November 05, 2004

Energized Versus Expanded

I have a feeling it will be a long time before the dust settles on this debate: Did Bush win by energizing his base, or by expanding it? Jesse Taylor drew some fire for asserting the former:

Incidentally, I really do believe Bush's win is based on getting out the homophobic votes for the same-sex marriage amendments across the nation. I get the feeling he won't get denounced for relying on homophobes to get him into the White House.
I'm willing to skirt the edges of fair use to include his later clarification because, well, people can be dumb, and clarifications are an attempt to head that dumbness off at the pass, and I am all for that action:
For the blindingly stupid - no, not everyone who voted against same-sex marriage was a homophobe. But every homophobe voted against same-sex marriage, and the vast majority of them supported Bush and were energized because of these issues.
Considering the Bush campaign made a point of trumpeting that it had successfully "energized the base," and that the largest block of voters in CNN's exit poll cited "moral issues" as their main concern, I didn't think at the time that this was an entirely unfair supposition. After all, 80% of that largest block had voted for Bush.

But then you look at the largest block using, God help us, the raw data, and find it depends how you categorize and tabulate the "largest single block:"

In the first place, "largest single block" turns out to mean 22%, meaning 78% of voters -- including two-thirds of Bush voters -- named some other issue. Second, the pollsters only managed to elevated [sic] "moral values" to number one by dividing up the other issues into subcategories. Thus "Iraq" and "Terrorism" are treated as separate issues, though grouped together as, say, "national security" they would have claimed the top spot, with 34% of the total. Likewise "taxes" and "economy" were named by a combined 25% of voters. Had "moral values" been split into "abortion" and "gay marriage," the spin would have been rather different.
I can see separating "Iraq" from "terrorism;" while it's commonly believed on the right that the two are indirectly related (I'm in that camp myself), it is not a belief shared by all. What I don't see is the sense in separating "taxes" and "economy." Adjusting the tax rate and steering the appropriation of tax revenue are the primary means by which a president influences the economy (other tinkering such as raising or lowering the prime rate being left to the Federal Reserve). Separating the two into distinct categories, however, makes them specific and exclusive. Either taxes or the economy is your issue; you can't pick both.

By contrast, "moral issues" is vague--and as such it was guaranteed to garner the lion's share of respondents.

Look, I freely admit that I failed statistics, but even I can figure this out, and without math. If I ask you whether you prefer fame to riches, you can probably give me a clear answer after only a moment or two. But if I ask you to choose either (1) being hounded by autograph seekers, or (2) having your photograph on the cover of TIME magazine, or (3) receiving "riches," you're probably going to say "riches." (Though if you're shrewd, you'll first ask me to name a figure and currency, thereby narrowing the general category to a specific one, which puts all the choices at more or less equal weight again. Hey, what if I'm talking about riches in pesos?).

If you put specific categories against general ones, general ones usually win. Do you like food, or anchovies?

And while I'm freely admitting that I'm lousy with math, let me also freely admit that my vested interest here is that I don't want Jesse's assertion to prove true. I don't like knowing that I voted for the same guy as John Derbyshire. (You thought I was going to link him? Really? That's so cute.)

But the other thing is . . . the other thing is the old head-in-the-bubble phenomenon. You know, where you read a lot of like-minded people and conclude, often wrongly, that everyone's like you?

Well, I read a lot of liberals-turned-Bush-voters; thus, it's tempting for me to assume that what made Bush's win possible was their participation, and the participation of others like-minded, at the polls. I'm aware of the caveats--that blog authors are not necessarily representative of the nation as a whole; that blog authors who fit that category of first-time Bush voters may make up only a small fraction of all blog authors--but it doesn't prevent me from thinking that if a fraction exists in the blogosphere, maybe it exists "out there" as well. A further look at the data may bear me out on this (note--emphasis added):

About 45% of Bush's vote -- nearly half -- came from self-identified "moderates" or "liberals." (How do I get that figure? Jump about a fifth of the way down the page, where it breaks down the vote "by ideology." Liberals made up 21% of all voters, and Bush got 13% of their votes. Multiplying the two, that means 2.7% of voters were "liberals for Bush." Doing the same for moderates (45% of all voters, 45% of whom voted Bush) yields 20.3%: the number of moderate Bush voters. Adding these two tells us 23% of all voters were liberal or moderate Bushies. Those 23% represented 45% of all Bush voters, given these were 51% of the total vote.)
You can call it spinning the data, but in general, I find it safer to trust conclusions based on number-crunching than conclusions extrapolated from one-sentence soundbites, the general innumeracy of the press being, alas, a well-documented phenomenon. And yeah, I'd like to buy it also because it fits with what I see online.

For now, I'll just wait for someone to trackback Coyne's analysis with a post titled "Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics." That much, at least, is inevitable.

(Found via one of those liberal Bush voters. Naturally. And I'll second his urging that you read the whole thing before drawing your conclusions.)

Posted by Ilyka at November 5, 2004 09:28 AM in hell is other people

In any election this close (and it was close enough that a relatively small constituency of 1-2% of the population), the odds are good that you could point to any of a half dozen or more groups and say 'but for them, we would have lost'.

The difference in the value of the moderates, in the political calculus, is that by and large their votes count double. The difference being that the extremes are likely going to either vote for you, or not vote, whereas the moderates that don't vote for you are quite likely to be voting for the other guy. So Bush wins Ohio by, say, 150,000 votes. If he loses 100,000 hardcore right votes, he wins by 50,000. If he loses 100,000 moderate votes, he almost certainly loses that race.

That's one basic calculus that people on either side that focus exclusively on 'motivating the base' seem to overlook.

Posted by: Craig at November 5, 2004 03:11 PM