The Vanishing Values Voter

Here is something interesting that was not included in Lee Cowan's report from Ohio last night and our poll accompanying it: the role of so-called "values voters" or "moral values" in the Ohio races this year. And there's good reason for the omission: the whole values thing isn't – and was never – as big a deal as it was portrayed.

The biggest canard flapping around after the 2004 election was that exit polls showed "moral values" was the biggest issue concern for voters. It turned out that interpretation was simply wrong. If you're really interested in a long explanation why, click here.

It appears that this year Republicans trying to run prominently on their conservative positions on issues like gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research and prayer in school are – surprise, surprise – much more concerned with economics and national security. In Ohio, for example, the Republican running for governor, Kenneth Blackwell, is a nationally prominent social conservative who happens to be African-American and in a heap of trouble. His portfolio of "moral values" positions isn't helping.

Ohio Republicans are hampered by a bucket of GOP scandals in that state. That, obviously, parallels the national situation, thanks to Mssrs. Abramoff, DeLay and Foley.

But it's not scandal that has taken the vim out of values. There are anti-gay marriage initiatives on several state ballots, for example, and while all or most will pass, Republicans are reporting the initiatives are not inspiring great enthusiasm and activism.

Why? Some Republicans say it's because the Bush administration has delivered only lip service on social issues. James Dobson of Focus on the Family recently told a conference of "values voters," "I've been extremely disappointed with what the Republicans have done with the power they were given. I wasn't sure I wanted to put out that effort [for the midterm elections] if there wasn't going to be a response."

Could be. But I think the evidence is much stronger that the percentage of the electorate that determines its vote primarily by this list of social issues has been quite constant for the past 20 years. Still, I'll be checking the exit polls carefully in three weeks.