Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Liberal Agenda Now on Life Support

Opinion Journal has been following the Schiavo case from a political perspective. Very interesting.

Who'll Remember Terri Schiavo?--II

Yesterday we speculated that the Terri Schiavo case may help Republicans and hurt Democrats among voters who suffer from disabilities, who have obvious reasons to look skeptically at claims that a low "quality of life" makes life not worth living. We actually visited this issue last year: In September, we noted that President Bush was doing surprisingly well in a Harris Interactive poll of disabled Americans. He led John Kerry 48% to 46%. A similar poll a month earlier had given Kerry a 50% to 40% lead.

Our thought then was that disabled voters were put off by Kerry's clumsy exploitation of the wheelchair-bound Max Cleland, but blogger Ed Jordan offered a better theory, which we noted the following week: that the swing was owing to the Florida Supreme Court's striking down a law designed to save Mrs. Schiavo's life. As Jordan wrote, "there is good reason to believe they are sensitive to the fact that liberals like Senator Kerry want to give them the right to die, while conservatives like President Bush want to give them the right to live."

More reason comes in a Nov. 9 press release from the National Organization on Disability:

In a dramatic shift in support toward a Republican presidential candidate, a clear majority of voters with disabilities chose George W. Bush over Sen. John Kerry in last week's national election. According to a survey conducted by telephone between October 29 and November 1, 2004 by Harris Interactive, likely voters with disabilities preferred President George W. Bush over Senator John Kerry by 52.5 percent to 46 percent. . . .

In past presidential elections, people with disabilities have consistently supported Democrats over Republicans by solid majorities. According to Harris Interactive, in 2000, Vice President Al Gore was preferred 56 to 38 percent by likely voters over then-Governor George W. Bush. Bill Clinton carried the disability vote 69 percent to 23 percent over Senator Dole in 1996, and 52 percent to 29 percent over President H.W. Bush in 1992.

NOD's president, quoted in the release, ignores the Schiavo issue and tries to explain the shift in terms of the same issues that affect all voters: terrorism, greater GOP turnout, high turnout among the elderly, who have a disproportionate rate of disability.

This seems unpersuasive. Overall, voters swung from a 0.5% Democratic plurality in 2000 to a 2.5% Republican one in 2004, a shift of three percentage points. The disabled, according to the NOD poll, went from an 18% Democratic plurality to a 6.5% Republican one--a shift of 24.5 points, and of 16.5 points after the Florida Supreme Court acted to bring about Terri Schiavo's death.

To be sure, there is a good deal of imprecision in these polls. They have a small sample size (253 disabled likely voters in the last pre-election survey), and the definition of "disability" leaves considerable room for interpretation. But the shift is so striking, it's hard to discount--and hard to explain except as a response to issues of particular concern to voters with disabilities.

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