- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2006

“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”- John Quincy Adams

In the aftermath of the 2004 election, many political experts posited that George Bush’s victory was due in large part to his position on moral-values issues. According to exit polls, a plurality of voters listed moral values as the most important issue determining their vote. And, of those who placed moral issues at the top of their agenda, more than four in five voted for Bush.

Move over, soccer moms, NASCAR dads and the MTV generation, values voters represented the energy of political movement and mobilization.

Critics tried to downplay the importance of values voters to President Bush’s majority, but the 2004 election narrative had crystallized: In spite of an increasingly unpopular war and perceptions of a sluggish economy, voters turned out like never before to vote for principle over politics, thus establishing “values voters” as a new phrase in the lexicon of American politics and a powerful voting bloc to be reckoned with.

Yet, despite their ascendancy, values voters remain something of an enigma. Who are these voters who place ideals over immediate physical needs?

The first step to understanding values voters is to recognize that faith is part of the fabric of most Americans’ lives.

A few facts to illustrate: Ninety percent of Americans believe in God and three in four belong to an organized religion. A recent Newsweek/Beliefnet poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans say they pray each day and 60 percent agree “religion plays an important part in my life.”

And people like to see their values reflected on a political stage. A 2005 Pew Research Center poll revealed that 70 percent of Americans feel it is important for a president to have strong religious beliefs, and 39 percent felt there was too little religious expression by political leaders, compared with 26 percent who felt there was too much.

America’s religiosity is also quintessentially conservative. In 2004, President Bush enjoyed a 22-percentage-point advantage among the regular churchgoers, who constitute 41 percent of the electorate.

To be sure, America is filled with conservative, religiously motivated people — scores of millions of folks who go to church on Sunday, work on Monday, and are in the voting booth on Tuesday.

But values voters encompass not only religiously motivated conservatives, but also millions of nonreligious Americans who are concerned about the effects of a coarsening culture on their children and desire a family-friendly society accountable to reliable standards of right and wrong. Tellingly, 15 percent of non-churchgoers selected “moral values” as their most important issue in the 2004 election poll.

Taken together, religiously motivated and non-religious values voters constitute a powerful voting bloc. But their power extends beyond the voting booth, though with little fanfare.

Media coverage of the economic clout of key constituencies — whether it was a homosexual-rights group ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange or illegal immigrants boycotting work and shopping — has been intense lately. But very little has been said concerning the economic influence of people of faith.

Economist Jonathan Gruber of the National Bureau of Economic Research recently set out to quantify religiosity and came to the following conclusion: Churchgoers are wealthier. Mr. Gruber found that, on average, a household with double the rate of religious attendance than another household has 9.1 percent more income and 16 percent less welfare participation.

While Mr. Gruber did not investigate exactly why religious people are wealthier, he did acknowledge the volumes of empirical research linking religious practice to law abidance, better health, education and marital harmony, all also correlated with higher income. This religious affluence is changing the way industries market their goods and services.

Case in point: Hollywood. Film studios have learned from the success of films like The Passion of the Christ, which grossed over $400 million, and are producing more family-friendly and faith-based films. Some are even marketing directly to Christian audiences, holding previews at influential churches and employing Christian media consultants to advise them on how to make their films more “religion-friendly.” 20th Century Fox launched a Web site that includes a “Christian resources” page linking various films with suggested Bible verses for discussion.

As Steve Feldstein, senior vice president of marketing at Fox Home Video, recently told the Associated Press regarding the Christian demographic: “We recognize this is an underserved market place that was hungry for programming that mirrored their values.”

Of course, Christians endeavoring to create a culture that mirrors their values has been a persistent theme in our nation’s history. People of faith founded our nation and formed its institutions — from its schools to its hospitals. Indeed, religious faith is deeply rooted in our founding documents and has animated every major positive socio-political change our country has experienced.

Religious faith provided the impetus behind our struggle for independence, and it was the inspiration for the emancipation and desegregation movements, as well as campaigns for child labor laws and women’s suffrage.

Adams might be surprised by the hostility to faith that causes some to argue that it should have no voice in the free marketplace of ideas. But, judging by the numbers of people voting their values, he would not be alone, as growing numbers of Americans put principle first, so that neither their votes nor their consciences may ever be lost.

Gary Bauer is president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families.


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