In an effort to find what topics will play the biggest roles in the 2008 presidential election, a new survey released Monday found how Americans ranked the top 10 moral and social issues facing the nation.
Americans are most concerned with three issues, which are perceived as "major" problems facing the country by three-quarters of the general population. The problems are poverty (78 percent), personal debt of individual Americans (78 percent), and HIV/AIDS (76 percent), according to the Barna survey.
Illegal immigration (60 percent), global warming (57 percent), and content of television and movies (45 percent) emerged as moderate concerns.
Only about one out of every three Americans identified homosexuality as a major problem facing the nation.
This general view of the American public differed drastically from born-again Christians and the smaller, more socially conservative subset known as evangelicals.
The 68 million registered voters who are born-again Christians said their greatest concerns were personal indebtedness (79 percent), poverty (78 percent), and HIV/AIDS (77 percent) – levels similar to that of other voters.
Born-again Christians are defined in the survey as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is important in their life today and believe they will go to heaven after they die because they have confessed their sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.
The Barna survey showed that the some 15 million evangelical voters hold a significantly different view on many issues compared to born-again Christians and the general American public.
Evangelical Christians are most worried about abortion (94 percent), personal indebtedness (81 percent), the content of television and movies (79 percent), homosexual activists (75 percent), and gay and lesbian lifestyles (75 percent).
Additionally, evangelicals are more likely than other adults to be concerned about illegal immigration, but were less worried about HIV/AIDS than virtually any other segment of the population. Moreover, they are quite skeptical about global warming compared to the rest of the population (only 33 percent identified it as a major issue).
When party lines were taken into account, born-again Republicans are most concerned about Americans' personal indebtedness (80 percent) and abortion (80 percent), while non-born again Republicans are most concerned about debt (74 percent), HIV/AIDS (68 percent), poverty (66 percent) and immigration (65 percent).
Born-again Democrats are most worried about HIV/AIDS (86 percent) and poverty (86 percent) as major problems facing America. These are the same top two concerns identified by non-born again Democrats.
"Understanding the faith-driven vote is as complex as assessing the nation's spiritual profile," commented David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group and director of the study.
"One of the myths about the 2008 election is that the evangelical vote is splintering over issues such as abortion and homosexuality. In fact, when defined based upon a consistent set of theological perspectives, evangelicals remain very focused on abortion and homosexuality," Kinnaman said. "However, concerns about same-sex relationships are less unifying and less troublesome to the broader born again constituency."
In addition, born-again Christians are "far less" concerned about homosexuality than they are about abortion. Although homosexuality remains important in this year's election, the debate is "shifting and taking on new dimensions for many people," noted the director of the study.
The survey is based on over 2,000 nationwide telephone surveys conducted in January 2007 and July-August 2007.