The National Election Pool’s widely cited exit polls found that 22 percent of all voters cited “moral values” as the most important reason they chose their candidate — and of those voters, 80 percent cast their ballots for Bush.

Presumably — and we must presume, because reporters are afraid to tell us — said “moral values,” as used by pollsters, entail an opposition to gay marriage and abortion, and other positions characteristic of conservative Christians. Unfortunately, because the phrase “moral values” is so vague, we can’t be sure. It’s like asking a voter whether “color” was a decisive issue: If the voter says “yes,” we still don’t know whether they favored Bush’s blue tie or Kerry’s orange tan.

The NEP did ask specific questions about gay marriage and abortion. We’re told that 16 percent of voters believed abortion should be illegal in all cases, and 35 said there should be no legal recognition of gay relationships. But we are left to infer that these are the specific “moral values” driving Bush voters.

Campaign Desk thinks it’s problematic that in mainstream-mediaworld — second only to Hollywood in its population of heathens — “moral values” has become a euphemism for “conservative Christian morality.” That choice of code words casts other moral systems as runners-up to righteousness. If, for example, you think it’s immoral to prevent gay couples from marrying, and that was your main reason for casting a Kerry vote, your convictions are reduced to statistical gibberish.

So sorry, secular humanists and liberal Catholics! Sorry, Wiccans, nihilists, and Muslims! The press has reported, and the people have spoken.

Unfortunately, their answer is empty — because the question was meaningless.

Corey Pein

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Corey Pein was an assistant editor at CJR.