Saturday, November 06, 2004

Many on the non-socially-conservative-right seem to be bothered by by the role anti-gay marriage initiatives and the moral values issue played in orchestrating Bush's re-election. At least, over the past few days I've been repeatedly running into posts and columns downplaying their effect.

The problem, though, is that there is a simple statistic that is difficult to argue around: asked what is the most important issue to them, more voters said "moral values" than any other issue.

1. Eugene Volokh was among the first to give this a try:
According to the exit polls — and take them with a grain of salt — moral values was given as the most important issue by 22% of voters. But 20% and 19% said economy/jobs and terrorism, respectively; and though theoretically these numbers are likely outside the mathematical margin of error... given all the nonmathematical imprecision inherent in this sort of survey, I'd say that it's a tie.
Fair enough. So while moral values was the #1 issue chosen, its also true that terrorism and the economy gathered almost as many votes.

A good point, but for some reason many on the right seem to think that this somehow means moral values was not important? The fact remains: the moral values issue was one of the most important in this election - and the democrats largely ignored it, preferring to concentrate on the economy and the war in Iraq.

Socially libertarian Republicans should not to lie to themselves and admit that socially conservative positions were one of the major reasons Bush got re-elected. Democrats, who spent much time developing their positions on Iraq (war good, execution bad) and the economy (repeal the Bush tax cut, raise minimum wage) need to develop a coherent rhetoric on this set of issues as well.

2. David Brooks, after bashing the left for a need to come up with a vindicating narrative, comes to the crux of his argument:
...that phrase can mean anything - or nothing. Who doesn't vote on moral values? If you ask an inept question, you get a misleading result.
Uhh, no. Voters who selected "moral values" as the most important issue to them selected it over terrorism, iraq, the economy, health care, education, and taxes. To say that moral values is more important than any of the above is to make an important political statement.

Broadly speaking, to evaluate whether we are faced with an "inept question" we should look at not whether the result is one we like, but at whether the answer to that question tells us something about the respondents. And it clearly does - namely, they tend to vote for Bush by a large margin.

"Who doesn't vote for moral values?" Brooks asks. Kerry voters don't, it seems. Thats the interesting outcome of this poll, which, by asking this question, Brooks appears not to understand, despite making it the ostensible subject of his column.

By the way: I've seen some conservatives argue that, really, one should combine Iraq and Terrorism issues, as both are part of the war on terror: that would give one a higher percentage than moral values - 33%.

I am tempted to reply by saying that if I combine "economy," "health care," "education," and "taxes," using some ideological argument about how they are all the same, I get an even higher 37% (see my other post for this).

Actually, combining specifically "Iraq" and "Terrorism" makes particularly little sense: a casual glance at the data is enough to reveal these two categories of voters are diametrical opposites - "Iraq" voters tended to go for Kerry at a roughly 7-3 margin; "terrorism" voters tended to go for Bush at a roughly 9-1 margin.

Final thought: look, you can monkey around with data as much as you want. The fact remains, the moral value issue proved to be tremendously important - perhaps not the most important issue, but, surprisingly, as important as any other.


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