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Tele-Press Conference: Jim Wallis & David Saperstein to Media: Correct “Moral Values” Misinformation of 2004

October 31, 2006, 11:22 am | Posted by katie

A single poorly-worded question in the 2004 Election Day exit poll created lasting confusion about how “moral values” impact American voters. Rev. Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics, and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center, will hold a tele-press conference Wednesday calling on the media outlets that commissioned and prepared the erroneous 2004 “moral values” exit poll question to correct the mistake, both in their 2006 election polling and news coverage.

Wednesday’s teleconference will follow a letter Wallis and Saperstein sent today to the heads of ABC News, Associated Press, CBS News, CNN, Fox News and NBC News — the news organizations that formed the National Election Pool in 2003 to provide exit poll data and avoid exit polling mistakes of previous years — as well as the pollsters that execute media-sponsored polls.

Wallis and Saperstein will discuss how news organizations, pollsters, reporters and commentators can draw upon findings from recent surveys to ask better questions in 2006 election surveys and provide more accurate analysis about how values impact American voters. They will also predict how the moral priorities of American voters will influence the outcome of the 2006 elections.

Background:

When asked in 2004 exit polls which issue mattered most in deciding how they voted, 22% of voters chose “moral values”, ranking it above all other options, including the economy and jobs, terrorism, and Iraq. The conventional wisdom immediately accepted from the left and right was that “moral values” was code for opposition to gay marriage and abortion and that this unprecedented showing of “values voters” had delivered victory for President Bush.

Within days, pollsters and columnists debunked this “moral values” myth. In the ensuing two years numerous surveys have shown that the most urgent moral issues voters name include the Iraq War, integrity in government, and poverty. Still, conventional wisdom remains mired in the erroneous view that Americans who vote their values are most concerned with gay marriage and abortion.

WHO: Rev. Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It and founder of Sojourners/Call to Renewal

Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center o f Reform Judaism

WHEN: Wednesday, November 1

3:00 PM

WHERE: Call-in number: 1-800-658-0035

Password: “Moral values”

The text of the letter sent to media outlets follows:

A single poorly-worded question in the 2004 Election Day exit poll sent the media and political commentators into a tailspin and created lasting confusion about how “moral values” impact American voters. Today we call on you, the media outlets that commissioned and prepared the erroneous 2004 exit poll question – ABC News, Associated Press, CBS News, CNN, Fox News and NBC News – to correct the mistake, both in your polling and news coverage.

When asked in 2004 exit polls which issue mattered most in deciding how they voted, 22% of voters chose “moral values”, ranking it above all other options, including the economy and jobs, terrorism, and Iraq. The conventional wisdom immediately accepted from the left and right was that “moral values” was code for opposition to gay marriage and abortion and that this unprecedented showing of “values voters” had delivered victory for President Bush.

Within days, prominent pollsters and political analysts debunked this “moral values” myth. Gary Langer, director of polling for ABC News wrote, “this hot-button catch phrase had no place alongside defined political issues on the list of most important concerns in the 2004 vote. Its presence there created a deep distortion – one that threatens to misinform the political discourse for years to come” (NYT op-ed, 11/6/04).

Nine days after the 2004 election, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center released its post-election survey. Director Andrew Kohut concluded, “We did not see any indication that social conservative issues like abortion, gay rights, and stem-cell research were anywhere near as important as the economy and Iraq.”

A Zogby post-election poll found that the war in Iraq was the moral issue that most influenced voters, far beyond those who cited abortion or gay marriage. When voters were asked to choose the most urgent moral crisis in America, poverty and greed scored well above either abortion or gay marriage.

In the ensuing two years, polls have affirmed these findings. An August 2006 Center for American Values in Public Life poll of 2,502 eligible voters found that when asked “what comes to mind when you think about voting your values,” more voters mentioned the honesty and integrity of candidates (39%), protecting personal freedoms (23%), and eliminating poverty and guaranteeing access to health care (21%) than keeping marriage between a man and a woman (9%) or working to restrict access to abortions (3%). Likewise, a February 2006 Center for American Progress poll (conducted by Financial Dynamics) found that far more Americans cite our country’s most serious moral crisis as kids not being raised with the right values (22%) or corruption in government (18%), than abortion and homosexuality (4%).

Nonetheless, conventional wisdom remains mired in the erroneous view that Americans who vote their values are most concerned with opposing gay marriage and making abortion illegal. The 2004 “moral values” question so deeply misinformed political discourse, that none of the myriad polls released subsequently managed to undo the damage.

As you hone your polling questions for this election, we call on you to choose those that will contribute to a more accurate picture of the American electorate, and clarify and correct, once and for all, the misinformation generated from the 2004 “moral values” question. Reliable data on how values impact American voters is indispensable in shaping the crucial national conversation we so urgently need about the real moral threats facing America.

Sincerely,

Rabbi David Saperstein Rev. Jim Wallis

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Sojourners/Call to Renewal

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