US and Australian election results: the cultural revolution challenged

US and Australian election results: the cultural revolution challenged

Michael Gilchrist

The recent US Presidential Election and Australian Federal Election have seen swings against the libertarian agenda of the late 1960s cultural revolution. Issues considered long settled have been challenged with remarkable assertiveness in the periods before and after these elections.

Significant sections of the US and Australian electorates identified family and moral values as key electoral issues. In Australia, this was underlined prior to the election with the passing of Federal Government legislation defending the institution of marriage.

The Catholic and Anglican Archbishops of Sydney and Melbourne entered the debate over funding of religious schools, high- lighting their important role in preserving a Christian culture in society.

The situation in the US has been more polarised, due in part to the size and strength of the evangelical Protestant population. Likewise, a higher proportion of the 60 million strong US Catholic population (about 25 per cent) attends weekly Mass than is the case in Australia with its 15 per cent average.

Recent statistics have shown that a majority of regular church-attenders in the US vote Republican, whereas those of no religion or who attend irregularly lean towards the more morally permissive Democrats.

In Australia, the Liberal-National Party Coalition is generally seen as more committed to traditional family and moral values, while the Labor Party, once the bastion of the working classes, is now dominated by its libertarian wing. The contrast is even greater in the US, between the more pro-life Republicans and pro-abortion Democrats.

That this was a key factor in the defeat of Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was recognised by sections of the Democrats following the election. Democrats For Life of America on 5 November urged their party to moderate its pro-abortion stance arguing that the election results showed it to be out of touch with the electorate. Democrats for Life pointed to a CBS News poll, which indicated that Democrat representatives were twice as likely as Democrat voters to support abortion in all cases.

Interestingly, West Virginia elected a pro-life Democrat as Governor despite the fact that President George W. Bush easily carried the state.

Exit polls asked voters to nominate their biggest issue, and 22 per cent said moral values. This was the highest single score for any issue, including Iraq, terrorism and the economy. Four out of five of those who nominated moral values said they voted for George W. Bush.

Additional evidence of a major groundswell against the libertarian agenda came with the results of 11 state referenda conducted at the same time as the Presidential Election on 2 November. In all eleven states, large majorities supported amendments upholding the traditional definition of marriage, even in states with Democrat majorities.

With voting in the US not compulsory as in Australia, Evangelicals and born again Christians (25 per cent of the electorate) were urged to cast their votes in support of the marriage amendment. Significantly, 77 per cent of self-described born again Christians voted for Bush.

The Catholic Church also had some impact, particularly via regular Mass attenders in dioceses where bishops have been outspokenly critical of pro-abortion Catholic politicians - overwhelmingly Democrats, and especially John Kerry.

On the eve of the election, Denver's Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote in his diocesan newspaper that Catholic politicians made "a deal with the devil" when they supported legalised abortion.

When John Kerry visited Steubenville, a Democrat stronghold (with six Democrats for every one Republican) in the state of Ohio that proved so pivotal to the election result, he was confronted by a 500 strong pro-life march led by Franciscan University students with signs saying, "You can't be Catholic and pro-abortion."

For much of 2004 a number of outspoken US bishops had been calling on pro-abortion Catholic politicians to refrain from receiving Holy Communion, with some of them directing their priests to refuse Communion to any politicians known for their public opposition to the Church's teachings on abortion and homosexuality.

John Kerry was frequently in the firing line with attention focused on the contradiction between his avowed Catholicism and consistent voting for pro-abortion measures in Congress and against pro-life measures, including a law against the barbaric "partial birth abortion".

Raw nerves

Such bad publicity no doubt influenced some swinging Catholic voters, contributing to the Bush victory. In fact 52 per cent of Catholics voted for Bush and 47 per cent for Kerry, reversing the 2000 position. Among Catholics attending weekly Mass, support for Bush was 56 per cent, even though Catholics have been traditionally Democrat voters.

In the US, with Republican control of both houses of Congress, there was the possibility of a more pro-life Supreme Court and even the eventual overturning of the 1973 Roe v Wade decision legalising abortion, although that seemed unlikely in the short-term. But if any changes occur during the coming four years of the Bush Presidency, there could be repercussions in Australia.

Here, prominent politicians like Tony Abbott, Christopher Pyne and John Anderson, and Major-General Michael Jeffery, the Governor- General, attracted the ire of feminists and media pundits for suggesting there were "too many" abortions.

Even their mild suggestions seemed to touch raw nerves, with torch-bearers of the cultural revolution no doubt viewing these as the thin end of the wedge.

Interestingly, the huge success of Mel Gibson's counter-cultural movie The Passion of the Christ mirrored the renewed confidence among Christians so evident in the recent US and Australian elections.

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