It Wasn't The Youth Vote Or Values, It Was Message And Tactics
James Carville and Stan Greenberg over at Democracy Corps released the results of a poll taken just after the election, and the results show that the media’s conventional wisdom about the importance and dominance of moral values concerns on this election were grossly overstated. Carville and Greenberg found that even though a majority of voters were concerned about jobs, the economy, Iraq, and terrorism, John Kerry was unable to break through to voters on these issues because his character had been successfully attacked by Karl Rove through the “flip-flopper” smear, as well as the attacks against Kerry on abortion and gay marriage.
As a result, Bush was able to keep the race focused on safety and values, and not on the economy and Iraq. This left voters susceptible to a last minute swing towards the president as they “voted their beliefs and feelings”, rather than judge Bush on his performance and ideas for the future. Carville and Greenberg believe that in fact Bush has no mandate to implement his policy ideas, even though he assumes one (as usual.)
As a confirmation to this survey, Zogby did a large sample survey for the Center for American Progress and two other groups that found similar conclusions:
Battling the notion that "values voters" swept President Bush to victory because of opposition to gay marriage and abortion, three liberal groups released a post-election poll in which 33 percent of voters said the nation's most urgent moral problem was "greed and materialism" and 31 percent said it was "poverty and economic justice." Sixteen percent cited abortion, and 12 percent named same-sex marriage.
The nationwide telephone poll of 10,689 voters was conducted by Zogby International for the Catholic peace group Pax Christi, the New York-based civic advocacy group Res Publica and the Washington-based Center for American Progress, a think tank allied with Democrats. It had a margin of error of plus or minus one percentage point.
The poll found that 42 percent of voters cited the war in Iraq as the "moral issue" that most influenced their choice of candidates, while 13 percent cited abortion and 9 percent same-sex marriage. Asked to name the greatest threat to marriage, 31 percent said "infidelity," 25 percent cited "rising financial burdens" and 22 percent named same-sex marriage.
Tom Perriello, an organizer at Res Publica, said the poll shows that "while there may be a solid 20 percent who are very focused on abortion and gay marriage, for most Americans of faith, there are other moral issues of greater urgency, and that's where the religious middle is."
This is all well and good, but Kerry never argued the Iraq war on moral grounds. He argued he could run it better and more competently. What this poll indicates is that an alternate values message will gain traction in the electorate.
And lastly, in debunking another piece of conventional wisdom from last week, it turns out that young voters did turn out in large numbers last week. In fact, there was an additional 4.6 million young voters in this election, and 54% of them went for Kerry. It’s just that as a percentage of the overall increased total turnout this year, their share of the overall total didn’t go up.
This information indicates that Kerry lost this race due to a better, church-based turnout effort from the GOP, and more effective (and legally questionable) tactics and messages from the GOP, but not because of an absent youth vote or because of a “values deficit” on the part of the Democrats.