It’s Not Only the Economy, Stupid
By John Zogby
September 21, 2012
It’s “the economy, stupid,” said former Clinton strategist James Carville when asked to define the issues of the 1992 campaign. Carville is an excellent strategist, a good friend and a good man. But he knows that voters are never one-dimensional when they choose a presidential candidate. Even when the economy is bad, voters are ultimately deciding on their hopes and dreams, both for the present and for their children’s future. Thus, if it is about anything, voting is about values, about principles that we hold closest to our hearts.
Back in December 2003, I came out with a poll that defined the election of 2004. I asked a large number of values questions related to God, guns, sex, babies, the Clintons and the Bushes, and so on. In assessing the data, I used the purely artificial construct of “blue states” (those that voted for Al Gore in 2000) and “red states” (those that voted for George W. Bush). Remember, some of those states fell into one category or another by only hundreds of votes. Still, what was remarkable to me was actually how different the reds and blues were. In red states, 61 percent of voters owned a gun; only 36 percent in the blue states. Most voters believed in God, but in the red states, three in four identified their God as omniscient and omnipresent, while 51 percent of blues saw God principally as The Watchmaker. Voters were 9 points more likely to be single and never married if they lived in a blue state.
After that divisive 2000 election, the United States had a healing period. By late 2006, a critical mass of voters was telling us that they wanted their next president to be a “problem-solver” and a “consensus-builder.” Despite the rhetoric of the Democratic and GOP primaries of 2008, both parties nominated two candidates who could legitimately claim those traits: one by vision and sentiment, the other by legislative experience.
On the table were issues of war and peace, security and status anxiety. Fear of terrorism, loss of health benefits, even perceived threats of border insecurity and the sanctity of marriage were on people’s minds. And while there was never a consensus on the best approach to resolve these problems, at least for a while the prevailing view was that, in the famous words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “we have to try something.
“ The Current Divides
Today, a values divide has taken center stage. There are plenty of areas where political leaders can find common ground, but this campaign is nearly all about feeding red meat to the base of ideological supporters.