Experts weigh significance behind Bush 'moral' victory

NEW YORK: The demographic catch phrase to emerge from last week's election - "moral values" - is sending ripples through the public affairs community as practitioners seek to understand what messages resonated with voters.

NEW YORK: The demographic catch phrase to emerge from last week's election - "moral values" - is sending ripples through the public affairs community as practitioners seek to understand what messages resonated with voters.

According to exit polls, one-fifth of voters cited "moral values" as the factor that most influenced their vote. Eighty percent of those people cast ballots for George W. Bush.

These findings hold deep significance for anyone in issues management, said several practitioners.

"I think that has huge implications," said Jack Leslie, chairman of Weber Shandwick Worldwide. "Anyone who's trying to understand consumer behavior ought to understand the cultural issues at work now.

"It's not going to play with every product, of course, but in the field of issues management and public affairs, I think we need to study it and better understand it," he added.

Dr. John Robert Greene, the Paul J. Schupf professor of history and humanities at Cazenovia College, characterized the election data as a wake-up call for public affairs professionals.

"I think the influence industry has to recognize that this country is a conservative nation," said Greene. "We may think that went away under [former president Bill] Clinton, but clearly it did not."

Not all had such faith in the exit polls, however. A number of practitioners dismissed "morals and values" as a pollster-crafted catch phrase with little resonance for the industry.

"CNN is talking about it today, but what does it mean?" asked Jon Haber, SVP with Fleishman-Hillard and former chief of staff with Howard Dean's 2004 campaign. "That Bush is seen as moral and Kerry is seen as immoral? I'm hesitant to make that jump."

The industry was further split on what direct impact, if any, the re-election of President Bush would have on business.

"Ours is an industry driven by issues, and issues never go away," offered Richard Marcus, cofounder and managing director of The Harbour Group. "Whether John Kerry is President, whether George W. Bush is president ... there are going to be issues and there's going to be a demand for a public affairs practice for people who understand issues."

"The public affairs business goes into a lull in election years, when there's not much of a legislative agenda," said Leslie. "But to the extent that Bush will will have a much more aggressive second term, we're looking at a robust public affairs business."

Hamilton Nolan contributed to this report.

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