Presidential Election Created New ‘Values Voter’, Study Shows

November 17, 2008


Americans painted a new picture of the “values voter” in the recent election. They rejected the “culture wars,” with its narrow agendas and
liberal-conservative divisiveness, in favor of politics that build
bridges on a range of contentious issues.

The readiness to work together is revealed in a national poll on
voters’ priorities and values taken on Nov. 5-7 in the immediate
aftermath of the election.

Nearly three-quarters of voters (and of religious voters) said
people of faith should promote the common good, not protect their own
views. Even groups most active in the religious right said a broader
faith agenda would best reflect their values.

Only 1 in 5 white Evangelicals and 1 in 8 Catholics said an agenda
focused on abortion and same-sex marriage best expressed their values.
A majority of both Evangelicals (55 percent) and Catholics (51 percent)
opted for a broad agenda that also includes poverty, the environment,
and the war in Iraq. The survey involved a nationally representative
sample of 1,277 voters and had a margin of error of 3 percent.

“Our poll shows that Catholics and white Evangelicals reject the idea
that focusing on one or two issues is the right way to engage in public
life,” says Katie Paris, of Faith in Public Life, which sponsored the
survey conducted by Public Religion Research in Washington.

Also, President-elect Barack Obama apparently made inroads into that
faith community beyond those who backed him. Many white Evangelicals –
nearly twice the number who actually voted for him – now say he is
“friendly to religion” and “shares their values.”

Although much has been made of the boost Sarah Palin’s candidacy
gave to Sen. John McCain among Evangelicals, the survey shows that her
nomination was a net loss for the GOP ticket. Only 30 percent of white
Evangelicals said her nomination made them more likely to support
McCain, while it decreased support among every other religious group
and among independents.

In regard to domestic issues, 48 percent of voters picked the
economy (no surprise) as the single most important issue in the
election, with 12 percent choosing Iraq and 8 percent, healthcare. In
naming their top two issues, voters chose the same three: economy (70
percent), Iraq (35 percent), and healthcare (31 percent.) When asked
who they thought was most responsible for the current economic crisis,
voters pointed largely to the failure of major institutions. Some 38
percent said the primary responsibility rests with corporations that
made bad business decisions. About 31 percent said the government
neglected its regulatory responsibilities, and 25 percent blamed
individuals who were careless and borrowed more than they could afford.

Abortion (9 percent) and same-sex marriage (1 percent) ranked at the
bottom of their “most important issue” list. Americans remained split
on abortion, however, with 52 percent saying it should be legal in all
or most cases, and 45 percent opting for illegal in all or most cases.

But the survey found overwhelming support for seeking common ground
in reducing the number of abortions. Eighty-three percent of voters
said elected leaders should work together to enact policies for that
purpose. This includes 86 percent of white Evangelicals and 81 percent
of Catholics ­ and similar majorities of abortion-rights and
antiabortion voters.

“Catholics and other people of faith want our elected officials to
unite in support of robust public policies that research tells us help
prevent the tragedy of abortion,” says Alexia Kelley, executive
director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a co-sponsor of
the poll.

On foreign policy, the survey revealed a strong bias among Americans
today in favor of diplomacy over military strength as the best means
for ensuring peace. Americans remain focused on security concerns, with
72 percent saying that stopping the spread of nuclear weapons should be
the No. 1 priority, followed by maintaining a strong military (70
percent). Some 53 percent named “Improving America’s reputation in the
world” as a top concern, with 48 percent calling for banning torture
and addressing global warming.

When it comes to how to achieve these aims, 61 percent emphasized diplomacy and 29 percent said military strength.

The readiness for unified action to solve problems also showed up in
another poll released this week. Pew Research Center found that about
three-quarters of all voters ­ including a solid majority of
Republicans (56 percent) ­ said GOP leaders should work with Obama to
accomplish things, even if it meant disappointing some supporters. They
said Democratic leaders should do the same.

People of faith are ready to work with them, according to Jim
Wallis, president of the evangelical group Sojourners. A new faith
coalition, he said, which includes Christians of color, young people,
progressive Catholics, Protestants, and some in other faith traditions
is “reaching across barriers” in pursuit of change.

Source: Christian Science Monitor

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