“The Values Vote”?
Moral Issues and the 2004 Elections
MARK J. ROZELL AND DEBASREE DAS GUPTA
IN THE INSTANT ANALYSES THAT INEVITABLY FOLLOW U.S. ELECtions, many observers of the 2004 contest said that successful mobilization of the religious right was the key to understanding the scope of the GOP triumph. A national exit poll asked voters to identify the most important issues in making up their minds on election day. Among a list of leading issues, the most frequently cited answer was “moral values.” Exit poll data also showed a significant increase in voting among conservative evangelicals in 2004. Furthermore, these voters were even more solidly Republican than they had been in 2000. The presidential nominees had clashed over moral issues such as abortion and stem cell research, and media coverage gave substantial emphasis to these controversies during the campaign. Eleven states held anti-gay marriage referenda, and all of these measures passed easily.
It is no surprise, therefore, that leading political analysts referred to the 2004 elections outcome as “the values vote.” Is the GOP triumph so easily explained, however? The evidence suggests the following: First, the 2004 election does not represent a sea change in U.S. politics that demonstrates the triumph of moral issues. The election outcomes do validate the existence and continuation of certain voting trends, including the increased Republicanism of evangelical and Catholic voters, as well as heightened electoral polarization. Second, moral values were a key component of the campaign, but one-dimensional interpretations of the GOP triumphs do not adequately explain the election outcome. President Bush's victory and those of many Republican candidates throughout the country were the result of other key factors as well, including security issues, incumbency