Monday, November 08, 2004

More on the "Moral Values" Vote 

Obviously I didn't get around to posting much this weekend: the weather was beautiful and my wife and I spent a lot of time at the park with our baby daughter, enjoying the warm days.

That doesn't mean I wasn't obsessively mulling over the election results, though. I spent some time thinking about (and discussing) possible wedge issues for Democrats. Dems have had success in the past with bills, such as the assault weapons ban, designed to separate extremists from mainstream voters. But there hasn't been much of this for a while, at least in part because it's tough to launch initiatives like this from the minority. So far, the ideas I've come up with have been flawed and unusable, either because they're somehow kind of ethically unpleasant, or, in most cases, because they rely on getting GOP politicians to do what I want them to. Thoughts on good wedge issues are welcomed here at the Bonassus.

I also spent some time thinking about the latest line on what won Bush the election: as Paul Freedman has argued in Slate (and Andrew Sullivan has also suggested), the role that "God guns and gays" moral issues played in the election may have been overstated by the press. This may well be the case. But I don't think we can say so with any confidence based on the data and analysis presented so far. Freedman's article, as far as I can tell, is methodologically unsound, relying on aggregate, state level data to make claims about individual voter behavior. His conclusions may well be correct, but we can't tell using his data. We'll have better individual level data soon enough, but until then the regression methods implied by his reporting are inappropriate.

Freedman also, in my view, makes some mistaken assumptions about the relevant counterfactuals. Sounds technical, doesn't it? Let me be more concrete so I can (hopefully) be more clear. Look at this claim of Freedman's:
More to the point, the morality gap didn't decide the election. Voters who cited moral issues as most important did give their votes overwhelmingly to Bush (80 percent to 18 percent), and states where voters saw moral issues as important were more likely to be red ones. But these differences were no greater in 2004 than in 2000. If you're trying to explain why the president's vote share in 2004 is bigger than his vote share in 2000, values don't help.
This is all fine as long as we assume that there wasn't a strong bloc of new voters motivated to come to the polls in 2004 by the desire to throw Bush out of office. Bush's vote share, and the share of his voters motivated by "moral values" may not have changed, but the underlying dynamic, and more cogently the total number of votes cast, did. Taking into account the current environment, with talk of Iraq and national security dominating the news and campaign rhetoric, getting out an additional however-many-million voters it took to balance the Dem's voter surge is all the more impressive, and even Freedman's analysis doesn't suggest that the anti-gay initiatives didn't play a significant role here. Finally, let's not forget the "moral values" aspect of the 2000 election, when , at least according to press accounts, morals-driven "Clinton fatigue" weighed heavily against Gore and motivated Christian Right voters to come out in droves. Anything that increased this sort of voting frenzy is worthy of attention in its own right.

Another one of Freedman's claims is kind of disconcerting:
Why did states with gay-marriage ballot measures vote so heavily for Bush? Because such measures don't appear on state ballots randomly. Opponents of gay marriage concentrate their efforts in states that are most hospitable to a ban and are most likely to vote for Bush even without such a ballot measure. A state's history of voting for Bush is more likely to lead to an anti-gay-marriage measure on that state's ballot than the other way around.
This claim may be partially true, but it sits uncomfortably alongside the fact that both Oregon and Ohio, a "leans Dem" and a "leans GOP" state, both passed anti-gay marriage initiatives, Ohio's so strongly worded that it will limit the rights of unmarried heterosexual couples. Furthermore, to the extent that Karl Rove hoped to maximize Bush's popular vote (in order to make claims of a mandate more plausible), this was an apparently costless way to drive up Bush votes in states that both campaigns were otherwise ignoring.

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