Saturday, November 06, 2004

Election Analysis, Part I: Exit Polls and Moral Values

Let's look at the infamous CNN exit polls once again:

Taxes (5%) B57% K43%

Education (4%) B26% K73%

Iraq (15%) B26% K73%

Terrorism (19%) B86% K14%

Economy/Jobs (20%) B18% K80%

Moral Values (22%) B80% K18% N1%

Health Care (8%) B23% K77%

Economy/Jobs. If you add up economy/jobs to health care, education and taxes (i.e., "domestic policy") it is 37%, thus THE biggest issue of all. The way it is worded (not "economics" but "economy/jobs") it is biased towards Democrats, as "jobs" is a code-word for outsourcing, deficit, and tax-cuts for the rich. This shows in the results. Within domestic issues, Kerry wins big, expect on "taxes" which is a code-word for conservative view on taxation ("tax relief", "tax burden"). It is obvious that domestic issues trump foreign affairs/security with Democrats, and vice versa for Republicans. This is quite consistent with the basic ideological views. Conservatives think that a society is as strong as its strongest members, thus we have to have the strongest military to protect the rest of us poor children. We also have to have the strongest mega-companies to plunder and outcompete foreign mega-companies. Strongest the leaders, better for everyone. They lead, we follow (just like their GOTV operation). Centralized power is the source of strength. This is really Big Government. On the other hand, Liberals think that we are strongest if we are tighter as a community. More there is of us cooperating fully, stronger we will be. More cooperation we can have with other nations, safer we will be. A million minds is smarter than one mind. A million pairs of eyes see more than one pair of eyes.
Interestingly, Nader does not get anything detectable on any domestic issue.

Taxes: This is a code-word for trickle-down economics. Bush's 57% are typical tax-cutters, this-is-my-money folks, also rich or would-be-rich business types. Remember that 25% of the people think they are in the top 1%. Also, libertarians. Kerry's 43% are people outraged at class warfare by the GOP. The total of only 5% is small. Even people concerned with taxes have other, more important things to consider when voting. Many people probably felt that "taxes" are part and parcel of "economy/jobs", thus picked the bigger issue instead of this narrow point.

Education: Also very small number - 4% - thought that education (NCLB, for instance) stands in isolation from everything else, and picked this narrow issue without regard to the "big picture". Bush got 26% of this small sliver of society - I wonder how many of those are afraid that Kerry would prevent them from home-schooling or impose strict academic standards to their "christian" schools and academies, or ban Sunday schools and seminaries. Kerry voters who picked this may be educators themselves, or parents with concerns over NCLB.

Health Care: Also a very small number - 8%. Again, most people probably feel that health care is part of a bigger picture. Kerry has the clear advantage here. Those who voted for Bush and picked health care as their primary concern either work for big medical companies/insurance/HMOs, or have been duped by Bush that Kerry's plan is "socialized madicine" (which, btw, works better than our system in the rest of the industrialized world).

Iraq and Terrorism combined cover 34% of the voters, more for Bush than Kerry. This is the second-biggest issue of all. Bush voters think that Iraq is a part of "War on Terra" (whatever that means - War on Earth?), so they will pick bigger issue (terrorism 56%) over its part (Iraq 26%). They are also more afraid, being wusses by upbringing, thus terrorism figures prominently. "Scurity moms" if this category exists, may be here. Bush voters who picked Iraq are military families, soldiers, as well as Rapturists who see this war as preparation for Second Coming.
Kerry voters think that Iraq is a separate issue from terrorism. They feel that Kerry is capable of keeping the nation safe (14%), yet are outraged at the lies that led to the war in Iraq (73%). Kerry voters who checked terrorism feel that Kerry would do a better job - they may be educated voters who are aware of the ways Bush is shirking his responsibility in keeping us safe (the famous containers in our ports etc.), or this may be an anti-Aschcroft vote, concerned with civil liberties. Kerry voters who picked Iraq are mainly the anti-war movement crowd.

So, let's rewrite the table:

Domestic Issues (37%)

Foreign Policy/Security (34%)

Social Issues (22%)

When done like this, it gives a very different impression, doesn't it. So-called "moral values" are now in distant third place - not the first.
Imagine that you have just voted and some pollster stops you and asks you what you voted for and gives you these options:








What would you pick? Potatoes? That is exactly the equivalent to the CNN exit poll. It is a weird concoction of proposed answers, some coded. Is "grapes" a code-word for wine and other alcoholic beverages? Are "bananas" a stand-in for dependency on imported food or is it more Freudian? Are "potatoes" a code for french-fries, thus fast-food industry? Are vegetables a neccessity and fruits a luxury? Some answers are nested in each other like Russian dolls, e.g., potatoes are vegetables. Some answers are in a completely different class of word - love.

Do you know who checked "moral values"? People who understand that all the other answers stem from a coherent central tenet of the ideology. Bush' conservative moral values will guide his hand on everything he does, domestically and abroad, on taxes and on Iraq, on health care and on terrorism. Likewise, Kerry's core moral values will guide his hand on everything. Bush "won" this category because conservatives, to a small degree, understand this principle better than liberals. Conservatives tend to be more aware how everything is interconnected within one's moral code. Liberals tend to think in terms of individual issues. Sure, some of the people who checked this answer and voted for Bush (80%) are single-issue voters, i.e., homophobic, femiphobic, mysoginist, xenophobic, superpatriotic, racist, super-religious, anti-abortion SOBs. Their numbers may be a little inflated this time around due to the "code-word" effect of the phrase "moral values", as well as due to their larger turnout for the homophobic ballot initiatives in 11 states. But most are just core conservatives who understand that moral core drives every other decision.

If I want to do an experiment, I may take a 100 animals and put them in a 'control group' and inject them with saline, and another 100 animals in the 'treatment group' that I inject with a drug. If 80 animals show a response to the drug, many a scientist would report on the 80% effectiveness of the drug. I am a kind of scientist who immediatelly looks at the remaining 20%. How did they respond? Did they respond at all? Why? How can the responses of these 20% help us understand how the drug works?

In the same manner, I am much more interested in Kerry voters (18%) who responded "moral values" as well as 1% of respondents to this who voted for Nader - the only category in which Nader's vote is detectable. Who are they? Some are one-issue voters who did not find their issue listed: pro-choice activists, environmentalists, wacko animal rightists, principled pacifists. Some are atheists. Some are people who are most worried about loss of civil liberties. Some are people who are most worried about erosion of the wall between church and state. Some are worried about the "Left Behind" crowd and the impending theocracy. Some are worried about faith-based presidency. Some are worried about anti-intellectualism and dissing of science. Some are well-educated, well-informed people who understand that liberal core will be Kerry's guide to all decisions. Of course, there is a lot of overlap among these categories of people, e.g, educated, pro-science, atheist, environmentalist bloggers who have read Lakoff.

You know what? If I was polled, I would have picked "moral values" as my answer (after loudly complaining to the pollster what a non-sensical list of choices I was given). Does that make me a wacko (or Waco, TX) fundamentalist?

Imagine yourself being a regular Joe or Jane The American, going about your daily life, not following the news much, but deciding to go and do your civic duty of voting. You were born and raised Democrat or Republican or Green or Libertarian and that is how you will vote no matter what. After a couple of hours of waiting you finally get to punch your straight-party ticket and exit. You are stopped by a pollster at the door who gives you this big questionnaire to fill. You are tired and hungry and want to get it over with as soon as possible. You fill all the personal info on sex, age, race, income etc, and in the end you get to this question about reasons for voting. You have never thought about it. You look at the choices and nothing makes sense. You want to check most or all of them, plus some missing issues, yet you have to decide on one. You have about a second or two to make a decision. What do you pick? Moral values, of course, as it is the most encompassing answer, the biggest of the Russian dolls. If you are feeling particularly unsafe, you may pick one of the foreign policy answers. If you feel particularly economically threatened you may choose one of the domestic issue answers.

Thus, the CNN exit poll is barely better than random choice of answers, and it is almost designed to elicit many "moral values" responses. It is absolutely no surprise to anyone but Wolf Blitzer and colleagues.

Now that I wrote this, I allowed myself to go and read what others have written about exit polls - there are three articles just in New York Times - and they mostly agree with me. I guess I am on a right track, so far. New installments will come over the course of next few days: trying to figure out what happenned and what is one to do next.

If you do not live in one of the great bastions of liberalism, thus you understand that Hillary, as much as we love her, would be a disastrous candidate for 2008, and if you think John Edwards is ideal and you want to discuss his future and possible candidacy, the place to go is the forum of his grassroots supporters at There is not a push to "draft" Edwards yet, but when it happens it will happen on that website/forum/blog.

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