I've been looking at CNN's exit polls for Rhode Island in an attempt to figure out why Rhode Island so heavily favored John Kerry. Yes, I know all of the regular reasons usually given, born a Democrat, always a Democrat and all that, but I wanted to see what the numbers said. Now, before I started, I realized that on some level it would be hard to trust the same exit polling data that so often called states wrong for Kerry, but in the case of the Ocean State, I would bet that they are pretty much spot on.
So, what did the exit polls tell me? Not much I couldn't have guessed. Kerry beat Bush in nearly any demographic imaginable. The President came closest to Kerry by garnering 47% of the vote of those who make between $100,000 and $150,000 (surprised?). Generally, speaking, most Rhode Islanders simply viewed this election as a referendum on the President and by a 57% - 42% margin disapproved of the way he was doing his job. I'm sure the fact that Kerry, a fellow New Englander, was on the ticket also contributed to the landslide. Yet, as Bill Reynolds said in today's ProJo, one get's the sense that Attila the Hun could run as a Democrat against Jesus as a Republican and the Hun would win.
The fundamental problem for conservatives in this state is simple: there just aren't enough who describe themselves as such. According to the exit polls, the Rhode Island electorate is comprised of:
My guess is that many of the moderates would otherwise be classified as liberal by most outside of the Northeast. What is interesting is to compare the above numbers with:
VOTE BY RELIGION (BUSH/KERRY )
Protestant (26%) [52% /47%]
Catholic (57%) [40%/ 59%]
None (12%) [22%/ 76%]
Jewish (2%) n/a
Other (3%) n/a
The obvious anomaly seems to be the numbers of Catholics who voted for Kerry, despite his self-avowed reluctance to apply his own morality to his politics. Namely, his support for all abortion, including partial-birth, as well as his somewhat squishy stance on gay marriage. Again, this is not really that surprising. I've had the sense that Rhode Island Catholics are Catholic more out of habit than out of any deep sense of belief or desire to adhere to church teachings and doctrine. The question is, is there a way to turn Rhode Island's Catholic population around? Is it even possible to convince them to vote in a manner consistent with their own morality, if not exactly in line with church teachings?
I'm not sure, but what does need to be done is a greater emphasis on the priorities that Catholics should hold in all of the big questions. I believe many Catholics are both anti-abortion and anti-war and have trouble reconciling these often politically dichotomous beliefs. This year, the Catholic Church did attempt to explain the prioritization, as did a Catholic writer or two, but it seems as if most Rhode Islanders failed to notice. Or perhaps, they simply don't care. In a state founded by those with strong principles of both freedom of worship and tolerance of others who worship differently, it may be simply a case in which these principles are simply held more dear than any teachings by religious leaders. In the end, perhaps, it is just one more area in which Rhode Islanders enjoy being "independent," despite the long term consequences.