George W. Bush's victorious campaign made extremely clear that he valued the life of the unborn, a constitutional amendment opposing gay marriage, easing gun controls, and other right-wing issues. Based on voting results, some analysts believed that much of Bush's impressive victory came from a surge of support by millions of people who voted their values, giving values priority over the issues considered the biggies by both parties – the Iraq War, fighting terrorism and the economy. In addition for many, values trumped concern for their own economic interests.
Nov. 1, the day before the election, most polls showed John Kerry winning, as did exit poll reports broadcast during Election Day. Democrats, stunned by the unexpected loss, the next day began to concede that ignoring values might have been a big factor.
The Democrats should have absorbed the lesson of the "Polling Critic" column #24, "Ethical Politics", posted July 15, 2003, over 16 months ago. Republican pollsters who study my columns learned that emphasizing value issues could be critical to winning the next election. The Republicans found in column #24 the answer to this question, posed to 1,600 random households:
Do you agree or disagree with this statement: "I prefer that the politicians I vote for hold higher and more evolved moral and ethical values than I do."
Responses: agree 64%; disagree 25%; neutral 11%.
Because neither politicians nor their financial backers would pay for such a question, no commercial pollster would ask it. In 2000 and 2001, Alex Kochkin did. Kochkin, a public-interest poll sponsor, supported a massive survey by the Fund for Global Awakening of Point Reyes, Calif., with first-rate public-interest polling methodology that produced this startling finding. It is not too surprising that most people tend to think highly of their own moral and ethical values, so asking for even higher values from politicians is quite a stretch. The finding was further backed up by more questions. For example, in this question
"Do you prefer that the politicians you vote for have the same moral and ethical values as you do?" a whopping 82% said "yes."
The mainstream media and American elitist culture refuse to recognize that "ordinary people" harbor such ideals as Kochkin found.
What explains the massive miscalculation of Kerry's advisors? His campaign managers and pollsters were wrapped up in their own thinking and experience. "It's the economy, stupid” worked for Bill Clinton twice. Who would guess it would fail this time? Not top Kerry advisors such as James Carville, Stanley Greenberg, Bob Shrum, and Joe Lockhart.
James Carville is very good at convincing clients of the breadth of his enormous campaign experience and dazzling them with his brilliant talk-show presentations. He is also happily married to a Republican campaign strategist, Mary Matalin. Weird? Yes, but here is an explanation. Carville, deep down, believes campaign strategizing is a game. Vital for the Republican victory was Bush's top strategist, Karl Rove, who considers campaigns a blood sport, not a game. Rove loses no campaign tussles. His man wins. Carville's did not.
I hired Stanley Greenberg to help design, conduct, and analyze over a dozen public-interest polls during 1991-1996, and followed much of his work before and since. Greenberg respects his clients and is a competent pollster, but, in my view, he repeatedly fails to learn from others who think differently and have collective life experiences far greater than his own.
Quoting Joe Klein's May 9, 2002 website http://slate.msn.com/?id=2065586, Bob Shrum's record "on the presidential level is disastrous -- mostly because he has gradually replaced Kennedy elegance with an aggressive, pessimistic and unsubtle strain of economic populism, one of the more romantic and less admirable American political traditions. It purports to represent the interests of the little guy — the people, not the powerful — but more often than not it has manifested itself as a witlessly reactionary bundle of prejudices: nativist, protectionist, isolationist and paranoid. The central assumption is that the little guy is so aggrieved that he can only be roused to citizenship by an appeal to his basest suspicions. Exploitation and venality are posited as the central fact of American life: “The country is being taken to the cleaners by wicked plutocrats." In short, Shrum has no understanding of the value of public-interest poll findings reliably telling what large majorities of voters want for governance that could allow him to successfully advise his client presidential candidates.
Joe Lockhart is another Kerry advisor who is brilliant, a great presenter and speech writer, but has no record of strategizing for successful presidential campaigns.
These advisors were clueless on what would get large segments of the public to vote for Kerry. They are unable to hear and appraise new findings from different points of view and, as colleague/competitors, that impairment is amplified in group meetings. With their high-flying careers on the line, these top Kerry advisors made clear in election post mortems that it was not they who caused the Kerry debacle – oh, no.
The drama is still unfolding. At this writing, there remain ballots of the 2004 election to be counted. I will return with another column on election polling when a more final picture emerges.
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