Gadflyer quotes a study wherein several thousand Americans, given an exercise about allocating money, allocate it to deficit reduction, job creation, education, and the environment; they take it away from defense and Iraq. So broadly speaking, red and blue Americans agree on a number of budget priorities which the Bush administration does not. So why did he win?
Michael Tomasky hits a nail squarely, here, I think:
So a Democratic presidential candidate's pollster goes out into the field and comes back with data proving that 54 of percent of the people are with us on this issue, and 61 percent of them are with us on that one, and so on. And so the pollster tells the candidate, "Just talk about the issues, and everything will be ducky."
Republican pollsters, meanwhile, conduct the same polls, and they study the same data. They tell their candidates, “Actually, boss, we can’t really win on the issues, so we’d better come up with something else.” Well, after the past six weeks, we all know what that something else is. It’s character. That is, make the election about the other guy’s character…In a rational world (speaking of things liberals want to believe in!), they would win campaigns on the issues. And in fact they did win two, but that was only when they had an unusually articulate and charismatic candidate named Clinton (and when it was possible to win with 43 percent of the vote, as Clinton did in 1992, or when the Hobbesians nominate a septuagenarian hatchet man, as they did in 1996).
But the world is the world. Republicans understand the world, and Democrats do not. Republicans know that voters will respond emotionally to character questions, and they know that the media will lap them up like a thirsty dog. Democrats keep thinking that voters will do something as improbably nutritional as study a health care plan (as, surely, a scattered few do), and that the media will show themselves eager to write articles and broadcast discussion segments about health care plans. Both assumptions are folly.