A national survey reveals that most voters, except for evangelicals, will be little influenced by moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage when picking a candidate. But conservatives not ready to declare a truce on social issues for the 2012 election assert that American interest in those issues are alive and well.
Health care and taxes are the top issues that will influence Americans’ pick in the upcoming presidential election, according to The Barna Group’s poll, released Tuesday.
Meanwhile, voters will be least likely to focus on social issues such as marriage and abortion when choosing their candidates. Evangelicals, the poll shows, are the only group valuing stances on moral issues.
The study, which was conducted on a random sample of 1,021 adults in February, measured the influence of 12 issues on Americans' candidate selection. Issues included terrorism, employment policies, immigration policies, and the wars in the Middle East – all of which were ranked higher than moral issues by respondents in terms of influence on their pick for president.
Of those identified as evangelicals, 71 percent said the issue of abortion will influence their candidate selection and 63 percent said gay marriage will also be a big factor in their decision.
By comparison, only around a third of Protestants reported that abortion and gay marriage will influence their pick for the next U.S. president. Even fewer Catholics are considering moral issues, with only 19 percent saying gay marriage will be a big factor in their decision and 25 percent saying the same about abortion.
The study's director, George Barna, observed, "Evangelicals' perspectives have remained stable because they are based on a worldview that does not shift with the ebb and flow of cultural preferences and fads." The issue of abortion played as big a role in influencing evangelicals’ decision in 1992 as it does today.
Other voter blocks, especially Catholics, Barna noted, have dramatically evolved in their stance on social issues.
"One of the most significant transitions in the past 20 years has been among Catholics," he noted. Comparison data shows that the influence of abortion on Catholics’ candidate selection in 2011 dropped 32 percentage points from 1992.
Galen Carey, director of government affairs with the National Association of Evangelicals, highlighted the strong stance of evangelicals to reduce abortions performed in America. But he also noted that contrary to the polls, Catholics do hold strong views on abortion.
"Among practicing Catholics there is quite strong interest and concern about abortion," Carey said. “If the Catholic number is just asking people 'Are you Catholic?' it's going to pull in a large number of nominal, cultural Catholics who may not be active at all in the faith."
Also questioning the accuracy of the poll results, National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown indicated that there is wide concern for the marriage issue.
The Barna Group reports that that only 24 percent of all respondents give high regard to the issue of gay marriage when picking a candidate. Further data from the poll shows that 49 percent of respondents give some level of regard to marriage when choosing.
But refuting the results, Brown highlighted the overwhelming support that traditional marriage referendums have received in several states. He emphasized that state referendums to constitutionally protect traditional marriage have been approved in all of the 31 states where they were introduced. Of the 31 states, 29 now have laws defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Marriage between a man and a woman and the protection of the unborn have long been foundational values for conservative Christians and Republicans. However, some political leaders have urged conservatives to move beyond those hot-button issues.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels asked conservatives earlier this year to declare a "truce" on social issues in order to take on the national debt.
"The future of the American experiment is at risk, and it's a thought that maybe we could just agree to disagree," Daniels, a Republican, urged.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, however, opposed that idea. "We've got to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. I am proud to be labeled a fiscal conservative and social conservative," he said in a January interview with Christianity Today magazine.
But he urges conservatives in his book Courage to Stand: An American Story to bring about social change with civility. Pawlenty and several other potential contenders for the 2012 GOP nomination have recently given pledges to pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List to stand up for the unborn and take strong stances against the federal funding of Planned Parenthood.