Topic: Government and Politics

The Ohio “Values Voters” Myth, Again

The 2004 initiative to ban same-sex marriage in Ohio “helped cause a surge in turnout of ‘values voters,’ who helped deliver this pivotal state to President Bush’s successful reelection effort,” the Washington Post proclaims on the front page today. That’s been the story line since 2004: 11 state votes on banning gay marriage turned out religious and conservative voters, and that helped Bush win his narrow reelection, especially in Ohio, where a Kerry win would have given Kerry an electoral vote majority.

But is it right? There’s good evidence that it isn’t.

It’s true that states with such initiatives voted for Bush at higher rates than other states, but that’s mostly because the bans were proposed in conservative states. In fact, Bush’s share of the vote rose just slightly less in the marriage-ban states than in the other states: up 2.6 percent in the states with marriage bans on the ballot, up 2.9 percent in the other states.

Did Gay Marriage Boost Bush?

Political scientist Simon Jackman of Stanford has more here (pdf). He concludes that the marriage referenda tended to increase turnout but not to increase Bush’s share of the vote. And in a county-by-county analysis of Ohio, he found no clear relationship between increased turnout, support for the marriage ban, and increased support for Bush.

A broader claim grew out of the 2004 exit polls showing that more voters chose “moral values” than anything else as their most important issue. “Ethics and moral values were ascendant last night—on voters’ minds, in Americans’ hearts,” William J. Bennett wrote the next morning on National Review Online. But that claim also fails careful analysis. In the exit poll 22 percent of voters said that “moral values” were most important to them, larger than any other single choice. But if you combined Iraq and terrorism, and economy/jobs and taxes, then both foreign policy and economic policy were most important to more voters.

In addition, of course, it’s not clear what “moral values” means. The Los Angeles Times exit poll, which asks the question a different way, found that 40 percent of voters surveyed selected “moral/ethical values” as one of their two most important issues in 2004–the same percentage as in 1996, when they reelected Bill Clinton. Some voters may think that poverty, the environment, war, individual freedom, or any number of other things are “moral issues.”

Some people say the Republicans got more votes from regular church-goers. But in Ohio, the share of the electorate represented by frequent churchgoers actually declined from 45 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2004. I think the Republicans had already done a thorough job of getting regular churchgoers to the polls. Their great accomplishment in 2004 was combing the country to find un-organized voters who would vote Republican if you got them to the polls.

So then why did Bush win? It’s terrorism, stupid. The most important number in the exit polls was this: 58 percent of respondents said they trusted Bush to handle terrorism, while only 40 percent trusted Kerry. You can’t win a post-9/11 election if only 40 percent of voters trust you to protect them against terrorists; people may not be happy with the war in Iraq, but they thought terrorism was the bigger issue.

There were strong swings to Bush in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York, stronger than in all but one of the 11 marriage-ban states. Those are states that felt the threat of terrorism most directly after 9/11.

And then, of course, there was the freedom issue.

Bush told voters, “My opponent is against personal retirement accounts, against giving patients more control over their medical decisions through health savings accounts, against providing parents more choices over education for their children, against tax relief for all Americans. He seems to be against every idea that gives Americans more authority and more choices and more control over their own lives.”

If it hadn’t been for the war in Iraq – which tended to cut in a different direction from the war on terror – and the loss of libertarian voters who no longer believed his rhetoric about freedom, Bush might have actually won the big victory that economic models of the election predicted.

But it’s time to lay to rest the idea that Bush won Ohio and the presidency on the strength of anti-gay-marriage votes.

Voter Fraud and Other Political Facts

The House bill to require photo ID for voting rests on the premise that voter fraud is a significant problem. It turns out that premise is a little shaky. A report prepared for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission has found little evidence of polling-place fraud, according to USA Today.

The Commission on Federal Election Reform (Carter-Baker Commission) found “no evidence of extensive fraud in U.S. elections or of multiple voting,” though it does occur and could affect a close election. To inspire confidence in the system, the Commission recommended using the national ID card created by the REAL ID Act as a voter registration card. Proof of citizenship would be required to get a driver’s license, tightening government control of the citizenry just a little more.

I’ve written here before about “political facts,” things made true by consensus rather than any measurement or observation. The soaring costs of identity fraud and its relationship to data breaches are political facts that have a lot of currency in Washington today.

Another political fact getting a lot of attention and lather is the notion that child pornography has become a $20 billion dollar industry. “Exponential” growth of this problem is being used to justify legally mandated retention of data about our online travels by Internet service providers. Exploitation of children is loathsome, but it turns out the $20 billion figure is bunk.

One wonders how many other problems Congress addresses itself to might be exaggerated or even fictional.

Libertarians and Soccer Moms

A few years ago “soccer moms” were all the rage among political consultants. Then it was “NASCAR dads.” But only 4-5 percent of voters really fit the “soccer mom” profile, and only 2 percent were “NASCAR dads.” Tomorrow Cato will release a study showing that there are far more libertarian voters than soccer moms or NASCAR dads. Maybe politicos should pay attention to them.

My former colleague David Kirby, now executive director of America’s Future Foundation, obtained data sets from Gallup, Pew Research Center, and the American National Election Studies. He did some original calculations to find libertarians in those polls, and then he and I wrote up the results. Without scooping our own story, I’ll just say that we found that a substantial percentage of voters are libertarian – not libertarians who can compare and contrast Hayek and Rand, but people whose views on broad issues distinguish them from both liberals and conservatives.

We think our data undermine the whole idea these days that the electorate is polarized, that everybody’s either red or blue, that there’s no more swing vote. Indeed, one of the most interesting things we found is that libertarians are a swing vote. They voted very differently in 2004 from most previous years. How? Check our homepage Thursday.

Economic Reporting

Notes from the Business section of Tuesday’s Washington Post: There’s some evidence in the lead story that both politicians and journalists do learn economics. Writing about the award of the Nobel Prize in economics to Edmund Phelps, reporter Nell Henderson writes:

In a series of papers in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Phelps, 73, challenged the prevailing belief that policymakers could lower the nation’s long-term unemployment rate by accepting higher inflation.

That misguided notion contributed ruinously to Federal Reserve policies of the 1970s, which allowed easy credit to fan inflation to double-digit levels. The result was high inflation and high unemployment, a combination that came to be called stagflation.

Free-market economists often bemoan misguided economic assumptions in newspapers, not to mention bad policies promulgated by politicians, and they despair of getting basic economic concepts understood. But here’s a reporter who understands the failure of Phillips Curve economics in the 1970s, writing about a Federal Reserve that also came to understand that failure.

Inside the section, Vickie Elmer writes that “Some 77 percent of government workers say they’re happy at work, compared with 70 percent of those who work in private enterprise.” She offers some speculation about why that might be, including the fact that government agencies are hiring (but private-sector employment is also growing). What she doesn’t mention is that it could be because federal employees make exactly twice as much money as private-sector workers, as Chris Edwards wrote in the Post recently.

Finally, another story by Steven Mufson is headlined “Suspicion Surrounds Retreat in Gas Prices, Poll Finds.” It may actually be good news that according to the poll, only 30 percent of Americans think that gas prices are falling because the Bush administration is manipulating them in advance of the election. Last week Jerry Taylor praised Mufson’s previous story reviewing and deflating this conspiracy theory. It’s too bad that the idea is still alive.

Electing Women

A new study says that women are most likely to be elected to office in New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. “At the other end are Gadsden, Ala., and Paducah and Bowling Green, Ky.”

Well, I grew up 25 miles from Paducah, and I wondered about that. Paducah had a woman mayor — no, Dolly McNutt was not a character in a Donald Duck comic book. That’s something that neither Los Angeles nor New York has had. In 1983, Kentucky elected Martha Layne Collins governor, only the third woman in American history to be elected governor without succeeding her husband. Neither New York nor California has yet had a woman governor. Collins carried McCracken County, home of Paducah, by a large margin over baseball star and future senator Jim Bunning. She also heavily carried Warren County, where Bowling Green is the county seat.

It sounds reasonable that, as the Washington Post reports,

Districts that elect women, according to [study coauthor Dennis] Simon, tend to be “upscale — more degrees, more professionals, urban.” Those less likely, he added, are “more rural, lower-income and more traditional.”

But I’m not sure. Aside from the above comparisons of Kentucky, New York, and California, I note that the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate who did not succeed her husband in Congress was Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas. Kansas was also the first state where a woman defeated an incumbent governor, and it was the second state to have two female senators. Simon may be largely right, but it’s not a slam-dunk.

Andrew Sullivan in Multimedia

Andrew Sullivan gave a cogent and provocative speech this week at Cato based on his new book The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back. Prodded by a critique from David Brooks, he sharpened and clarified his argument during the question-and-answer session. Together, Sullivan and Brooks produced the kind of vigorous and intelligent discussion that think tanks strive for. You can catch the debate in RealAudio, RealVideo, or MP3 here.

Or if you prefer shorter bites on YouTube, you can find the first part of Andrew’s opening remarks here, the second part here, a closing back-and-forth with Brooks on conservatism, limited government, and the failure of the 1994 Republican Revolution here, and a short colloquy on same-sex marriage here. Finally, watch for the whole thing to appear on C-SPAN’s Book TV soon.

Enough with the H. W. Already

Through 25 years in public life, George Bush was always just that: George Bush. Rep. George Bush, Amb. George Bush, CIA Director George Bush, President George Bush. His son has always been George W. Bush in public life. But now journalists and others think we’re so dumb that we can’t tell them apart unless they add previously unknown initials to George Bush’s name. Today the U.S. Navy launched the USS George H. W. Bush. What an unnecessarily complicated name.

Let’s put a moratorium on renaming presidents after they retire. We can tell the difference between George Bush and George W. Bush. (Boy, can we tell the difference.) And if “Bill Clinton” was good enough for campaigns and bill-signings and orders to bomb countries that hadn’t attacked us, it’s good enough for history. Enough with the attempt to give Clinton retrospective gravitas as William Jefferson Clinton.