The 'moral vote' a red herring

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Men who vote based on their moral values still succumb to the siren call of Playboy-16.8%, vs. 19.1% for those who don't vote based upon value issues. And nearly as many value voters watch ABC's "Desperate Housewives" than non-value voters.

While the 2004 presidential election set off a firestorm about a divide between the red and blue states, a survey commissioned by Starcom finds very little difference in the media habits of those who say they voted based on moral issues and those who say they didn't. In fact, value voters often watch the very programs or magazines targeted by conservative groups as too racy for prime time.

"We are seeing no indication that there is a trend heading toward distinctly different media-consumption patterns," said Richard Fielding, VP-director-insights and analytics group at Starcom, a unit of Publicis Groupe media arm Starcom MediaVest Group, Chicago. "We're finding [the two voting camps] in the same places."

cause celebre

The issue of value voters has been a cause celebre since Election Day. Exit polls conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International found 27% of voters said "moral values" were the most important factor influencing their vote-higher than any other issue. Those findings have come under attack recently in a Pew Research Center study. Pew argued that the exit polls were flawed in how the pollsters phrased the question that produced the 27% of voters citing "moral values" as a make-or-break issue, and that's led to the media overplaying its importance.

Still, political scientists and other observers said that moral values-in political parlance, usually code for traditional family vales-are a motivating force for voters.

But when it comes to watching TV or reading magazines, people tend to be more purple than red or blue.

"You're dealing with human beings, and human beings frequently don't internalize what they believe," said Janice Crouse, senior fellow of the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think-tank arm of the conservative activist group Concerned Women for America. "They feel `I can watch, I can be titillated but I won't fall into temptation. I can play around the edges without getting burned."'

The survey also found Dennis Publishing's laddie title Maxim cited as being read by 7% of value voters and 11.8% of non-value voters, and readership of Playboy among value voters was only a few points behind that of non-value voters. ABC's Sunday night lightning rod "Desperate Housewives," was cited by 22% of value voters who said they watched the show vs. 28% of non-value voters.

Value voters "view Playboy in the context of how they view and treat sex," said Chris Napolitano, editorial director for the magazine. "If they are comfortable with the human body and comfortable with sex, than they can read Playboy and believe in family values and be monogamous and have one partner for their whole lives. We don't do anything to tell them they're doing anything wrong."

Common Ground

"Entertainment is a common ground, there's no question about it," said Rick Tetzeli, managing editor of Time Inc.'s Entertainment Weekly. According to the survey, 10.5% of male value voters read EW vs. 13.2% of male non-value voters; 11.0% of women value voters read it vs. 14.8% of women non-value voters.

On TV, the top two shows of both groups were the same-CBS's "CSI" ("Miami" or "NY") and NBC's "Law & Order." According to the survey, 40% of value voters watched "CSI" vs. 46% of non-value voters; 33% of value voters watched "Law & Order" vs. 37% of non-value voters.

The study was fielded by Survey Sampling International on Nov. 15-16 and conducted via the Internet. The study sample was of 700 respondents, half identified as basing their vote in the last election on moral values and half listing other issues.

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