At the time of the 2004 election, only 44% of voters (according to CNN Exit Polls) thought the war in Iraq was going well. But while a minority of Americans thought the Iraq War was going well a majority of Americans still approved of Bush’s decision to go to war. When asked in exit polls if they “Approved or Disaproved with the Decision to Go To War in Iraq” 52% of Americans approved, only 46% disapproved.
I’ve written before about how in nearly every state Bush’s job approval rating often lined up with the percent of the vote Bush recieved in any that state (and how Kerry managed to in some instances bring Bush’s % vote total below his approval rating). Now it’s clear that Bush’s job approval rating lined up pretty solidly with the approval of war numbers. In all but one state, Bush’ job approval rating was the within 3% of the percent who approved of the decision for war in Iraq. For example, 53% of Ohioans approved of Bush’s job in office, while 56% of Ohioans approved of the decision to go to war in Iraq. In many states the two numbers were not only close to each other, they were equal. In Colorado 54% of Coloradans approved of Bush’s job and 54% approved of the decision for war. Only in Montana did the two numbers vary by more than 3% (Bush approval there was 59%, decision for war was approved by 54% (44% disapproved of war in Montana).
Further broken down by state is how Kerry did in states where less than 50% approved of the decision for war in Iraq versus how Kerry did in states where 50% or more approved of the decision to go to war in Iraq. In 16 states (15 states plus Washington DC) less than 50% of Americans approved of the war in Iraq- Kerry won all of these states.
In 34 states a maj0rity of voters approved of the decision to go to war in Iraq. Kerry only managed to win 4 of these states- Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire. In Minnesota, the one state where a plurality-but not a majority-approved of the decision for war, Kerry won the state.
Interestingly, the sixteen states where a majority disapproved of the decision for war were the exact same 16 states where Bush’s approval rating was below 50%.
Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New Hampshire. These five states was where a majority (or plurality) approved of the decision for war but still voted for Kerry. They are also the exact same 5 states where Kerry won despite the fact that a majority of each of those states’ voters approved of the job Bush was doing as president.
Finally, in the 31 other states where a majority of Americans approved of Bush’s job performance while also a majority approved of the decision to go to war in Iraq, Bush carried them. In no state did a majority approve of Bush’s job but not the decision for war. In no state did a majority approve of the decision for war but not Bush’s job.
The numbers seem clear to me: Whether or not a person voted for Bush depedended on their assessment of the job Buish was doing, and usually the job approval assessment was pretty closely connected with whether or not that person approved of the decision for war in Iraq. At the same time, in at least 4 and probably 5 pro-war states a majority approved of Bush’s job and the decision for war in Iraq but a majority voted for Kerry anyway. Pro-war voters voting for Kerry over the incumbent president in a time of war! Whoda thunk it?
To win, all Bush had to do was win in the 36 states where a majority approved of the most important decision of his first term. He was just barely able to do that, winning 31 of those 36 states. On the other hand, had Bush won just 29 of the 36 pro-war states (or in the case of Ohio or Florida-30 of the 36 pro-war states) we would today be discussing how President Kerry was handling the war in Iraq.
Next: The Myth of the Red-state Blue-state Map and the Truth About Elitist Pundits.