Here’s a very interesting take from guest blogger Weldon Berger over at PressThink:
The big balloon popper, of course, is that almost all of the moral values angst and triumphalism can be chalked up to a poorly written exit poll. When all the numbers were crunched, the percentage of voters who identified moral values as their top priority in 2004 was about the same as in 2000.
… The reality is that almost half of John Kerry’s votes came from red states, and much of the Bush margin of victory resulted from inroads he made in the blue states. A majority of voters support either gay marriage or civil unions, and a substantial majority support keeping abortion legal.
This analysis provides an interesting take on how perceptions are grabbed and run with by the media. But I don’t think we should downplay the role of moral values just yet. The percentage of voters who claimed that moral values were the most important factor in determining their votes may have remained static when compared to 2000.
But it didn’t remain equal.
Let’s go back to the 2000 election for a second. We had just been through two years during which morality was in fact at the top of our news almost everyday. The Lewinsky saga was in many ways the defining moment of the 2000 campaign. It makes sense that morals would be front of mind for voters.
Now let’s cut to 2004. We have 140,000 troops in Iraq. We are fighting a massive worldwide war on terrorism. The economy is sluggish. Our reputation in the international community has been dramatically altered. To put it plainly, we don’t have time to focus on the same nonsense that defines many elections.
And yet, moral values played an equal or greater role in determing this election than 2000. Given the years that preceded that vote and the ones that preceded this one, those numbers are more (not less) remarkable than the coverage has suggested.