The United States presidential election in 2004 was held between two presidential candidates John Kerry and George Walker Bush. George Bush gain both popular and electoral vote, though Bush's popular vote had a slim margin compared to that Kerry's. The election was also different from the election of 2000 in which George Bush became the president of the United States with gaining the vote of electoral collage but failed in gaining the popular vote. So what had happened to public opinion that made them to vote for Bush, the same candidate who had failed to gain the popular vote in previous presidential election? Had Bush proved to be a better President during his first term of presidency? Or was it due to his 2003 invasion of Iraq and the importance of foreign policy that led to his victory? Or by comparing the slim difference between the popular votes of the two candidates can we say that the war on terrorism was not that much important or influential in Bush's election?
Before answering to these questions we should know why do people vote they way they do? Some believe that people vote based on party affiliation e.g. they vote to democrats or republicans because they feel a psychological attachment toward one of these parties. Others believe that party affiliation model is out of fashion in recent years and Americans are becoming more sophisticated. By the emergence of new issues, new generation of Americans decide about their future president based on the important issues of the time. Statistics shows that in 1992 presidential election only about 29 per cent of the voters strongly identified with Republicans or Democrats, which is rather a significant decrease compared to 1960s. So, most voters in recent years are said to be independent.
This paper will focus on issue voting theory: that people decide about their future president based on the important issues of the time, though the writer admits issue theory, while being important is not completely responsible in election of a president.
American public usually prefer to focus on domestic issues rather than foreign policy. But in 2004 presidential election foreign policy was the dominant theme in presidential campaigns. The reason for that was U.S. invasion on Iraq which had started in 2003 and had changed Bush to a wartime president; but there were still some controversies around the issue: Bush, the republican candidate and the president of war focused his campaign on national security and presented him as a decisive leader for war against terrorism while Kerry the democrat candidate believed in "stronger at home, respected in world" policy which suggested more attention to domestic affairs. Another important factor was that the election was held only one year after the invasion on Iraq and considering the swift victory of American military forces and relatively few causalities of American troops, Bush had gained more approval rating (which did not last long with failure in finding weapons of mass destruction which was the logic for the war, and long occupation of Iraq which led to mass protests in future years). Bush's approval rate in the month of May rode at 66% to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll. Another interesting point is that when American troops are sent out for a war, the commander-in- chief gains more approval and fame inside the country; though this trend is not long lasting and by the time people are becoming aware of heavy casualties or are becoming dissatisfied due to tax increase, the protests are going to start; this was the case in Vietnam War and the war in Iraq. But with respect to the 2004 presidential election, as it was mentioned Americans were still in high sprit with their apparent victory in Iraq and Bush was gaining more fame and popularity for his heroic actions. So, perhaps it can be said that Americans were looking for a president who would continue these heroic actions and glorious victories for a while.
But it is oversimplification to say that the only reason for George Bush's victory in presidential election of 2004 was his foreign policy attitudes. This becomes more problematic when popular votes of the two candidates are compared: Bush gained 62,040,610 popular vote and his rival Kerry gained 59,028,111. As it is clear the difference between the two candidates is not that much significant and so other factors should be taken in to consideration for a more comprehensive conclusion.
Controversies in American Politics & society. Mckey, Houghton&Wroe. Blackwell, 2002.