Exit Polls and Moral Values

There has been lot of talk about “moral values” being the most important issue in the Presidential election this year. Here are the results of the exit poll question in order of decreasing Bush margin:

Issue All Bush Kerry Bush-Kerry Margin
Terrorism 19% 86% 14% 13.68%
Moral Values 22% 80% 18% 13.64%
Taxes 5% 57% 43% 0.70%
Education 4% 26% 73% -1.88%
Health Care 8% 23% 77% -4.32%
Iraq 15% 26% 73% -7.05%
Economy/Jobs 20% 18% 80% -12.40%

The 2000 exit poll did not ask about “moral values.” The issues mentioned then in order of decreasing importance as rated by voters were: Economy/Jobs, Education, Taxes, Social Security, World Affairs, Health Care, and Medicare/Rx Drugs.

Here is some decent analysis of the exit polls by Political Animal.

22% of voters said “moral values” was their most important issue. Among these voters, 80% voted for Bush, while in 2000 voters who said “moral leadership” was a higher priority than managing government gave him 70% of their votes. Although this suggests that Bush made some inroads with this group, the 2000/2004 questions aren’t really comparable enough to draw a conclusion.

Here is Kevin’s conclusion.

Based on this, my tentative conclusion is that the “moral values” vote is a red herring. It played no bigger a role this year than in 2000.

Terrorism played a bigger role, mostly by being a more important issue to a lot more people. Bush’s actual level of support among people who based their vote primarily on world affairs increased only modestly.

And that good old mainstay the economy was the most important of all. Compared to 2000, fewer people personally think they’re doing better but more people believe the economy is in good shape anyway. And Bush was overwhelmingly successful in convincing those people that his policies deserved the credit.

Mystery Pollster has links to some analysis of this issue as well.

A New York Times article covers some of the debate.

Several independent pollsters said they were suspicious because a higher percentage of people listed “moral values” as their top concern in the Election Day poll than had in many of the previous public polls.

Humphrey Taylor, chairman of the Harris Poll, said in a posting on the Internet that the difference may have been because most of the pre-election surveys ask voters to mention on their own the most important issues of the election.

“When so few people (one percent in our October survey) mentioned moral values spontaneously, I very much doubt the pundits’ conclusions that this was really more important than the issues that came at the top of our list when they were not prompted,” Mr. Taylor wrote on the Web site of the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers.

But Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster, called critiques “garbage.”

“The people who picked moral values as an issue know what that means,” he said. “It’s a code word in surveys for a cluster of issues like gay marriage and abortion.”

I am not sure why it was considered a good idea to put moral values on the list. Either an open question or more specific “moral” issues should have been on the list instead. Secondly, there are no comparable questions on the 2000 exit poll to do a good analysis.

It is obvious that the two major issues for Bush voters this year were terrorism and moral values. The question is what kind of voters are they and whether they can be persuaded to vote Democrat. Blogs are full of arguments about these questions but it is all speculation and hand-waving. I can’t say I have any idea. My idle speculation is that the terrorism voters might be more amenable than the morality voters.

UPDATE: Via Mystery Pollster, here is a Pew Research Center study on moral values:

The survey findings parallel exit poll results showing that moral values is a top-tier issue for voters. But the relative importance of moral values depends greatly on how the question is framed. The post-election survey finds that, when moral values is pitted against issues like Iraq and terrorism, a plurality (27%) cites moral values as most important to their vote. But when a separate group of voters was asked to name ­ in their own words ­ the most important factor in their vote, significantly fewer (14%) mentioned moral values. Regardless of how the question is asked, the survey shows that moral values is the most frequently cited issue for Bush voters, but is seldom mentioned by Kerry voters.

In addition, those who cite moral values as a major factor offer varying interpretations of the concept. More than four-in-ten (44%) of those who chose moral values as the most important factor in their vote from the list of issues say the term relates to specific concerns over social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage. However, others did not cite specific policy issues, and instead pointed to factors like the candidates’ personal qualities or made general allusions to religion and values.

[…] The survey asked voters who were given the list of issues to describe, in their own words, “what comes to mind when you think about ‘moral values’?” Among voters who chose moral values as most important from the list of seven issues, about half gave a response that mentioned a specific issue. More than four-in-ten (44%) defined the phrase specifically in terms of social issues, including abortion (28%) homosexuality and gay marriage (29%), or stem cell research (4%). A few other issues also were mentioned, including poverty, economic inequality, and the like.

But the definition of moral values is not limited to policy references. Nearly a quarter of respondents (23%) who cited moral values as important explained their thinking in terms of the personal characteristics of the candidates, including honesty and integrity (cited by 9%). Almost one-in-five (18%) explicitly mentioned religion, Christianity, God, or the Bible. Another 17% answered in terms of traditional values, using such language as “family values,” “right and wrong,” or “the way people live their lives.”

Related Posts

  • No Related Posts

1 Comments.

  1. “Moral” and “values” are two words that do not sit happily beside each other. Moral codes are sets of ideas that differentiate right from wrong; these ideas are founded upon or are themselves a priori truths. Consequently, things moral are absolute and unshifting. Fathered by barter and mothered by markets, “value” is, by contrast, a word born to variability. Demand, supply, attitude and whim affect value; it shifts as regularly as the Sahara’s sands.

    Instead of “moral values,” I thinks pollsters and the media should ask questions about moral truths, virtues or religious beliefs. Then, they would at least avoid sounding like toothless milk-toasts too afraid of offending to seek the truth about the electorate.