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November 12, 2004

Pew on "Moral Values"

The Pew Research Center released a new study yesterday, a follow-up interview with 1203 voters who were originally surveyed in October that sheds interesting new light on the “moral values” controversy.

Pew conducted an experiment with the question that asked, “What one issue mattered most to you in deciding how you voted for president?” For a random half sample, they provided the same list of fixed choices as the national exit poll: Moral values, Iraq, economy/jobs, terrorism, health care, education and taxes. They asked respondents on the other half sample to answer in their own words, and did not provide a list of choices.

The survey’s findings parallel exit poll results showing that moral values is a top-tier issue for voters. But its relative importance 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 consistency across methodologies is arguably more important the differences: Whether asked as an open-ended or closed-ended question (a) no single issue dominates and (b) Bush voters mention issues related to “moral values” most often, while Kerry voters rarely mention such issues.

If you care about this controversy, their report is worth reading in full.

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

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on November 12, 2004 at 10:44 AM in Exit Polls, Measurement Issues, The 2004 Race | Permalink



Excellent blog and analyses. You're a must read. WRT the Moral Values issue and the differences in responses, I'm taking it to accord with my bias - based on the literature on public opinions in elections dating back to the 60s - that the vast majority of voters are just simply clueless. Converse was right.

I'd like to pint out though that your indented passages in smaller font can be difficult to read, especially when the original has super- or sub-scripted phrases, as this one appears to (last sentence 1st para). Maybe use a different font for indented passages?

Posted by: Mark Lupida | Nov 12, 2004 11:27:21 AM

I hate when people try to save time/money by asking open-ended questions as closed-ended questions. Moral values are important to me too, in fact, they are VERY important to me, and if I had been exit polled I would have been hard-pressed to not check that box, even though I know how it would have been interpreted. But the moral values that are important to me include the value of equal marriage rights for all; the importance of compassion and charity toward those less fortunate both at home and abroad; the responsibility of those who have much to help those who have little; and the stark differences I perceived in the character and actions of the two candidates both in their youth and today. I don't think that's how they would have interpreted my response, though.

There's just no way to make this into a closed-ended question and it's that kind of practice that makes people distrust research as reductive and misleading. When clients ask me to save money by closing out open-ended questions, I never do it. Large campaigns should be able to afford a little coding. The world is too complex to be analyzed in shorthand.

Posted by: mamacate | Nov 12, 2004 11:53:36 AM

A quick comment after an even quicker perusal of the Pew poll.

On the open-ended portion, Pew separated "Moral Values" from "Honesty/Integrity". I believe the two have overlapping defintions and cannot be separated. If aggregated, the total is 19%. Darn close to the 22% cited in the closed-end portion.

Also, "like/dislike the candidate" can also be interpretted the same way.

Criticism aside, the current theory of Bush voters caring more about moral values than Kerry voters still holds.

Posted by: Eric | Nov 12, 2004 2:42:18 PM

Mamacate, I can't agree that "there's no way to make this into a closed-ended question." I'm not going to defend the simplistic question that was used in the exit polling, but there are ways to probe this issue more thoroughly with a series of well-chosen closed-ended questions.

Open-ended questions rely on the respondent's ability and willingness to tell us what's they're thinking. That may not happen if they're thinking about something as complex and subjective as "moral values."

Posted by: EvanstonDem | Nov 14, 2004 8:55:38 PM

I just read about a concept called electoral analysis concept called "performance."

Slightly off topic, but if you look at the turnout of different groups and % won of each group you get the performance of a candidate with that group.

Has Mark does any reporting on the performance firgures for the different groups?

This article says performance was steady in 2004 vs 2000 except for a small gain in the wealth vote for Bush, $100K+.

Posted by: Alex in Los Angeles | Nov 16, 2004 5:39:22 PM

Your Poll on whether we are happy Bush was elected wouldn't let me register a "NO" vote. By any chance is your equipment manufactured by Diebold, the same guys who STOLE THIS ELECTION?

Rob Moitoza
U.S. Navy Veteran

Posted by: Rob Moitoza | Nov 22, 2004 8:45:48 PM

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