The Values Voters Debate Continues
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In this edition of Public Opinion Watch:
(covering polls and related articles from the weeks of December 6-12, 2004)
- The Values Voters Debate Continues
- Hispanic Revisions Update
- Students Turn Out for Kerry
- A Note on Florida
The initial take on the allegedly central role of values voters in the 2004 election had a shaky empirical foundation: the slight plurality of voters in the National Election Pool (NEP) exit poll who selected moral values as their most important voting issue and who voted heavily (80 percent) for Bush. This line of analysis has come under increasing fire in the recent weeks, as many observers have noted that moral values did not really belong in a list of voting issues like the economy and the war in Iraq and that the NEP exit poll question has not been asked with a values choice before and hence provides no information on any change in this election in the level of values voting.
The latter point is where Christopher Muste picks up the story in his excellent article, Hidden in Plain Sight: Polling Data Show Moral Values Aren't a New Factor in Sunday's Washington Post. Muste notes, to begin with:
[T]here's another exit poll that has asked voters about moral values in the past four elections. The Los Angeles Times conducts its own national exit poll. Since 1992, it has asked voters which two issues they considered most important in deciding how they would vote. This year, 40 percent of voters the newspaper surveyed cited moral/ethical values as one of their two most important issues. Guess what? That's about the same proportion as in the previous two elections: 35 percent named moral values in 2000 and 40 percent did so in 1996, up from 24 percent in 1992. So this year didn't see an unprecedented surge in values voters rushing to the polls.
I've seen these particular findings from the Los Angeles Times polls cited in other articles, but Muste goes on to cite some additional and very interesting findings from these polls that I have not seen before:
And while Bush strategist Karl Rove must be gratified that the 2000 dip in the turnout of values voters was reversed in 2004, he can't be entirely thrilled by how they cast their votes. The L.A. Times survey showed that moral values voters gave 70 percent of their votes to Bush this year. But that's a drop from 2000, when he won 74 percent. Put another way, 54 percent of Bush voters this year cited moral values – a decline from the Republican high-water mark in 1996, when 67 percent of Bob Doles voters named moral values. For Democratic nominees, by contrast, the trend has been up, not down, steadily rising from a scant 9 percent of Bill Clinton supporters naming moral values in the its the economy election of 1992 to 24 percent of John Kerry's voters this year.
Muste goes on to cite other data from the NEP poll and data from a post-election survey by the Pew Research Center that suggest the dominant role of values voters in the 2004 election has been exaggerated and that values voting, in general, should not be narrowly defined by reference to issues like gay marriage and abortion. He concludes:
A large and fairly stable group of moral values voters, whose numbers have been largely consistent over the past three elections, who vote Republican in roughly the same or smaller proportions year after year, who provided no clear winning boost to Bush, and whose idea of what constitutes moral values is hardly uniform. This is a poor fit for the reigning image of a crucial swing vote – animated single-mindedly by cultural wedge issues – that turned out in unprecedented numbers to push Bush over the top in 2004. It's time to reel the moral values myth back down to earth.
Amen. I might add, though, that even if values voters werent important in the way election mythology has indicated, it doesnt mean values, broadly defined, werent important to voters. Questions of presidential character and of Americas role in the world, especially vis a vis the war on terror, are very much bound up with values and affected voters decisions. But that broad conception of values and voting shouldn't be collapsed to the image of swing voters animated single-mindedly by cultural wedge issues, as Muste correctly points out.
The indefatigable Mark Blumenthal over at Mystery Pollster has yet more on the revisions of the NEP exit poll Hispanic figures. Read his whole post, but heres the essence:
1. The initial Texas Hispanic figure of 59 percent support for Bush, according to the NEP, was the result of a tabulation error that improperly weighted telephone interviews with early/absentee voters that were conducted to accompany the election day polling place interviews. (Okay, but how'd that happen? And why did it take so long for them to figure it out? And what about the Texas white vote for Bush now – doesnt that have to be higher as a result?)
2. The 40 percent figure for Bush's national Hispanic support issued by NBC, based on aggregating all the state polls, was not a correction of the NEP national poll data, but simply a different, (though better, according to NBC) estimate, of Bush's national Hispanic support. The NEP national exit poll figure of 44 percent for Bush's Hispanic support still stands uncorrected by Edison/Mitofsky, the actual exit pollsters. (OK, but if we needed a better estimate than the national poll estimate because the sampling was screwed up – NBCs story – why is Edison/Mitofsky sticking by their national estimate? If NBC is right, doesn't it need to be corrected? If not, why not? Isn't it a problem that the national poll estimate and the state poll-based national estimate don't match up (They did almost perfectly in 2000.))?
Clear? I thought so. I eagerly await, as I'm sure you do, more clarifications from the good folks at the NEP, Edison/Mitofsky, NBC, and whoever else is getting into the act.
According to the first national post-election survey of student participation in the 2004 election, the era of student apathy is over and the Democratic Party is the big winner. The poll by CIRCLE (an institute at the University of Maryland) found that 77 percent of college students nationwide said they voted on Nov. 2, and that they voted for John Kerry by a margin of 55 percent to 41 percent.
The poll also found that 62 percent of the respondents said that they encouraged or helped someone else to vote, nearly double the figure for 2000. Interestingly, two-thirds of the respondents were registered in their home town. However, the third who were registered in their colleges towns turned out to vote at a slightly higher rate.
Source used for this section:
Schneiders/Della Volpe/Schulman poll of 1,200 college students for CIRCLE (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement), released Nov. 29, 2004 (conducted Nov. 9-19, 2004)
Last week, I commented on the exaggerated importance assigned to the rural/exurban vote in Ohio. Much the same thing could be said about Florida: when you look closely at the county by county vote in Florida, rural/exurban areas were much less important to Bush's victory there than generally supposed.
Specifically, my analysis finds that Bush received a net gain of 308,000 votes from metro Florida outside the exurbs this year and just an 82,000 net vote gain from exurban and rural counties. Indeed, about half his net vote gain can be accounted for by looking only at counties in medium-sized metropolitan areas such as Jacksonville, Pensacola and Sarasota.
The more I look at the data, both nationally and in states like Florida, Ohio, and others, the more I'm convinced these medium-sized metro areas are critically important to Democrats' electoral chances. I realize its more fashionable for Democrats to weep and wail and gnash their teeth about rural/exurban areas. But these medium-sized metros deserve more study and strategic thought than they have received so far – much more.