Presidential leanings based more on $$$ than moral issues, study finds

It’s the conventional wisdom that during tough economic times, social issues take a backseat to money concerns.

And we’ve heard for some time that Tea Party types are more focused on deficits, taxes and Government Shrinkage than they are are “culture war” issues.

A new study from the Barna Group bares this out.

A survey of registered voters finds that choices in the next presidential race are more likely to be determined by “personal security and comfort” than by  candidates’ positions on “moral issues.”

Barna founds that the issues mostly likely to affect candidate support are health care (64%), tax policies (60%), terrorism (50%), employment policies (50%),  immigration policies (45%), education policy (44%), the wars in the Middle East (43%), and America’s dependence upon foreign oil (38%).

Bringing up the rear are issues that, according to Barna, have “distinct moral underpinnings:” domestic poverty policies (37%), abortion (27%), environmental policy (26%), and gay marriage (24%).

Here are a few interesting chunks of analysis from the Barna people:

1. On the role of “born again Christians,” often referred to by others as the “religious right:”

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One of the critical voting segments in America is born again Christians, who have represented nearly half of the votes cast in the most recent presidential elections. The interests of born again voters are distinct from those of non-born again adults: there were statistically significant differences in interest levels between those two segments regarding eight of the 12 issues in the survey. In each case where there was a gap between those groups, born again adults were more likely to consider the issue in question to have “a lot of influence” on their candidate selection. The largest gaps related to domestic poverty policy (19 points), terrorism (16 points), abortion (15 points), and dependence on foreign oil (15 points). Unexpectedly, there was no difference in the importance attached to the gay marriage issue between these two groups.

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2. On the differences between Mainline Protestants and other (evangelical) Protestants:

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There were significant differences between these two groups on nine of the 12 issues studied. The only issues on which the two groups saw eye-to-eye were health care (the top-ranked issue for both segments), education, and wars in the Middle East. The biggest gaps related to gay marriage (deemed to have a lot of influence on their candidate selection by 40% of non-mainline Protestants, but among only 17% of the mainliners) and abortion (highly influential for 43% of the non-mainline group but just 19% of the mainline adults).

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5. On differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants:

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Protestants and Catholics have become more similar to each other in political matters over the past several decades. On the 12 issues measured in the survey, there were significant differences between these two groups regarding only two issues: abortion and gay marriage. In both cases, Protestants were more likely than Catholics to indicate the issue would play a meaningful role in their candidate selection process. Overall, 35% of Protestants and 25% of Catholics said a candidate’s abortion position would greatly matter to them; one-third of Protestants (33%) and only one-fifth of Catholics (19%) said gay marriage policy would substantially affect their candidate decision.