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November 26, 2004

The Moral Values Election

Joshua Cohen: November 26, 2004

The day after the election I had an email from a well-known political scientist, saying: "The gay marriage battle was, I suspect, crucial as a mobilizing device.  At the worst possible time in the national election cycle, Margaret Marshall handed this issue to the Republicans for use in mobilizing places like nonurban Ohio..." Some version of this view is approaching conventional wisdom. And maybe it is right. But a few facts that bear on the issue: (1) gay marriage was on the ballot in three battleground states, and Bush's two party vote share dropped from 2000 in all three (Ohio, Michigan, and Oregon): a slight drop, but a drop. The other states with ballot initiatives were all strongly pro-Bush in 2000 and basically uncontested; and in battleground states without ballot initiatives, Bush ran stronger (in two party vote share) in 2004 than in 2000; (2) if you look at the county level, you find the following: in counties that were strongly pro-Bush in 2000 (where he won over 60% of the two-party vote), Bush got an extra boost from a gay marriage initiative (ran better than in bright red counties with a ballot initiative at the state level than in bright red counties without one); but in counties that Bush lost in 2000, he did less well in 2004 when there was a marriage initiative than when there was not; and in contested counties (with Bush support in 2000 running between 50 and 60%), Bush did not do as well when a marriage initiative was on the ballot as when it was not. The presence of marriage initiatives may have been a net benefit to Kerry (analysis of the interaction effect from Ansolabehere and Stewart); (3) the standard economic models of elections predicted (on average) that Bush would win with 54% of the vote. It is cold comfort that he underperformed relative to predictions based on models that predict well, but in figuring out what happened, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the normal election-determining factors were all working in his favor; (4) a recent NYT/CBS poll (11.18-11.21) shows that most people disapprove of Bush on the economy, foreign policy, and Iraq, but strongly approve of him on the "war on terror."

Maybe it is basically Margaret Marshall's fault, or maybe she symbolizes something...that the judiciary is the only place left in which progressive values have any traction. But maybe not... If our concern (and it is a good concern) is to break out of pretty cloistered political worlds (85% Kerry voters in Cambridge), we need to be careful in understanding and navigating a complex terrain.


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Posted by: NP

Look at the rural counties in Ohio that were close to 50-50 in 2000 (Clark, Lawrence, etc.). They lost jobs between 2000 and 2004. Contra economic models, they went overwhelmingly for Bush in 2004. Gay marriage? Seems likely.

Posted by: NP | Dec 8, 2004 1:03:27 AM

Posted by: Tony Zbaraschuk

It occurs to me that they might possibly have been worried about other issues, such as perhaps national security.

If the Left's instant reaction to "we don't like your candidate" is "You're bigoted a--holes", then there's not much chance of a dialogue.

Posted by: Tony Zbaraschuk | Dec 9, 2004 1:19:10 AM

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