Popping the Right’s “Values Voter” Myth

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The Family Research Council, founded by James Dobson, has announced its plans for a “three-day ‘Values Voter Summit’ this fall, complete with a presidential straw poll.” People For the American Way staff dropped in on last year’s “Values Voters Summit” where they learned, among other things, that the anti-Christ is gay.

Although there’s “no word yet on whether any presidential candidates will be working the crowd” this year, it’s a good bet that those who attended last year – such as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Sam Brownback, and Mike Huckabee – will be back, and perhaps a few others. Paging John McCain…

But if the GOP presidential candidates can’t make this year’s “Values Voters Summit,” they’ll certainly have ample opportunity to schmooze with the Religious Right next month at the “Values Voter Debate” in Fort Lauderdale. Already, seven of the nine candidates have agreed to participate. So far the organizers and campaigns haven’t been particularly forthcoming about who will be attending – hopefully some enterprising reporter will get to the bottom of that soon.

So why does all this matter? Debate co-organizer Janet Folger hopes that Religious Right voters will take advantage of the low turnout in primaries and flood voting booths “to choose a nominee that most closely matches God’s values.” And the GOP candidates have been aggressively pandering to them. But the Religious Right’s narrow agenda doesn’t represent Americans’ views and values. PFAW Foundation conducted a national survey last year to find out who the real “values voters” are; here’s what we found:

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