Bush Voters Support Active Government Role in Values Arena

by Frank Newport

Oppose government role in solving nation's problems, but support government role in promoting traditional values

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Bush voters were significantly more likely than Kerry voters in this year's election to report that "moral values" were an important consideration in their presidential votes. Gallup Poll data suggest, however, that the two groups of voters are equally likely to rate the state of morals in this country as "only fair" or "poor." The difference between the two groups in the importance of moral values to their votes may lie in differing perceptions of government's role in addressing moral concerns: Bush voters are more than twice as likely as Kerry voters to believe that the government should promote traditional values. Perhaps paradoxically, this appears to be a circumscribed sentiment; Bush voters are much less likely than Kerry voters to believe that generally, government should take a larger role in solving society's problems.

Basic Data

The Edison-Mitofsky exit polls this year used a "forced choice" question in which voters leaving the polls were asked to choose which one of seven alternatives was most important in their votes for president. The results for all voters were as follows:

Exit Poll: Most Important Issue to Your Vote

%

Moral values

22

Economy/Jobs

20

Terrorism

19

Iraq

15

Healthcare

8

Taxes

5

Education

4

Source: Edison/Mitofsky exit poll as reported on cnn.com

The difference between Bush voters and Kerry voters in their selection among these seven issues was substantial:

Exit Poll: Most Important Issue to Your Vote

 

% voting for Bush
among those who selected
issue as most important

% voting for Kerry
among those who selected
issue as most important

Moral values

80

18

Economy/Jobs

18

80

Terrorism

86

14

Iraq

26

73

Healthcare

23

77

Taxes

57

43

Education

26

73

Source: Edison/Mitofsky exit poll as reported on cnn.com

This forced-choice question construction came under some criticism by observers, who argued that the "moral values" alternative was so broad that it was easier to select than any of the other specific issue alternatives.

But just prior to the election, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll asked this same type of question using a different format, and found the same distinction between Bush voters and Kerry voters.

The Gallup question asked voters to rate each of a list of 10 issues separately, one after the other, in terms of its importance to their votes.

Now I am going to read a list of some of the issues that will probably be discussed in this year's presidential election campaigns. As I read each one, please tell me how important the candidates' positions on that issue will be in influencing your vote for president -- extremely important, very important, somewhat important, or not important.

Summary Table: Importance of Issues to Americans' Votes for President

 

2004 Oct 22-24
(sorted by
"extremely important")

Extremely
important

Very
important

Extremely/
Very
important

%

%

%

Terrorism

45

40

85

The situation in Iraq

40

45

85

The economy

39

49

88

Moral values

34

39

73

Healthcare

33

47

80

Education

32

52

84

Social Security

32

38

70

Medicare

25

43

68

The environment

22

38

60

Same-sex marriage

18

20

38

As can be seen, moral values were not No. 1 among all voters when they were asked to rate each item in terms of its importance. The top three issues based on the percentage saying they were "extremely important" were terrorism, Iraq, and the economy. Moral values were essentially tied with three other categories that followed: healthcare, education, and Social Security.

But among those who said they intended to vote for Bush, "moral values" were second in importance only to terrorism:

Importance of Issues to Votes for President
by vote intention

% extremely important

2004 Oct 22-24
(sorted by
"Bush voters")

Bush voters

Kerry voters

%

%

Terrorism

54

37

Moral values

47

26

Iraq

38

44

Economy

27

54

Same-sex marriage

26

9

Social Security

23

40

Education

21

39

Healthcare

20

42

Environment

13

32

Medicare

12

35

There was a 21-point difference between those intending to vote for Bush and those intending to vote for Kerry in terms of their agreement that "moral values" would be extremely important to their presidential votes; only 26% of Kerry voters said moral values would be an important consideration in their votes for president, compared to 47% of Bush voters.

So it appears well established that Bush voters were more likely than Kerry voters to agree that moral values were important to their votes, using either the exit poll forced-choice procedure or the item-by-item procedure Gallup used in the pre-election environment.

No Differences in Views Regarding State of Moral Values Today

This difference in perceived importance of moral values does not necessarily appear to result from differences in the perceived state of morality today. Indeed, the perception that moral values are in bad shape is apparently fairly universal:

Thinking for a moment about moral values, how would you rate the overall state of moral values in this country today -- as excellent, good, only fair, or poor?

 

Excellent

Good

Only fair

Poor

No opinion

 

 

 

 

 

2004 Nov 19-21

4%

22

41

32

1

There is no difference between Bush voters and Kerry voters in their expressed ratings of the state of moral values in the country today. Both groups (based on self-reported voting in the Nov. 19-21 poll) are equally, and overwhelmingly, likely to rate the state of moral values as only fair or poor:

How would you rate the overall state of moral values in this country today?

2004 Nov 19-21

Bush voters

Kerry voters

%

%

Excellent/Good

28

28

Only fair/Poor

71

71

These data suggest that in the presidential election, the higher importance of moral values in Bush voters' thinking was not a direct result of their being more worried about the state of morals in this country today. Kerry voters were equally likely to rate moral values as only fair or poor.

In other words, there appears to be a distinction between the two groups of voters in how moral values apply as a criterion for a presidential vote, rather than a distinction regarding a more general, overall concern about moral values. Bush voters are apparently more likely than Kerry voters to believe that the occupant of the White House can or should play a significant role in dealing with moral values.

More Specifics on the Role of Government

Gallup has additional evidence to support the conclusion that Bush voters are disproportionately focused on the role of the presidency and government in the moral values arena.

Since 1993, Gallup has been asking directly about the role of government in promoting "traditional values":

Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?

 

Promote
traditional
values

Not favor
any set
of values


No
opinion

%

%

%

2004 Nov 19-21

55

41

4

 

 

 

2004 Sep 13-15

54

41

5

2003 Sep 8-10

56

40

4

2002 Sep 5-8

56

38

6

2001 Oct 5-6

59

39

3

2001 Sep 7-10

53

41

6

2000 Sep 11-13

54

38

8

1999 Sep 10-14

56

39

5

1998 Oct 29-30

56

37

7

1998 Apr 17-19

55

38

7

1997 Jan 31-Feb 2

53

40

7

1996 Jan 12-15

59

36

5

1994 Nov 2-6

55

37

8

1994 Oct 22-25

55

40

5

1994 Jan 15-17

54

40

6

1993 Dec 17-19

57

37

6

1993 Apr 22-24

55

39

6

1993 Mar 22-24

53

42

5

The data show that over time, there has been little change in the responses of the general population to the question. A little more than half (but never over 60%) of Americans consistently side with the "government should promote traditional values" alternative.

There is a very strong difference in response to this question by 2004 presidential election vote, however:

Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?

2004 Nov 19-21

Bush voters

Kerry voters

%

%

Government should promote traditional values

75

33

Government should not favor any set of values

21

64

The data are clear. Bush voters are overwhelmingly more likely than Kerry voters to say that government should have a role in the arena of traditional values. This corresponds with the finding that Bush voters are also more likely to say that moral values were important in their presidential votes. Although one question uses the word "traditional" and the other "moral" when discussing values, it is clear that in both instances, Bush voters are willing to endorse a connection between values and both the presidential vote and government actions.

A Contradiction?

Bush voters' strong likelihood to endorse the idea that government should promote traditional values can be juxtaposed against their lack of general support for the idea that government should be involved in solving society's problems. A second question included in the Nov. 19-21 poll asks:

Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country's problems. Which comes closer to your own view?                                            

 

Government
doing too much

Government
should do more

No
opinion

%

%

%

2004 Nov 19-21

55

36

9

 

 

 

2004 Sep 13-15

49

41

10

2003 Oct 24-26

52

40

8

2003 Sep 8-10

51

43

6

2002 Sep 5-8

50

43

7

2001 Oct 5-6

41

50

9

2001 Sep 7-10

55

36

9

2000 Sep 11-13

50

37

13

2000 Aug 18-19

54

38

8

1999 Sep 10-14

55

39

6

1998 Oct 29-30

50

38

12

1998 Apr 17-19

59

33

8

1997 Jan 31-Feb 2

58

33

9

1996 Jan 12-15

58

35

7

1995 Dec 15-19

60

32

8

1994 Nov 2-6

55

37

8

1994 Oct 22-25

57

37

6

1994 Jan 15-17

54

39

7

1993 Dec 17-19

55

38

7

1993 Apr 22-24

49

45

6

1993 Mar 22-24

45

49

6

1992 Oct 23-25

48

44

8

1992 Sep 11-15

51

43

6

1992 Aug 31-Sep 2

50

43

7

The results for this question have varied somewhat more over the last 12 years than have the results for the previous question, although in only two surveys -- March 1993 and October 2001, just after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- has the percentage of Americans who want government to do more to solve the nation's problems exceeded the percentage who say government is doing too much.

But more importantly, the data show the opposite pattern from the "traditional values" question, in terms of the responses of Bush voters and Kerry voters.

Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country's problems. Which comes closer to your own view?

2004 Nov 19-21

Bush voters

Kerry voters

Government is trying to do too
many things that should be left
to individuals and businesses

66%

46%

Government should do more
to solve our country's problems

23%

48%

The differences here between Bush voters and Kerry voters are not as dramatic as the ones for the "traditional values" question. In particular, Kerry voters appear to be conflicted about government's general role in solving society's problems, with just as many saying government is doing too much as say government should do more.

Still, Bush voters, by almost a 3-to-1 ratio, say government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. This stands in almost direct contrast to the finding that 75% of Bush voters say government should be involved in promoting traditional values in our society today.

Bottom Line

Several things are clear from this analysis of recent data dealing with the issue of values and the vote. Bush voters believe it is the role of government to promote traditional values, and report that "moral values" as broadly defined were an important criterion in their votes for president.

It can be assumed, then, that Bush voters felt that George W. Bush was better situated to push an agenda that coincided with their perceptions of values than was John Kerry. This certainly has face validity, given the Bush administration's record of having argued for government involvement in banning partial-birth abortions, advocating a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, restricting federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, and perhaps -- by extension -- the Federal Communication Commission's more visible role in the Bush years of acting against incidents of broadcast indecency such as the infamous Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" at this year's Super Bowl.

On the other hand, although Kerry voters are just as likely as Bush voters to rate the state of morality in the country today as only fair or poor, the former are much less likely to believe it is the role of government to advocate one particular set of values, and hence are much less likely than Bush voters to say moral values were an important issue in their votes for president. This too seems to conform with Kerry's (and the Democratic Party's) positions advocating that moral choices on issues like abortion and homosexuality be left to the individuals involved and not regulated by laws or government actions.

There is a paradox of sorts in all of this, of course, since the Bush administration has been much more likely to advocate that government should be less involved in a variety of other issues, leading to policies such as tax cuts, privatization of Social Security, charter schools, and health savings accounts. And the data indicate that rank-and-file Bush voters are also strongly likely to agree that government in general is doing too much that should be left to individuals and businesses.

This may also help explain why Bush voters are less likely than Kerry voters to say that education and healthcare were important to their votes for president this year. Bush voters may indeed have been concerned about these issues, but they may have been less likely to believe that the government (and the president) should be so heavily involved in attempting to fix them.

All in all, it appears likely that Bush succeeded this year in his re-election campaign in part because he and his advisers activated moderate and conservative voters' underlying feelings that the president could and should have a specific role to play in promoting a specific values agenda.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,015 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 19-21, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the 515 national adults in the Form A half-sample and 500 national adults in the Form B half-sample, the maximum margins of sampling error are ±5 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Get Articles in Related Topics:


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/14158/Bush-Voters-Support-Active-Government-Role-Values-Arena.aspx
Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030