How Sex Rocks the Vote

For 70 years, divisions in American politics broke along
economic lines. Generally speaking, blue-collar workers voted
Democrat; white-collar workers voted Republican. But today there is
a more reliable predictor of people’s political allegiances than
their pocketbooks: where they stand on sexual issues.

Dick Morris and Mark Penn, advisers to Bill Clinton during the
1996 election campaign, came up with a polling technique that
produced consistent results: The more liberal a person was on
sexual attitudes, the more likely the person was to vote Democrat.
Conversely, the likelihood a person would vote Republican rose in
direct proportion to how conservative his or her attitudes were
toward sex.

A map showing percentages of adult movies in the home-video
market by state ‘bore an eerie resemblance’ to the 2000 election
results, remarked former Delaware governor Pete du Pont in a recent
Wall Street Journal Web site column. A survey conducted by
the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United
States ( also
found that the vast majority of states that voted for George W.
Bush are states that are less responsive to issues of sexual rights
and sexual health. Criteria used in this survey included the right
to engage in sexual behavior in private, the right to express one’s
sexual orientation, and the right to sexual information and health

‘Whereas elections once pitted the party of the working class
against the party of Wall Street,’ writes Thomas Byrne Edsall in
The Atlantic Monthly (Jan./Feb. 2003), ‘they now pit
voters who believe in a fixed and universal morality against those
who see moral issues, especially sexual ones, as elastic and
subject to personal choice.’ Edsall goes on to state that there is
only ‘one thing that trumps sex: war. As long as a terrorist attack
is a serious threat, war talk will dominate elections. But sex,
unlike war, does not go away; its return to political center stage
is inevitable. And that is decidedly to the Democrats’

This means, alarmingly, that continued war and the threat (or
perceived threat) of terrorism could be George W. Bush’s best hope
for winning another term. Now that the Republicans control both the
Senate and the House, they are aggressively pushing a sexually
conservative agenda. But as Edsall projects, ‘positioning the
Republican Party as the party of sexual repression would be
devastating to its electoral prospects.’ So it will be a fine line
for the Bush administration to tread: working furiously at passing
legislation to fulfill its promises to the conservative right while
downplaying its agenda in the media to keep swing voters in hand
for 2004.

Anne Geske is an Utne intern.

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