washingtonpost.com  > Nation > Search the States > Massachusetts

Sliding Scale of Moral Values Is All in the Phrasing

By Charles Babington and Brian Faler
Sunday, November 14, 2004; Page A05

Much has been made of presidential exit polls indicating that voters cared more about "moral values" than Iraq, terrorism or other issues. Numerous pundits have concluded that Democrats badly miscalculated President Bush's strengths and weaknesses and that the party is terribly out of touch with the heartland.

Well, not so fast.

Voters' responses, it turns out, vary dramatically depending on how the question is asked. If pollsters let voters name anything they choose as the "most important factor" in their decision -- rather than giving them a list to pick from -- Iraq easily outdistances moral values. A close third is the economy and jobs.

When the Pew Research Center polled 1,209 voters after the Nov. 2 election, it used both methods to ask what was "the most important factor" in choosing between Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).

Some sampled by Pew were given the same options that exit pollsters gave voters on Election Day. Of these, Pew found, 27 percent listed "moral values" as most important, 22 percent said "Iraq," 21 percent chose "economy and jobs," and 14 percent said "terrorism." The Nov. 2 exit poll results were 22 percent "moral values," 20 percent "economy and jobs," 19 percent "terrorism," and 15 percent "Iraq."

But when Pew's post-election pollsters let voters offer any answer, results were starkly different: 25 percent cited Iraq, 14 percent moral values, 12 percent economy and jobs, and 9 percent terrorism. The biggest category, at 31 percent, was "other," which included "honesty," dislike or like of Bush or Kerry, and so on.

If Iraq and terrorism are combined as one issue -- which is how the Bush campaign portrayed them -- it easily tops the list under either method of framing the question (36 percent and 34 percent, respectively).

Keep on the Sunny Side

Speaking of polls, voters seem to be patting themselves on the back. The University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey found that, after Nov. 2, Americans are more optimistic about the nation's direction.

Forty-seven percent said the country is "generally going in the right direction," compared with 40 percent in pre-election polls. After the election, 46 percent said "things are seriously off on the wrong track," compared with 53 percent before the vote.

They Demand a Recount

A couple of minor-party presidential candidates hope to have a major impact on the ongoing vote count in Ohio. Green Party nominee David Cobb and Libertarian Michael Badnarik said last week that they want a recount of the state's presidential vote -- and are willing to pay to force it.

Ohio law allows candidates to demand a recount, provided they pay the cost, estimated at $113,000 for all precincts. The political odd couple is off to a fast fundraising start for the effort. The Cobb campaign said Friday that it had raised $71,000, while the Badnarik camp had no estimate of its fundraising. Both campaigns said they want to ensure the Ohio tally's accuracy.

"Unless you conduct an audit, essentially you don't know what problems there are," Cobb spokesman Blair Bobier said.

Their effort comes as the Internet burbles with rumors of voter fraud in Ohio and elsewhere. Bush won the critical battleground state by about 136,000 votes in unofficial returns.

The two minor candidates were little more than afterthoughts during the campaign. Cobb wasn't on the Ohio ballot but received 24 write-in votes. Badnarik made the ballot and received about 14,300 votes.

The Kerry campaign, which still has volunteer lawyers monitoring vote tallies in nearly every Ohio county, expressed no opinion on the Cobb-Badnarik campaign. "We can't prevent anybody else from asking for a recount," said Dan Hoffheimer, its state legal counsel. No Democratic group, he said, is "behind any effort to have a recount."

Tough Crowd in Nevada

As residents of a coveted presidential battleground state, Nevadans had plenty of reason to vote Nov. 2. Among those who turned out were 3,600 who cast ballots for -- drum roll, please -- none of the above, an option required by Nevada law.

They accounted for less than half of 1 percent of all state voters. Nonetheless, NOTA outpolled Libertarian Michael Badnarik, the Green Party's David Cobb and Constitution Party nominee Michael Peroutka. Independent Ralph Nader avoided similar humiliation, beating no one by 1,100 votes.

In Search of a New Leader

Democrats, still reeling from the election, are weighing more than a dozen possible contenders to succeed Terry McAuliffe as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Several party activists said Friday that no one has emerged as a front-runner.

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack might be a strong candidate because a broad cross-section of party activists likes him (or doesn't strongly dislike him, which can be just as important), some party loyalists said. Others said to be testing the waters include former New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen, political adviser Harold Ickes, former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk and former Georgia governor Roy Barnes.

Party insiders said it was unclear whether Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and presidential contender, might be interested. Those who have ruled themselves out include Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore's presidential campaign.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company