A lthough the final results, as in the 2000 election, will be delayed, U.S. President George W. Bush has won a second term in office. Democratic Sen. John Kerry could have dragged out the fight with legal challenges and demands for a recount, but he decided that the president’s lead margin was too large to put the United States through such a trauma again. Now, Mr. Bush must — as he pledged in 2000 — find the common ground that will unite a divided country as it tackles important challenges in the next four years.
Unlike in 2000, Mr. Bush has claimed a majority of the popular vote. He won more than 58 million votes, about 3 million more than Mr. Kerry, and almost 8 million more than candidate Bush received four years ago.
The scale of Mr. Bush’s win reflects both strategy and the sheer number of voters that turned out. Some 60 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, the highest turnout in 36 years; 120 million voters went to the polls, 15 million more than in 2000. While there has been much talk of the youth vote, the truth is that both parties were energetic in mobilizing new voters.
The main factors in this election were fear, faith and anger. Voters who said the war on terror was their top concern backed the president. Of the quarter section of voters who said moral values were the most important issue, nearly 80 percent voted for Mr. Bush. Ballot initiatives to outlaw gay marriage galvanized the faithful, and aided the president. Eleven states had such a measure on the ballot; it passed in each.
Finally, there was the smoldering resentment from the last election. Many Democrats believe that the 2000 vote was stolen from them, and they were determined to make sure that history did not repeat itself. Nearly a quarter of voters described themselves as being angry with the Bush administration. Anger galvanized the candidacy of Mr. Howard Dean — and scared many mainstream Democrats who feared it would alienate the undecided voters they needed to defeat Mr. Bush. It is unclear where those emotions will go now.
As in 2000, the results show a nation deeply divided. White voters favored the president by a double-digit margin; Hispanics supported Mr. Kerry by a similar margin; while blacks voted for Mr. Kerry 10 to 1. The religious faithful — “the base” — voted overwhelmingly for the president, as did gun owners and married parents with children. Non-churchgoers, single voters, gays and union members backed Mr. Kerry.
The question is how Mr. Bush will now govern. As in his first term, his party controls the White House and the Congress. Republicans increased their majority in both the House and the Senate, yet their Senate majority is not big enough to enable the president to forgo bargaining on controversial bills.
In his victory speech shortly after Mr. Kerry conceded, Mr. Bush said he would reach out to Democrats and be a president for all Americans. That is the language he used in 2000, but his record is not reassuring. Mr. Bush governed his first term as if he had a mandate — despite losing the popular vote — and his 2004 campaign rested on a single pillar: Voters may not agree with his position on issues, but they know where he stands. That is not a position that conveys a sense of a willingness to compromise.
The rest of the world is as uneasy as the Democrats about Mr. Bush’s intentions. His policies have not isolated the U.S., but they have alienated many governments and many publics. Just as the president must reach out to Democrats at home, he must reach out to partners and allies abroad to find common interests that allow them to work together. The moral certainty that won him a second term in the White House must be tempered by diplomacy, especially in light of the deteriorating fiscal position of the U.S. government. The U.S. economy is slipping, and efforts to stabilize Iraq will continue to be a huge drain on American resources.
Help is essential, yet finding partners will require compromises. Much will depend on the personalities of Mr. Bush’s foreign policy team. They must inspire trust and confidence. Much of the world is waiting to see whether Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves, as anticipated. His replacement — and those of other key officials expected to depart — will be crucial to the future direction of U.S. foreign policy.
Japan is fortunate. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has forged an excellent relationship with Mr. Bush. The two men trust and understand each other. That will be advantageous as a second Bush team deals with issues of vital national importance to Japan, such as a nuclear North Korea, tensions in the Taiwan Strait and the redeployment of U.S. forces. Unity of purpose in the U.S., and between the U.S. and its allies, is more important than ever if these issues are to be resolved.
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