February 04, 2004,
One notable thing about John Edwards's now-famous "Two Americas" speech is that it doesn't say anything not a word about terrorism. It doesn't mention Iraq, either. In fact, the only discussion of foreign affairs at all is Edwards's pledge to restore America's image in the world, which Edwards describes as "the image we used to have, America as the shining light on top of the hill, beacon of freedom, democracy, human rights."
There's a reason other than his lack of experience in the field that Edwards chooses not to emphasize the topic. A look at exit polls from the five states in which such polls were conducted on Tuesday suggests that few Democratic voters especially those who voted for Edwards care much about terrorism and national security.
Pollsters asked voters the following question: "Which ONE issue mattered most in deciding how you voted today?" Voters were given six choices: taxes, education, health care/Medicare, the war in Iraq, national security/terrorism, and the economy/jobs.
In four of the five states for which exit polls are available Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Carolina Democratic voters placed national security/terrorism at the bottom of the list. Only in tiny Delaware, on the east coast and not far from Ground Zero, did Democrats place more emphasis on the issue and even then, it was in next-to-last place.
Democrats in every state placed the economy/jobs issue in first place. In South Carolina, the state Edwards won with his "Two America" appeal, 47 percent of those polled said it was the most important issue. They chose health care/Medicare second, with 20 percent. The war in Iraq was third, with 10 percent, education with nine percent, and taxes with four percent. The issue of national security/terrorism was cited as most important by two percent of the voters.
The situation was roughly the same in veteran-heavy Oklahoma, which ended in a virtual tie between Edwards and retired Gen. Wesley Clark. Thirty-eight percent of Democrats named economy/jobs as the issue that mattered most in their voting decision. Nineteen percent chose health care/Medicare. Twelve percent said Iraq. Ten percent said education, seven percent said taxes, and six percent said national security/terrorism.
In Missouri and Arizona, both won by John Kerry, the order of issues was precisely the same. Four percent of Democrats in Missouri and five percent in Arizona said they were most concerned about national security/terrorism. Even in Delaware, just six percent said they were most concerned about the issue although that was more than the three percent who said taxes were most important.
Among those Democratic voters who did worry about national security and terrorism, John Kerry and Wesley Clark scored highest. In Arizona, Kerry outscored Clark on the issue, 33 percent to 29 percent (Edwards scored just five percent). In Delaware, Clark edged Kerry, 29 percent to 28 percent (Edwards scored seven percent). And in Oklahoma, Clark scored a whopping 38 percent, and it was Edwards who edged out Kerry for second place, 14 percent to 12 percent.
There were not enough voters who cared about national security and terrorism to measure among candidates in Missouri and South Carolina.
On the related issue of the war in Iraq, the number of Democratic voters who named it as their primary concern ranged from a low of ten percent, in South Carolina, to 20 percent, in Delaware. In Missouri and Oklahoma, 12 percent said they were most concerned about the war, while in Arizona the number was 19 percent.
Democrats who named Iraq as their top concern voted overwhelmingly for Kerry. He won the issue in every state except Oklahoma, where he was narrowly edged out by Clark. Edwards never placed first or second among voters most concerned about Iraq.
Finally, even though it was not their top concern, the Democrats who voted Tuesday were overwhelmingly opposed to the war. In Arizona, 72 percent of voters said they disapproved of the war, with 52 percent saying they strongly disapproved. In Delaware, 72 percent disapproved, with 48 percent strongly disapproving. In South Carolina, 71 percent disapproved of the war, with 48 percent strongly disapproving. In Missouri, 61 percent disapproved, with 37 percent strongly disapproving. And in Oklahoma, the least antiwar state for Democrats, 55 percent disapproved, with 33 percent strongly disapproving.