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November 07, 2004

MoralValues

Saturday's New York Times had three articles on the other big exit poll issue this week: The question that showed 22% of voters choosing "moral values" as the issue they were most concerned about.

In an op-ed piece, ABC News Polling Director Gary Langer presented a methodological critique:

The exit poll...asked voters what was the most important issue in their decision: taxes, education, Iraq, terrorism, economy/jobs, moral values or health care. Six of these are concrete, specific issues. The seventh, moral values, is not, and its presence on the list produced a misleading result.

How do we know? Pre-election polls consistently found that voters were most concerned about three issues: Iraq, the economy and terrorism. When telephone surveys asked an open-ended issues question (impossible on an exit poll), answers that could sensibly be categorized as moral values were in the low single digits. In the exit poll, they drew 22 percent.

On the same page, David Brooks' column noted Andrew Kohut's analysis of the exit polls:

As Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center points out, there was no disproportionate surge in the evangelical vote this year. Evangelicals made up the same share of the electorate this year as they did in 2000. There was no increase in the percentage of voters who are pro-life. Sixteen percent of voters said abortions should be illegal in all circumstances. There was no increase in the percentage of voters who say they pray daily.

In the news section, Jim Rutenberg covered the controversy, including a rejoinder from Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who called the 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."

Mr. McInturff said that if "moral values" was really a "catchall" with a confused meaning, then more Democrats would have picked it. Of the 22 percent who chose "moral values," 80 percent were Bush supporters, 20 percent were Kerry supporters. "It's self-selected by people for whom these issues are very important for their votes," he said, adding that the margin by which Mr. Bush carried these voters arguably made the difference in the election.

Who is right? I agree with Langer and Kohut that the use of a closed-ended question on the exit poll exaggerated the percentage of voters who would have volunteered "moral values" as a response. Had the exit polls been able to ask an open-ended question, the results would have been comparable to those obtained from telephone surveys during the campaign.

However, Democrats are right to conclude they "need to do a better job connecting with cultural traditionalists," as Rutenberg's piece put it. Consider that in a survey conducted in mid October by the Pew Research Center, 63% of registered voters considered "moral values" very important in deciding their vote. That percentage was less than for issues like the economy, jobs, terrorism, Iraq, education and health care (which ranged from 73% to 78% very important), but about the same as Social Security (65%) and more than issues like taxes (59%), the budget deficit (57%) and the environment (53%). And in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted in mid-October, registered voters thought George Bush would do a better job on "issues related to moral values" than John Kerry by an 18 point margin (47% to 29%).

Related Entries - Exit Polls, Measurement Issues, The 2004 Race

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on November 7, 2004 at 07:45 AM in Exit Polls, Measurement Issues, The 2004 Race | Permalink

Comments

Doesn't the fact that the surveys before the vote, indicating Iraq, the economy, etc., as most influential on their vote, and the survey after saying that moral values was huge, indicate a little something about what actually happens in the booth? A sort of X-Factor? While the lead up to the election can be analytical and intelligent, once in the both it becomes something personal and intimate. A catch-all "moral values" might be more attractive after the fact, but not before. Just a thought.

Posted by: Dylan | Nov 7, 2004 2:09:49 PM

I have been staring at the exit poll results since Tuesday, and one result stands out more than any other: Presidential vote in 2000. If the CNN exit poll is to be believed, Kerry lost because Gore voters were far less likely to vote on Tuesday than were 2000 Bush voters.

About 90% of Bush and Gore voters remained loyal to their respective party standard bearers, while the 17% of voters who did not vote in 2004 broke 54-45% for Kerry and the 3% who voted for "other" also broke for Kerry by 71-21%. In other words, if 2000 Gore and Bush voters had been equally likely to vote this year, Kerry would have won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes.

Instead, only 37% of the 2004 electorate voted for Gore in the last election, vs. 43% for Bush. Translating these percentages into numbers, about 49.5 million of the 50.5 million Bush 2000 voters voted again this year, whereas only 42.5 million of Gore's 51 million voters did so.

That result strains credibility. Any thoughts?

Posted by: josueencuentro | Nov 7, 2004 2:59:13 PM

In my opionin, McInturff is more right than Langer. The moral values factor has been there all along. It's not something that people volunteer in response to an open-ended question because they either find it difficult to talk about or aren't comfortable talking about it. Nonetheless, I'm convinced that moral values, as viewed by Bush voters, had a huge influence on their Presidential vote.

Posted by: EvanstonDem | Nov 7, 2004 9:01:24 PM

It seems to me that both ways of asking the question are valid. We should evaluate the responses to both in assessing the importance of "moral issues" to the election. It would be interesting to know how respondents themselves actually define the term.

It is important to compare responses to 2000 polls as well in arriving at some conclusion.

Whatever their role we should not forget that they played a secondary role in a Presidential campaign focused more on debates about Iraq and the 'war on terror'.

Posted by: Paul Barber | Nov 7, 2004 10:04:18 PM

RE: Josueencuentro's post.

Your comments would probably have engendered more discussion had they been posted in response to the conversation regarding Warren Mitofsky's "explanation" of the discrepancy between his exit poll results and the "official" results.

In any event, my reaction to this anomaly in the poll was precisely the same as yours, and I am amazed and disappointed that it hasn't been widely discussed.

It appears that you based your calculations on a total vote of @ 115 million. I believe that if you recalculate with a figure of 118 million, which I think is closer to the consensus estimate of the final, total presidential vote, you'll find that the total of voters who supposedly voted for Bush in both 2000 and 2004 begins to exceed the actual number of 2000 Bush voters, while @ 7 million 2000 Gore voters failed to vote in 2004.

Obviously these results do not remotely correspond with any analysis or pojection of voter turnout performed either before or after the election. Frankly, they defy belief. I would love to see the results of the exit polling on this question before it was "crosstabulated" to conform with the "actual" results. Until a rational explanation is advanced for this anomaly (assuming that is even possible), I feel justified in reacting with great skepticism to the assertion that the "official" results are reliable while the exit poll results are not.

Posted by: Robert Miller | Nov 8, 2004 9:23:57 PM

RE: Josueencuentro's post.

Your comments would probably have engendered more discussion had they been posted in response to the conversation regarding Warren Mitofsky's "explanation" of the discrepancy between his exit poll results and the "official" results.

In any event, my reaction to this anomaly in the poll was precisely the same as yours, and I am amazed and disappointed that it hasn't been widely discussed.

It appears that you based your calculations on a total vote of @ 115 million. I believe that if you recalculate with a figure of 118 million, which I think is closer to the consensus estimate of the final, total presidential vote, you'll find that the total of voters who supposedly voted for Bush in both 2000 and 2004 begins to exceed the actual number of 2000 Bush voters, while @ 7 million 2000 Gore voters failed to vote in 2004.

Obviously these results do not remotely correspond with any analysis or pojection of voter turnout performed either before or after the election. Frankly, they defy belief. I would love to see the results of the exit polling on this question before it was "crosstabulated" to conform with the "actual" results. Until a rational explanation is advanced for this anomaly (assuming that is even possible), I feel justified in reacting with great skepticism to the assertion that the "official" results are reliable while the exit poll results are not.

Posted by: Robert Miller | Nov 8, 2004 9:23:57 PM

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