Jonah’s earlier post about how the news media are spinning the election results is right on the money. The talking-head class misread the election, can’t understand it, and is trying desperately to spin the results in ways that don’t invalidate their preconceived, and erroneous, assumptions about the contest.
I had a similar thought today when I noticed a consistent them in the media chatter: Bush’s win was all about gay marriage. That’s a dramatic overstatement: it was partly about gay marriage, and more generally about moral and cultural issues. But rather than attempting to comprehend the results and explain their various layers, the commentators are latching onto the gay-marriage them because 1) they find it surprising that voters care about such issues, which makes it news; 2) they view social conservatives as a fascinating foreign culture, much like the lost tribes of Borneo; and 3) it serves to invalidate the Bush agenda on taxes, Social Security, and the war. After all, his only mandate was against same-sex marriage.
They’re missing the point that political parties are coalitions. Individuals and groups within the coalition bring different things to the table, including different priorities and views. Without a broad coalition, a political party is not competitive.
Based on the exit polls, it is just as legitimate to say that Bush’s edge on taxes was the difference in the popular vote — if you multiply the share of voters citing taxes as the number-one issue by the preference for the Republican, you get about 3 percent. It is also just as legitimate to say that education and health care were the winning issues for Bush, since if you work the math out the Bush voters picking these two issues as top priorities add up to about 3 percent.
So it was No Child Left Behind and Health Savings Accounts that won the election for Bush!
Another bias in the exit-poll data is that the issues of terrorism and the war in Iraq are reported as separate priorities for voters. Well, that’s what many Democrats and the media believe, but most voters (55 percent) said that the war in Iraq is part of the war on terrorism, so for them the two categories aren’t separate. If you add the two together, the issue of national security was by far the most important in the 2004 race — the choice of one-third of the electorate — and Bush won a clear, though not overwhelming, majority there.
It turns out that you need every slice of a pie to make it round. It doesn’t matter how wide or narrow the slice is.