Exit Polls Come Under Scrutiny After U.S. Presidential Election
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RAY SUAREZ: What do the exit polls tell us about the people who voted in yesterday’s election? Joining us now to assess the voting results is Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. Welcome, Andrew.
ANDREW KOHUT: Good to be here.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, now that you’ve had a chance to look at your numbers and others, what portrait emerges of the electorate that turned out?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, this is an electorate that ultimately became comfortable — comfortable enough with their concerns about President Bush.
They gave him a 53 percent approval rating, higher than we had seen during the campaign, but still very divided over the Iraq and felt badly about the way the economy was going, certainly didn’t rate the economy very well, but in the end came to the view that they were more comfortable, certainly more comfortable with President Bush than they were with Sen. Kerry.
They were mostly comfortable on the leadership and character dimension. Every single element in this campaign that related to leadership and character, President Bush won by an 8-1 margin, and in the end, even on questions of Iraq, which was divisive, the public went, the voters went along with the way the Bush people saw it, for example, they saw the war in Iraq as a majority of them said it was an integral part or a part of the war on terrorism.
RAY SUAREZ: A little earlier you heard Margaret Warner talking about the words of a Kerry staffer, a group of voters we don’t know how to talk to and referring to reporters, neither do you. Do you think you have an idea of who those people are from your numbers?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, I’m not sure that’s quite right. I mean, what we saw in this election was both parties turning out at higher levels, but the Republicans won the ground war. In the last two elections, the Democrats had a four percentage point advantage in party affiliation.
It was even — as many Republicans as Democrats in this particular election according to the exit poll. But what we saw was Republicans of all hues and stripe, not just Christian conservatives and evangelicals, white evangelicals, turning out at higher rates.
So I’m not so sure that it was a case of politicking from the pulpit, which created the Republican surge in turnout. I think it was all sorts of conservative Republicans going out to support President Bush in a high-stakes election when they were very uncomfortable with John Kerry.
RAY SUAREZ: Perhaps not politics from the pulpit, but one of the questions that voters were asked had to do with what closed the sale for them, and moral values was right up there with the economy and Iraq at 22 percent. It won a plurality in one set of exit polls
ANDREW KOHUT: Everyone who is reading those exit polls was taken back by that number. Many people said moral values or Iraq or the economy or terrorism in fact more than Iraq. Looking at that, I think, and I think there are probably other pollsters that hold this view, that measure is a little bit misleading.
Moral values in a list of things that you’re asking people what issues are on their mind, that’s a an ambiguous term; it’s a term that has a social desirability factor from the point of view of conservatives. If you put moral values on a list, it’s hard for many people to say they weren’t thinking of moral values when they were making their decision.
And, most importantly, we asked open-ended questions throughout the campaign, the moral values questions never rose to the level of the conditions questions, the Iraq, economy or terrorism. I think…
I’m not trying to understate the importance of moral values in this campaign and the importance of that issue, that cluster of issues to the Bush campaign and to the Republican Party, but I think there was an overstatement of that in the exit polls, and it’s going to become part of the narrative that explains this election and perhaps not quite accurately.
RAY SUAREZ: A lot of people have been talking about who showed up for the president. Well, who were John Kerry voters?
ANDREW KOHUT: John Kerry did very well among younger people. You know, the 18 to 30s did in absolute numbers turn out at higher level, but President Bush did much better among older voters than he did four years ago. First-time voters, late deciders broke for Sen. Kerry.
There was a little Sen. Kerry trend in the final days. The undecideds went that way a little bit. But in the end, Hispanics went more heavily for President Bush this time. President Bush got a higher level of female voters. We talked about how the gender gap didn’t look quite the same as it did in the two previous elections.
And women did support the president a little more and Sen. Kerry a little less than Al Gore four years ago and a lot less than President Clinton eight years ago.
RAY SUAREZ: Andy Kohut, thanks for coming by.
ANDREW KOHUT: You’re welcome.