Friday, November 05, 2004

Which moral values?

The meme seems to be that "moral values" voters reelected Bush. Moreover, many are going as far to blame the Goodridge decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court for creating an election-swinging backlash which also manifested itself in those eleven state initiatives against gay marriage. I can believe the former with some reservations, but I'm very skeptical that the issue of gay marriage swung the election.

First of all, the very use of the term "moral values" here refers to a category from those exit polls that did such a great job predicting the election. I haven't found any explanation of why we should trust these exit polls when at least the early exit polls were so far off. (Perhaps one of my readers has a link they'd like to put in the comments?) That said, I don't know enough to safely ignore the exit polls either.

Second, isn't there a war on? The exit poll categories of Iraq and terrorism combined add up to plenty more than the moral values category. I'm very much a social conservative, but if an exit poller had interviewed me, I would have truthfully said that Iraq was my top issue. Of course, it could be that my focus on the war and my focus of reading internet commentary about the war is unrepresentative. I remember talking to a high school student in Boston last year who thought we should focus on the "war" at home, by which he meant urban violence. Also, I suspect the rest of my family would have fallen into the moral values category if exit pollster had talked to them. So the exit polls could be right, just counterintuitive to me.

Third, there are other moral values besides traditional marriage. Does "pro-life" ring a bell? Admittedly, the abortion issue seems stale compared to gay marriage and all the recent activism it has inspired. But the abortion front hasn't exactly been quiet. Think of the partial birth abortion ban and the Unborn Victims of Violence Protection Act. Or think of those Catholic bishops commanding their flock not to vote for pro-choice politicians, and of some Catholic churches refusing communion to pro-choice politicians. Then contemplate the that according to the exit polls (whose reliability I've just questioned) Bush won 51% of the traditionally Democratic Catholic vote.

Finally, a values voter mildly knowledgable about politics would know that the chances of, say, the FMA passing, are slim, while we can expect at least two Supreme Court vacancies over the next four years. Even if Democrats use the filibuster to force relatively moderate appointments, the result will still be better for social conservatives than that of a compromise between a President Kerry and a Republican Senate, for presidents have a structural advantage when it comes to appointments. National Review isn't demanding the FMA be sent to the Congress again (and again fall short of two-thirds support); they're demanding that, regardless of seniority, pro-choice Arlen Specter not get the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee; anything less would be a "betrayal" of social conservatives.

Update: Instapundit has a good round-up of links with additional relevant data, including data that moves me firmly back to thinking as I did before I saw the exit polls: terrorism was the issue that decided the election.

Update II: also check out David's Brook's take.


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