of the 2002 election for the Republicans was 'Round up the usual suspects,' and they did a good job at it. The concept that this was the year in which the GOP broke through to new blocs of voters is largely not true."

In previous recent elections, Republicans failed to dominate among high-income voters. In 2002, however, the GOP's share of those saying they make more than $100,000 per year rose from 55 percent to 64 percent. At the same time, the fraction of voters with six-digit incomes rose from 15 percent to 18 percent of the total. This growth among the affluent in both Republicanism and turnout was doubly beneficial to GOP candidates.

It's not clear if the administration's tax cuts accounted for the enthusiasm of the well-off. President George W. Bush's 2001 round of tax reductions and rebates proved broadly popular with voters of all income levels, including the poor, but the affluent who approved of the administration's tax cut were most likely to vote Republican. Eighty-one percent of those who backed the tax cuts and who make more than $100,000 annually voted for the GOP.

The GOP continued to rise in popularity in the South. But, it was also up in the East and Midwest, dropping only in the West, where support for the Iraq war was sparser.

Despite the Southern trend, the GOP's appeal was notably less populist last year than in 2000. Then, the economy was booming, which allowed cultural issues of importance to rural voters such as gun control to play a large role.

Republicans won for the first time in decades among those claiming to have post-graduate degrees. They even captured a majority of women with college or post-graduate degrees.

Teixeira said, "It's evident in the county-level data, as well: the GOP did better in 2002 than in 2000 in areas where people are more cosmopolitan, in more socially liberal places that had been trending Democratic in recent elections."

One area where the GOP did succeed in broadening its tent was in drawing more women. Ironically, now that political attention has shifted to "NASCAR dads," it turns out that the Republican victory in the House was fueled in good measure by a trend to the right among those once-trendy swing voters of the 1990s: "soccer moms." The GOP garnered an impressive 61 percent of the ballots of married suburban women with children.

Overall, the GOP narrowed the famous "gender gap" from 9 points to 5 percent. While, the party's share of the male vote went up from 54 percent to 55 percent, its percentage of the female electorate increased from 45 percent to 50 percent.

Female voters were more worried than males about the threats that emerged between 2000 and 2002: terrorism and recession. Frightening times may have encouraged conservatism among women.

Although the White House's campaign guru Karl Rove had been talking up the GOP's outreach efforts to minorities, his party's share of the non-white vote dropped from 25 percent in 2000 to 23 percent. That mattered little, however, because its share of the white-vote segment grew from 55 percent to 59 percent. Further benefiting the Republicans, the white portion of the electorate increased from 81 percent to 82 percent, even though the total population is becoming less white each year.

The result was that the GOP became more dependent upon white voters, with whites casting 92 percent of all votes for Republicans, up from 90 percent in 2000. That may prove troublesome for the GOP in the long run, but it didn't hurt much in 2002.

Second: GOP's Protestant appeal

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- Newly available exit poll data show that the Republican Party's improved performance in the 2002 elections for the House of Representatives was closely tied to a surge in the GOP's popularity among white Protestants.

Among whites who told pollsters they were Protestants or non-Catholic Christians, 69 percent voted for Republican candidates for the House, up from 63 percent in the deadlocked 2000 election. In contrast, the second-largest religious bloc, white Roman Catholics, soured slightly on Republicans, with their GOP fraction going from 52 percent to 50 percent. Democrats won easily among the "Jewish," "all other" and "no religion" categories.

When the Voter News Service computer system for tabulating the lone national exit poll malfunctioned on Election Day 2002, crucial data for understanding that historic event disappeared. However, a great majority of the surveys were collected and turned over to the Roper Center for Opinion Research for evaluation. Roper recently determined the 17,872 interviews (with 8,350 of them asking about religious affiliation) were as trustworthy as previous VNS exit polls. An exclusive United Press International study of the raw data has been reviewing some of the new insights available.

Although race remains the most powerful influence on voting -- black Protestants, for example, cast 12 percent of their vote for the Republicans, less than one-fifth the white Protestant Republican vote percentage -- within each racial group, religion correlates strongly with partisanship.

Among Hispanics, for example, one-third of polled Catholics voted Republican. Among the one out of four Hispanic voters who were Protestant, however, the GOP won a small majority.

From a denominational perspective, the biggest single prize in the 2002 election was the white Protestant bloc, which accounted for 44 percent of all voters.

Although the GOP did best among Southern white Protestants, winning 75 percent of their vote, the Republicans also earned at least 63 percent of white Protestant ballots in the East, Midwest and West.

Among white Protestants, 35 percent said they belonged to the "religious right," but so did one-third of non-white voters, one-eighth of white Catholics and one-tenth of whites who described their religion as "other." So it remains unclear whether the pollsters and the public were fully on the same wavelength over what exactly is the "religious right."

In any case, white Protestants who specifically said they didn't belong to the religious right still cast 62 percent of their votes for GOP office seekers.

No "gender gap" existed among white Protestants, but white Catholic women voted 46 percent Republican compared to 55 percent among white Catholic men.

Income had a larger influence on white Catholics than white Protestants or Jews, with Republican voting rising sharply with Catholics' income. Among those white Catholics making more than $100,000 a year, 71 percent voted GOP.

The GOP's share of Jewish ballots was up from 22 percent in 2000 to 29 percent in 2002. This rise brought Republican candidates to the level of popularity they enjoyed among Jews in 1984 through 1988. Still, since Jews made up 3.3 percent of all voters in 2002, this 7-point gain was barely noticeable in the overall totals.

The future may look a little brighter for the GOP among Jews, since they won 36 percent of Jews under age 45.

Among both white Protestants and Jews, those who frequently attend religious services voted more Republican than those who seldom worship, but no such pattern was apparent among white Catholics, blacks or Hispanics.

There's been interest in the growing importance of the Muslim vote. For example, GOP insider Grover Norquist began working in 1997 with President Bush's adviser Karl Rove to attract Muslims to the Republican Party. However, the VNS poll found virtually no voters willing to identify themselves as Muslims. They totaled 0.2 percent of all respondents.

This tiny number may have been a fluke due to inadequate sample size, although the VNS exit poll dwarfed most telephone opinion polls. Or, some Muslims voters might have covered up their religion for fear of harassment. It's also possible that there aren't yet as many Muslim voters as has been widely assumed.

In 2002, 8 percent of voters said they had no religion, down from 9 percent in 2000. Sharp gender gaps were seen among the nonreligious, with men outnumbering women about 5 to 3. Women with no religion were particularly liberal, casting only 18 percent of their votes for the GOP, but the men were more centrist, with 44 percent voting Republican.

Third: The voting gender gap narrows

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- Data extricated from the collapse of the lone national exit poll in the 2002 congressional elections show that the gap between how men and women vote declined to the narrowest difference since before the 1994 House elections.

A United Press International analysis of the results of election night surveys of 17,872 voters shows that much of the GOP's 5-percentage-point improvement in the House voting last year came from its increased appeal to women.

Republican candidates' share of the male vote grew from 54 percent in 2000 to 55 percent last November. Their fraction of the female vote, however, rose from 45 percent to 50 percent. This was the first time in several decades that at least half of women's votes went to GOP House candidates.

While women were somewhat less hawkish on Iraq and less libertarian about the role of the government at home, the most striking attitude difference was feminine foreboding. Women expressed more worry than men did to Voter News Service pollsters about terrorism, the economy and the stock market.

Gender gaps have tended to be smaller in elections during recessions, such as 1982, 1990 and 1992, and then widen when the economy is strong and worries are fewer.

It's not clear if the gender gap will remain as small as the 5-point margin in 2002. In the California recall, action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, ran 8 percentage points better among men, and in last week's Mississippi gubernatorial election, the gap was 11 points.

Voting analyst Ruy Teixeira, co-author of "The Emerging Democratic Majority," pointed out to UPI that in midterm elections, the gender gap tends to be smaller than in presidential election years (other than in the 1994 election), when more unmarried women come to the polls.

Up through the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election, women generally voted more heavily Republican than men did. This tendency began to reverse after more women entered the workplace. Eleanor Smeal of the National Organization for Women invented the term "gender gap" after the 1980 election.

During the ho-hum House elections from 1980 to 1992 when the Democratic dominance seemed preordained, the gender gap in voting for the House was only moderate in size, ranging from 3 percentage points to 6 percentage points, according to a New York Times exit poll.

Republican Newt Gingrich's successful 1994 "Contract With America" campaign excited men far more than women, raising the gender gap to 11 points. In 2000, it was 9 points.

The media has tended to view the GOP's difficulties attracting women's votes as a larger problem than the Democrats' equivalent struggles winning men's votes, although under the Constitution, both sexes' ballots are counted equally.

The enormous amount of publicity the gender gap has received is probably due in part to it being widest among the well-educated -- the people most likely to write and read articles about politics.

In reality, though, the celebrated gender gap is dwarfed by the seldom-mentioned disparity within each sex between the married and the unmarried. In 2002, 56 percent of married women voted for the GOP (similar to their husbands' 58 percent) compared to 39 percent of unmarried women (and 44 percent of unmarried men). There's an exceptionally large partisan difference between married women with children (58 percent Republican) and unmarried women with children (32 percent).

In last year's book "The Emerging Democratic Majority," John B. Judis and Teixeira argued that Democrats should benefit from long-term demographic trends because the numbers of well-educated women, single women, unmarried mothers, and working women have all been growing. These groups tend to be more liberal than other types of women, such as housewives.

Of course, the long run they envisioned didn't arrive in the short run of the 2002 election. One surprising reason was the proportion of women voters who work full time dropped sharply from 2000 to 2002. Whether that was a one-time aberration or the beginning of a trend won't be clear until the 2004 elections.

Among blacks, Republicans have traditionally done relatively better among men (11 percent voted Republican in 2002) than among women (8 percent), but a lot more black women than black men vote: 27 percent more last year. Civil rights activists have complained about the sizable number of black men who have lost the right to vote due to criminal convictions or imprisonment.

Among Hispanics, the gender gap has never really existed. The sexes vote alike.

Among the fairly small number of Asians in the 2002 exit poll, a reverse gender gap appeared with only 25 percent of Asian men voting Republican vs. 43 percent of Asian women. If this is not a one-year fluke, it may stem in part from the sizable number of Asian women who are married to white men.

Fourth: Young voters less conservative

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Exit poll data from the 2002 congressional election indicate that Republicans candidates for the House of Representatives did best among voters aged 30-59, and less impressively among younger and older votes.

The data was not made available at the time of the election because of computer problems, but an analysis by United Press International of the recently released information has disproved some conventional wisdom about voting patterns.

It was thought that younger voters had been turning to the Republicans. However, GOP candidates won 55 percent of the vote of 30- to 44-year-olds and 54 percent of 45- to 59-year-olds. Republicans did less impressively among voters over 60 (50 percent).

Democrats, who lost 51 percent to 46 percent overall, can take some hope for the future from eking out a tie (48 percent vs. 48 percent) among those under 30. Yet, the young (18- to 29-year-olds) accounted for only 11 percent of the vote, down from 16 percent in 2000.

The fairly sizable partisan gap between the young (18-29) and those in the 30- to 44-year-old range is often attributed by commentators to the former coming of age during the Clinton years while their older siblings started voting during the Reagan years. This model can't account for the current Republican leanings of 45- to 59-year-olds, the famous first wave of the baby boom and the group from the famously liberal '60s.

In the last several elections, one of the most important predictive demographic factors, far more important than age or gender, has been marriage. In 2002, the unmarried voted 16 percentage points less Republican than the married (41 percent vs. 57 percent). Among the 30- to 44-year-old contingent, 76 percent are married, compared to 32 percent of the young.

Those who are both married and have children under 18, according to the data, tend to be especially conservative. Among 30- to 44-year-olds, 63 percent of those married with children voted Republican compared to 43 percent who were not. The marriage gap isn't as large among the younger cohort (10 points), because people who marry and have children young tend to be less Republican, then those who start families a little later.

Another reason for the more Democratic tendency of the under-30 crowd is that young men don't vote as much as young women, and women -- especially single women -- are more liberal.

Finally, the youngest cohort is the most heavily minority. It's 27 percent non-white, compared to 18 percent overall. Minorities gave 23 percent of their votes to the GOP.

The over-60 voters were most likely to oppose the White House's planned Iraq attack, perhaps because they better remember bitterly fought wars such as Vietnam and Korea, while younger generations were most familiar with easy victories like Desert Storm and Kosovo.

It's easy to see from the exit poll data why Social Security is called the "third rail of American politics." While many young people believe that they'll never collect a pension from the payroll taxes they are paying now, 4 percent of the under-30 voters ranked Social Security as the most important issue determining their vote, vs. 27 percent of those over 60.

While 56 percent those overall with college degrees voted for the Republicans, among college graduates under 30, 44 percent gave their ballots to the GOP.

Among the young, 26 percent labeled themselves "liberal" vs. no more than 17 percent of any other cohort. The young were much more liberal on the fundamental domestic policy question of whether the government should do more or less: 65 percent vs. around 45 percent for the other three age cohorts. Yet, the young also were the most enthusiastic supporters of Bush's first round of tax cuts.

Fifth: GOP Wins via White Vote

In Louisiana's gubernatorial election last Saturday, Republican candidate Bobby Jindal's daring strategy of enthusiastically pursing black voters paid off to the extent that he almost doubled the typical Republican candidate's share of the African-American vote, according to a precinct-level analysis by GCR & Associates of New Orleans.

Unfortunately for Jindal, an immigrant from India, raising his share of the black minority's vote from the five percent traditionally won by Louisiana Republicans to his nine percent didn't make up for his roughly equally large drop-off among the white majority. He lost to Democrat Kathleen Blanco.

In contrast, most Republicans make sure to "go hunting where the ducks are," as Barry Goldwater said when launching the GOP's "Southern Strategy."

Although Karl Rove, the chief national Republican political strategist, spent much time telling the press about the GOP's minority outreach efforts, when the crunch came just before last year's Congressional election, he rolled out his "72 Hour Plan," a massive get-out-the-vote drive aimed at Republican rural and suburban neighborhoods in 31 states.

Last minute turnout efforts like Rove's can't afford to try to broaden the party's tent by converting members of traditionally hostile groups. They don't want to remind citizens likely to vote for the opposition that Election Day is at hand. Instead, they focus on exciting those already inclined toward the party.

The result, according to United Press International's analysis of raw data only recently released from last year's national Voter News Service exit poll, was a sizable boost in the share of the white vote captured by Republican candidates for the House of Representatives from 55 percent in 2000 to 59 percent in 2002. Because the white segment is the 800 pound gorilla of ethnic voting blocs, casting a 82 percent of all ballots (up from 81 percent in 2000), the GOP enjoyed broad successes last Election Day after the near-deadlock of 2000.

Despite Rove's talk of appealing to nonwhites, the GOP's popularity among minority voters edged downward from 25 percent to 23 percent.

In 2002, whites made up 92 percent of all voters for Republican House candidates, up from 90 percent in the previous election.

The GOP won only nine percent of African-American votes, down from 11 percent in 2000. The Democrats didn't benefit from this, however, because the black share of the total vote declined from 10 to 9 percent.

The black vote often runs counter to the white vote, with African-Americans voting particularly Democratic in years when whites are voting more Republican, such as 1984, 1994, and 2002.

In contrast, the GOP's popularity among Hispanics generally rises and falls in the same cycles found among whites. For example, the GOP's best election among Latinos, according to the now discontinued New York Times exit poll was Newt Gingrich's big year of 1994, when Republican House candidates picked up 39 percent of the Hispanic vote.

Although Latinos are often described as "swing voters," their actual performance has been quite stable relative to the white vote. Since 1980, the GOP has always performed between 19 and 28 percentage points worse among Hispanics than among whites.

In 2002, the GOP won 38 percent of the Latino vote, up from 35 percent. Yet, because the GOP's white fraction rose by four points, the gap between whites and Hispanics grew from to 20 to 21 points (59-38 last year compared to 55-35 in 2000).

Hispanics accounted for 7 percent of the vote in 2002, up a fraction of a point from 2000.

Asians only made up one percent of the VNS sample of 17,872 of interviewees. They gave 34 percent of their votes to Republicans, compared to 40 percent in the last election. (The small sample size makes the margin of error for their partisan results less reliable than for the larger groups). Although more prosperous than blacks and Hispanics, Asians have been trending toward the Democrats since the mid-1990s.

The "Other" category comprised two percent of voters, and gave just 27 percent to the GOP.

Whites were more interested in foreign-affairs issues than blacks or Hispanics. One out of five whites said the issued that mattered most in determining their votes was either terrorism or Iraq, compared to one out of ten Hispanics, and one out of 25 blacks. Strikingly, only three black voters out of the 1,459 surveyed on Election Day ranked Iraq as their crucial issue.

The long-term future looks better for the Democrats because the youngest voters are more nonwhite (27 percent of under-30 voters vs. only 13 percent of over-60 voters). The young voted almost exactly the same on average as the rest of their respective races, but the racial balance within the country is slowly shifting in favor of pro-Democratic non-whites.

Still, elections are determined not by the potential strength of blocs, but by who actually shows up and votes. In 2002, white Republicans turned out and that made the difference.


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