Mud Slinging, Moral Values Were Issues for Voters in 2004

Nov 11, 2004

Campaign 2004 gets generally favorable marks from the voters. An overwhelming 86 percent say they learned enough about the candidates to make an informed choice, while two-thirds express satisfaction with the choice of candidates. However, voters also believe this campaign was more negative than previous contests - 72 percent say there was more mud-slinging compared with past elections, up from just 34 percent who said that four years ago.

The Pew Research Center's quadrennial post-election survey, conducted among 1,209 voters who were originally interviewed in October, finds that a third of all voters say they are very satisfied with their choice of candidates - the highest percentage expressing that view in post-election surveys dating to 1988. This reflects extraordinary enthusiasm among Republicans, 63 percent of whom express a high degree of satisfaction with the candidates.

For their part, supporters of Sen. John Kerry are struggling with a range of emotions following their candidate's defeat. Liberals, in particular, express intense feelings over the election. Roughly half of Kerry's liberal supporters say they feel angry (53 percent) or depressed (47 percent) because of Bush's victory.

In contrast, large majorities of Bush voters say they feel reassured, relieved and safer as a consequence of the president's reelection. However, while 72 percent of Bush's conservative supporters say they feel a sense of excitement as a result of Bush's win, just 48 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans share that sentiment.

The survey's findings parallel exit poll results showing that moral values is a top-tier issue for voters. But its relative importance depends greatly on how the question is framed. The post-election survey finds that, when moral values is pitted against issues like Iraq and terrorism, a plurality (27 percent) cites moral values as most important to their vote.

But when a separate group of voters was asked to name - in their own words - the most important factor in their vote, significantly fewer (14 percent) mentioned moral values. Regardless of how the question is asked, the survey shows that moral values is the most frequently cited issue for Bush voters, but is seldom mentioned by Kerry voters.

Those who cite moral values as a major factor offer varying interpretations of the concept. More than four-in-ten (44 percent) say the term relates to concerns over specific social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage. But many others did not cite policy issues, and instead pointed to factors like the candidates' personal traits or made general references to religion and values.

The survey finds that the Internet has broken through as a major source of campaign news. Overall, 41 percent voters say they got at least some of their news about the 2004 election online. Further, 21 percent relied on the Internet for most of their election news - nearly double the number in 2000 (11 percent).

Voters are increasingly troubled by what they see as the media's unfair treatment of the candidates. While a majority (56 percent) views press coverage of Bush's campaign as fair, 40 percent think it was unfair, up from 30 percent four years ago. A smaller but growing minority also believes press coverage of Kerry was unfair -- 31 percent say that now, compared with 24 percent who faulted press coverage of Al Gore's campaign four years ago.

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