Saturday, November 06, 2004

The Terrorism Gap

In "A Question for Those Not Planning to Vote for Bush" this space made a case for reelecting George Bush based on the presupposition that the fight against terror was the overriding issue of the 2004 election. In the days following the election, conventional wisdom has coalesced on the view that the issue of moral values, and particularly opposition to gay marriage, was the primary factor that decided the election for George Bush. In "The Gay Marriage Myth Terrorism, not values, drove Bush's re-election", Paul Freedman argues persuasively, however, that the data do not support this widespread view. It was terrorism, Freedman insists, that decided the election.

Freedman argues that even though more voters cited moral issues as the deciding factor in their vote, and voters in states in which moral issues were a primary concern were more likely to vote Republican, these voters were no more likely to vote for Bush in 2004 than in 2000. On the other hand, while somewhat fewer voters cited terrorism as their dominant concern (19%), these voters gave their votes to Bush by a significantly larger margin (86% to 14%). When you control at the state level for each state's support for Bush in 2000, the percentage of voters citing terrorism as the top concern translates into a 3% gain for Bush. The ten percent increase in voters citing moral values as the predominant issue, however, when one controls for the variable of past support for Bush, translates into no gain at all in Bush's support.

Of course, Freedman's conclusion does not contravene the importance, in absolute terms, of moral issues to the campaign of 2004. Nonetheless, if one seeks the most significant factor accounting for how the Bush of 2004 outperformed the Bush of 2000, one need only look at the terrorism gap.

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