Moral Values: Media, voters, and candidate strategy

Book Section

The conventional wisdom about the 2004 presidential election is that the electorate voted on the basis of "moral values."1 Journalists and pundits largely concluded that Bush won reelection because his stance on moral issues, especially gay marriage and abortion, coincided more closely than that of Kerry with the views of the American public.2 The London Times reported that "Americans voted in record numbers for a Republican president primarily because they identified with his moral agenda."3 Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, insisted that same-sex marriage was "the hood ornament on the family values wagon that carried the president to a second term."4 Some scholars have similarly concluded that the anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives contributed to Bush's victory,5 although others have challenged the assumption that voters were primarily concerned about moral issues in the 2004 election.6 In this chapter, I evaluate the relationship between presidential vote choice and attitudes on gay marriage, abortion, and other prominent campaign issues. The findings suggest that the election was not primarily a referendum on gay marriage or abortion policy. Rather, as in most elections in the past, the economy and war appeared to be foremost on the minds of most voters. The results show that gay marriage and abortion had roughly the same effect on their vote as the issues of Social Security reform, the environment, education policy, and a minimum wage increase. On the surface, this chapter may appear to run counter to the others in this volume. I conclude that the election was not fundamentally "about" the moral issues of gay marriage and abortion. At the same time, however, the analysis suggests that "matters of faith" might have influenced at least one aspect of the candidates' campaign strategies and policy appeals-their ground war communications. Religious fractures within the traditional party coalitions created incentives for candidates to appeal to narrow issue publics on wedge issues like abortion and gay marriage (among many others) while focusing the broader campaign, especially television advertising and news coverage, on Iraq and terrorism. The 2004 campaigns were able to use information and communication technologies to microtarget different issue publics with the specific policies that they cared about. Thus, although the analysis in this chapter suggests that most voters (or the average American voter) did not select a candidate on the basis of moral issues, it is important to recognize that a subset of voters cared about moral issues and that the Bush campaign was able to use direct mail, phone calls, and personal canvassing to emphasize issues like abortion and gay marriage for that subset of voters. (See chapter 7, by David Campbell and Quin Monson, in this volume.). © 2007 Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Hillygus, DS

Published Date

  • December 1, 2007

Book Title

  • A Matter of Faith: Religion in the 2004 Presidential Election

Start / End Page

  • 65 - 79

International Standard Book Number 10 (ISBN-10)

  • 0815710178

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9780815713272

Citation Source

  • Scopus