A Tour of the 2004 Exit Poll: What It Says and What It Doesn't (Continued)
Today we continue our tour of the 2004 exit poll. (See yesterday's post for the beginning of the tour and few relevant technical notes.)
3. Whites by Gender. Democrats' falloff among whites appears to have been concentrated almost entirely among white women, rather than white men. This year, Bush carried white men by 25 points (62-37), only a point more than his 24 point margin in 2000 (60-36). In contrast, he carried white women by 11 points (55-44), a big improvement over the single point (49-48) by which he carried this group in 2000.
4. Education. Democrats’ slippage by education group was concentrated entirely among the non-college educated. Kerry split the college-educated as a whole evenly with Bush, just as Gore did in 2000, and actually carried those with a postgraduate education by 11 (55-44).
But, where Gore lost the non-college educated as a whole by just 2 (49-47), Kerry lost them by 6 (53-47), including an 8 point deficit among those with some college (up from a 6 point disadvantage in 2000) and a 5 point deficit among those with just a high school degree (up from just a single point disadvantage in 2000). Most startlingly, Kerry only carried high school dropouts by one point (50-49), while Gore had carried the same group by 20 points.
Given that Bush's increased margin came entirely from the non-college educated and given the increase in Bush's margin among white voters, we would expect that Bush's performance among white working class voters must have improved substantially. This cannot be estimated directly from the NEP poll because they haven't yet released that level of detail on their data. However, the Institute for America's Future and Democracy Corps conducted an extensive (2000 interviews) post-election survey and they found Bush winning white working class voters by about 24 points. The compares to a 19 point margin in Democracy Corps' 2000 post-election survey and a 17 point margin in the 2000 VNS exit poll.
Arguably, that's the story of the election right there. An additional wrinkle on the white working class vote is that this falloff was likely concentrated among white working class women, not men, judging from the figures cited above on Bush's big gains among white women, but no change among white men (however, this is an inference from the pattern of the data; no direct evidence on white class women vs. men is available from the NEP or DCorps surveys).
5. Income. It is fascinating to note that Kerry actually improved over Gore among income groups under $30,000: 63-36 vs. 57-37 among those with less than $15,000 and 57-42 vs. 54-41 among those between $15,000-$30,000. He did about the same as Gore among the $30,000-$50,000 group (50-49 vs. 49-48). But he lost considerable ground among those over $50,000, losing 56-43 vs. 51-46 among the 50-75K group; 55-45 vs. 52-45 among the 75-100K group and 58-41 vs. 54-43 among those over 100K.
6. Marriage. The "marriage gap" grew slightly in 2004. This was because, while Kerry's margin among unmarried voters stayed about the same as Gore's in 2000 (58-40 vs. 57-38), Bush's margin among married voters expanded from 9 to 15 points (57-42 vs. 53-44). This increased the marriage gap, depending on how you measure it, from 13-14 points in 2000 to about 17 points this year.
But Bush's margin among those who are married and have children expanded more modestly, from 56-41 in 2000 to 59-40 this year.
Data available from DCorps' post-election survey make it possible to compare white married voters by gender with their counterparts in 2000. This comparison shows Bush's margin among white married men staying about the same across elections and actually shrinking a bit among white unmarried men. But among white married women, his margin increases from 9 to 18 points and, among white unmarried women, he actually achieves a tie, compared to a 15 deficit in 2000.
7. Age. Kerry did very well with young voters this year, winning them 54-45, compared to a narrow 48-46 margin for Gore in 2000. On the other hand, Kerry lost seniors by 52-47, while Gore won them by 50-47.
A few more words on the youth vote. This marks the fourth straight presidential election where Democrats have won the youth vote. It is also, of those four elections, the one where youth's Democratic support was most out-of-line with the rest of population. In 2000, youth were only 2 points more Democratic than all voters; in 1996, they were 11 points more Democratic than all voters; and in 1992, they were 4 points more Democratic than all voters. But in this election, youth were 12 points more Democratic than all voters (+9 Democratic among youth vs. -3 among all voters).
In this election, youth were about 17 percent of voters. That's the same as the exit poll figure for 2000. Does this mean youth turnout didn't go up? Not at all. Even assuming the exit poll figures are correct (and personally I prefer the Census voter supplement data for looking at the demographic composition of the voting pool and assessing turnout trends), they merely mean youth turnout didn't go up any more than other groups in the electorate. In other words, youth turnout went up, but probably only 3-4 points, about the national average.
8. Religion and religious observance. Perhaps no feature of the 2004 election has received more attention than the allegedly central role of evangelical Christians and their high turnout in Bush's victory.
But the evidence that evangelicals were so very, very important (as opposed to merely important, which seems reasonable) is shockingly thin. Perhaps the main piece of evidence for this claim is that 23 percent of voters in the NEP exit poll were white "born-again or evangelical" Christians, who supported George Bush, 78-21.
That is indeed impressive. Trouble is, we have no idea how that compares to 2000, since the exit polls didn't ask the same question last time. Instead they asked a very different question about being part of the "religious right", which categorized 14 percent of voters as part of the white religious right. Clearly, to conclude from these two different questions that evangelical turnout increased from 14 to 23 percent from 2000 to 2004 is inappropriate.
Thomas Edsall in The Washington Post today nicely summarizes the correct way to look at these data:
Exit polls do not permit a direct comparison of how many evangelical and born-again Americans voted in 2000 and 2004 because the way pollsters identified these voters changed. Four years ago voters leaving polls were asked: "Do you consider yourself part of the conservative Christian political movement, also known as the religious right?" In 2004, the question was changed to: "Would you describe yourself as a born-again or evangelical Christian?"
Fourteen percent answered "yes" in 2000 and 23 percent did so in 2004, but polling specialists said the 2004 wording virtually assures more affirmative answers.
Admirably clear. OK, on to the next piece of evidence. This is the finding that 22 percent of voters--more than any other issue--said "moral values" were the most important to their vote and these voters supported Bush 80-18.
Again, pretty impressive. But again, we have no idea how this compares to 2000, when voters were not given a "moral values" or any other "values" choice but instead a list of actual issues (taxes, world affairs, Medicare/prescription drugs, health care, economy/jobs, education and social security). As Gary Langer, ABC News Polling Director points out:
[T]he exit poll...asked voters what was the most important issue in their decision: taxes, education, Iraq, terrorism, economy/jobs, moral values or health care. Six of these are concrete, specific issues. The seventh, moral values, is not, and its presence on the list produced a misleading result.
How do we know? Pre-election polls consistently found that voters were most concerned about three issues: Iraq, the economy and terrorism. When telephone surveys asked an open-ended issues question (impossible on an exit poll), answers that could sensibly be categorized as moral values were in the low single digits. In the exit poll, they drew 22 percent.
OK, next. The exit poll asks a question on the frequency of religious service attendance. And this question does show those who say they attend services more than weekly increasing slightly from 14 to 16 percent. On the other hand, the poll also shows those who say they attend weekly decreasing slightly from 28 to 26 percent, so the most observant segment of voters, those who attend services weekly or more, remained steady at 42 percent of voters. This hardly seems consistent with a wave of evangelical turnout.
Moreover, as Alan Abramowitz points out:
[B]etween 2000 and 2004, President Bush's largest gains occurred among less religious voters, not among more religious voters. Among those attending services more than weekly and those attending every week, support for Bush rose by 1 percent, from 63 percent in 2000 to 64 percent in 2004. However, among those attending services a few times a month, support for Bush rose by 4 points, from 46 percent to 50 percent, among those attending only a few times a year, support for Bush rose by 3 points, from 42 percent to 45 percent, and among those never attending services, support for Bush rose by 4 points, from 32 percent to 36 percent.
Bottom line: the President made gains across the board among voters, regardless of their degree of religious commitment but he made his largest gains among less religious voters.
None of this seems consistent with the idea that evangelical turnout and intense support from the most religious Americans put Bush over the top in 2004.
On to religion itself, independent of level of observance. The NEP exit poll shows that Protestants supported Bush by 19 points (59-40), compared to 14 points in 2000 (56-42). Among Catholics, there was an even larger swing in Bush's favor, going from a 50-47 Democratic advantage in 2000 to a 52-47 Republican advantage this year.
Unfortunately, we don't know how white Catholics' preferences changed this year, because NEP has not released the data. In 2000, Bush carried white Catholics by 7 points (52-45). It seems reasonable to assume that Bush carried this group by a significantly wider margin this year.
In addition, while Jews are a small proportion of voters (3 percent of voters this year) their margin for the Democrats shrank from 60 points in 2000 (79-19) to 49 points (74-25) this year.
On the other hand, among those who profess some other religion besides Christianity or Judaism, Democrats' margin of support rose from 34 points in 2000 to 51 points this year. And among those who say they have no religion, Democrats' margin of support rose from 31 to 36 points across the two elections.
OK. I'm running out of gas, so I'm going to have to stop right here. But there's much more to be covered and I hope to continue our tour soon. Ih the meantime, what we've covered so far should provide some food for thought.