Yuval Levin questions Dan Casse’s contention that John McCain’s victory in New Hampshire demonstrates the centrality of Iraq in the election. He uses data from the exit poll last night indicating that McCain won with anti-war voters and Mitt Romney won with pro-war voters. It is true that the data, as reported, say this. But this is the problem with exit-poll data, which are often confused when it comes to detailing matters of policy. Remember the 2004 exit polls demonstrating that “moral values” were the key issue for voters in an election that was explicitly run as a referendum on matters of war policy? Yes, the exit polls said what they said, and presumably the voters queried said what the exit pollsters reported, but the reported result did not comport with reality. Democrats discovered this to their sorrow as late as 2007, when their own promises to end the war in Iraq proved impossible to enshrine in legislation because the central reality of the 2004 election still stood.
McCain ran, effectively, as a single-issue candidate. His issue was the war in Iraq. Mitt Romney did not run on the war in Iraq. By the end of the five-day election cycle after Iowa he was running as a reformist candidate pledging to fix a broken Washington. McCain won in New Hampshire. Romney didn’t. The election itself tells the story here, not the exit poll.