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Blue Movie: The "morality gap" is becoming the key variable in American politics

Thomas Byrne Edsall

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Early in the 1996 election campaign Dick Morris and Mark Penn, two of Bill Clinton's advisers, discovered a polling technique that proved to be one of the best ways of determining whether a voter was more likely to choose Clinton or Bob Dole for President. Respondents were asked five questions, four of which tested attitudes toward sex: Do you believe homosexuality is morally wrong? Do you ever personally look at pornography? Would you look down on someone who had an affair while married? Do you believe sex before marriage is morally wrong? The fifth question was whether religion was very important in the voter's life.

Respondents who took the "liberal" stand on three of the five questions supported Clinton over Dole by a two-to-one ratio; those who took a liberal stand on four or five questions were, not surprisingly, even more likely to support Clinton. The same was true in reverse for those who took a "conservative" stand on three or more of the questions...According to Morris and Penn, these questions were better vote predictors--and better indicators of partisan inclination--than anything else except party affiliation or the race of the voter (black voters are overwhelmingly Democratic).

Whereas elections once pitted the party of the working class against the party of Wall Street, they now pit voters who believe in a fixed and universal morality against those who see moral issues, especially sexual ones, as elastic and subject to personal choice. Just after the 2000 election a map showing the percentages of porn movies in the home-video market state by state "bore an eerie resemblance to Tuesday night's results," as Pete du Pont, the former Republican governor of Delaware, put it in a column he wrote for the Wall Street Journal Web site. "Mr. Gore carried the areas with the highest percentages [of sex movies in the video market] ... Mr. Bush carried the area[s] with the lowest percentage." (If nothing else, this correlates with Morris and Penn's finding that Democratic voters generally are more likely to look at pornography.)

Read the entire article on the Atlantic Online website.

Posted: 1/7/04



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