Major New Survey Debunks ‘Values Voter’ Myths

Center for American Values releases 2500-person survey on religion, values & politics

Download the topline memo (.pdf)
Download the topline results (.pdf)

A major new survey released today by the Center for American Values in Public Life refutes some widely held assumptions about how Americans’ religious views and values influence their political behavior. The survey, part of a multi-year research project, was released on the eve of a conference on “values voters” convened by the Family Research Council and featuring a who’s who of ultraconservative activists and political leaders.

Center For American Values“There’s been a lot of talk about values voters, and a lot of that talk is just plain wrong,” said Dr. Robert Jones, executive director and senior fellow of the Center for American Values in Public Life. “Most Americans do not think restricting access to abortion and keeping gay couples from getting married are the most important issues facing voters. When Americans think about voting their values, they’re thinking primarily about candidates’ honesty and integrity.”

Jones noted that even among evangelical Christians, issues like addressing poverty and providing affordable health care handily trump restricting access to abortion and banning gay marriage.

In addition, said Jones, data from the American Values Survey indicates that hasty conclusions about the size and permanence of a partisan “God gap” have been premature. While the most frequent church attenders are still most likely to vote Republican, the gap has shrunk dramatically, and it appears that Democratic candidates have an opportunity to attract majorities of every other group, including weekly worship attenders.

“It is simplistic and inaccurate to suggest Democrats have lost their ability to win support from religious Americans,” said Jones.

Jones said that analysis of the survey’s religious demographics makes it clear that the American religious community is far from monolithic, and is not heavily weighted to the right. Journalists, public officials, and candidates should take note, Jones said, of the fact that fully half of Americans can be classified as centrist in their religious orientation, while 22 percent are traditionalists, 18 percent are modernists, and 10 percent are secular or nonreligious.

Among the findings highlighted today:

Social issues such as abortion and gay marriage rank last in importance to the vast majority of Americans when deciding how to vote.

An overwhelming majority of Americans, including at least three-quarters of every major religious tradition, say issues like poverty and health care are more important than hot-button social issues.

When people think about “voting their values,” more people think of the honesty, integrity, and responsibility of the candidate than any other values.

Americans overwhelmingly agree that too many religious leaders focus on abortion and gay rights without addressing more important issues such as loving our neighbors and caring for the poor.


The American Values Survey, conducted in August 2006, includes responses from a national sample of 2,502 Americans, with additional over-samples of Hispanics and African Americans. The size of the survey and the rich religious demographic data collected from respondents will allow analysts to gain new insights into the connections between religion, values, and voting participation among religious subgroups. Today’s release containing the Center’s initial analysis is the first in what will be a series of briefings and articles based on the survey findings in coming months.

The Center for American Values in Public Life is a nonpartisan educational and research project of People For the American Way Foundation.

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