Saturday, December 18, 2004

Moral Values Myth

Okay, I know this is outdated, but I still feel that I need to address it.

It was kind of frustrating, and still is, when people call the counties and states that voted for Bush, Jesusland. This urban legend is based on exit polls with fixed answers, that didn’t give the responders much leeway.

The best explanation of this polling phenomenon comes from Charles Krauthammer, at the Washington Post:
The way the question was set up, moral values were sure to be ranked disproportionately high. Why? Because it was a multiple-choice question, and moral values cover a group of issues, while all the other choices were individual issues. Chop up the alternatives finely enough, and moral values are sure to get a bare plurality over the others.
Look at the choices:
• Education, 4 percent.
• Taxes, 5 percent.
• Health Care, 8 percent.
• Iraq, 15 percent.
• Terrorism, 19 percent.
• Economy and Jobs, 20 percent.
• Moral Values, 22 percent.
"Moral values" encompass abortion, gay marriage, Hollywood's influence, the general coarsening of the culture and, for some, the morality of preemptive war. The way to logically pit this class of issues against the others would be to pit it against other classes: "war issues" or "foreign policy issues" (Iraq plus terrorism) and "economic issues" (jobs, taxes, health care, etc).
If you pit group against group, the moral values class comes in dead last: war issues at 34 percent, economic issues variously described at 33 percent and moral values at 22 percent -- i.e., they are at least a third less salient than the others.

Now, in polls which had open ended questions, where the voters could write in their own answers, the results , shown in the second box down on the first page, were pretty different.


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