Monday, November 08, 2004

The Election: Values vs. Terrorism

In light of my previous comments on the role played by religious values in this election, it is important to point out that at least two sources have been interpreting the statistical evidence coming out of the exit polls quite differently. Paul Freedman of the liberal online magazine Slate offers the following analysis in a column entitled "The Gay Marriage Myth: Terrorism, not values, drove Bush's re-election":

More to the point, the morality gap didn't decide the election. Voters who cited moral issues as most important did give their votes overwhelmingly to Bush (80 percent to 18 percent), and states where voters saw moral issues as important were more likely to be red ones. But these differences were no greater in 2004 than in 2000. If you're trying to explain why the president's vote share in 2004 is bigger than his vote share in 2000, values don't help.

If the morality gap doesn't explain Bush's re-election, what does? A good part of the answer lies in the terrorism gap. Nationally, 49 percent of voters said they trusted Bush but not Kerry to handle terrorism; only 31 percent trusted Kerry but not Bush. This 18-point gap is particularly significant in that terrorism is strongly tied to vote choice: 99 percent of those who trusted only Kerry on the issue voted for him, and 97 percent of those who trusted only Bush voted for him. Terrorism was cited by 19 percent of voters as the most important issue, and these citizens gave their votes to the president by an even larger margin than morality voters: 86 percent for Bush, 14 percent for Kerry.

Another commentator offering a similar view is David Brooks, a NY Times columnists. In his column entitled "The Values-Vote Myth," he writes (free registration required to read the NYT article, the article may eventually not be freely available):

Much of the misinterpretation of this election derives from a poorly worded question in the exit polls. When asked about the issue that most influenced their vote, voters were given the option of saying "moral values." But 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.

The reality is that this was a broad victory for the president. Bush did better this year than he did in 2000 in 45 out of the 50 states. He did better in New York, Connecticut and, amazingly, Massachusetts. That's hardly the Bible Belt. Bush, on the other hand, did not gain significantly in the 11 states with gay marriage referendums.

He won because 53 percent of voters approved of his performance as president. Fifty-eight percent of them trust Bush to fight terrorism. They had roughly equal confidence in Bush and Kerry to handle the economy. Most approved of the decision to go to war in Iraq. Most see it as part of the war on terror.

Well, this is certainly good news. If these analyses are true then the majority of people who helped elect Bush did so because they thought he would be better at fighting the war, rather than as some kind of effort to impose religious values (for which there really wasn't that much evidence to begin with, at least so far).

With the present effort in Fallujah underway (Operation "Phantom Fury") I would like to remain optimistic, at least for a while, and await what the administration will do with respect to domestic and foreign policy. I suppose there really isn't a very good reason to expect drastic differences but at this point I'm inclined to give Bush the benefit of the doubt.

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