The 2004 Election

Whenever an incumbent president runs for reelection, the contest becomes in large part a referendum on the past performance of that president. This was very much the case in 2004. Central issues in the campaign involved the actions and performance of the administration of President George W. Bush. The Democratic candidate, Senator John Kerry, spent considerable time in his campaign criticizing the performance of President Bush. Not surprisingly, Bush vigorously defended his record and attacked Kerry for many of his criticisms. Because of the centrality of the first Bush administration in the campaign, a review of the important events and controversies that occurred during Bush's first four years in office is essential for understanding the 2004 presidential election.

The presidential nomination contests also influenced the fall general election. The Republican nomination was simple; Bush was nominated without opposition within his party. The Democratic nomination process involved more conflict, as several major candidates contended for the nomination.

By late March, it was clear that the presidential contest would be between Bush and Kerry. This gave the electorate a choice between two candidates who differed on many public policy issues. The candidates also differed in their personal characteristics. Of course, both of the candidates and parties had campaign strategies, through which they attempted to influence how the voters assessed and evaluated the candidates and issues.

The presidential campaign events and activities were the vehicles through which the candidates and parties attempted to implement their campaign strategies. The campaign can best be described through a chronological overview.

Unlike the 2000 presidential election, the 2004 contest ended with a clear and undisputed victory for Bush, as he won a majority of the popular vote as well as the electoral college vote. Still, it was a fairly narrow victory for Bush. He captured 51 percent of the popular vote, Kerry won 48 percent, and minor candidates took the remaining 1 percent. The electoral college split also was close, with 286 for Bush and 252 for Kerry.

The congressional elections also were a victory for Republicans, who added seats in the House and Senate, enhancing the slim majorities that they had in both houses prior to 2004.

Turnout in 2004 was significantly higher than it was in previous elections. About 60 percent of the eligible electorate voted 2004, compared to about 55 percent in 2000.

For more discussion of the 2004 election, consult the following sources of information:

James W. Ceaser and Andrew E. Busch, Red Over Blue: The 2004 Elections and American Politics (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2005).
Michael Nelson (ed.), The Elections of 2004 (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2005).