The Spectacle Blog

On Myths

By on 3.19.06 | 1:29AM

I just got around to reading Patrick Hynes's Friday column. It's a bit problematic. Hynes writes:

David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, declared the moral values voter a "myth." Over at the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer said moral values voters were a "myth." In his book God's Politics, liberal evangelical activist Jim Wallis called moral values voters, you guessed it, a "myth."
I haven't read Wallis's book, but that's a gross mischaracterization of what Brooks and Krauthammer wrote.

Recall the day after the election, exit polls found that "moral values" received 22%, a bare plurality, among answers to the question "Which ONE issue mattered most in deciding how you voted for president?" This lead to much chatter about how the only thing that mattered in the election was gay marriage and the like. Brooks pointed out that this was nonsense, cooked up to coddle liberal egos (his column is no longer online for free, but it's still in the Lexis-Nexis database):

Every election year, we in the commentariat come up with a story line to explain the result, and the story line has to have two features. First, it has to be completely wrong. Second, it has to reassure liberals that they are morally superior to the people who just defeated them.

In past years, the story line has involved Angry White Males, or Willie Horton-bashing racists. This year, the official story is that throngs of homophobic, Red America values-voters surged to the polls to put George Bush over the top.

This theory certainly flatters liberals, and it is certainly wrong.

Here are the facts. As Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center points out, there was no disproportionate surge in the evangelical vote this year. Evangelicals made up the same share of the electorate this year as they did in 2000. There was no increase in the percentage of voters who are pro-life. Sixteen percent of voters said abortions should be illegal in all circumstances. There was no increase in the percentage of voters who say they pray daily.

Nowhere does Brooks say that the values vote is a myth. What he says is that it's a myth that values played a larger roll than ever in 2004. The same goes for Krauthammer, whose column is still online. Here's how Krauthammer explained the flaw in the exit poll questions:
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.

Again, it's not the existence of values voters that Krauthammer calls a myth, it's the exaggeration of their political importance in the 2004 election. This argument (of which you can find more in my post-election column from 2004) remains unassailable.

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