The Real Values Voters

The common misconception that conservatives have an electoral monopoly on “values voters” is crumbling.

Exit polls two years ago showed that “values voters” gave President Bush his winning margin. Yet this November, a significant number of these voters switched sides and supported progressive candidates on Election Day. The Center for American Progress brought together a group of experts yesterday to discuss the top concerns of values voters, the significance of their shifting voting patterns, and the role of religion and values in the political sphere.

“The REAL Values Voter: What Voters Valued in the 2006 Election” featured a diverse panel of faith leaders, policymakers, and pollsters. They included Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens, Senior Minister at First Church in Columbus, Ohio and founding member of We Believe Ohio; Anna Greenberg, Vice President at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner; David Kuo, former Deputy Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and author of Tempting Faith: A Inside Story of Political Seduction; Jonathan Miller, Treasurer of the State of Kentucky and author of The Compassionate Community: Ten Values to Unite America; and Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Anna Greenberg noted that U.S. involvement in Iraq, political corruption, and the economy were the top concerns for voters. “The God Gap narrowed in 2006,” Greenberg said. She confirmed that exit polls clearly showed that conservatives’ advantage among “values voters” diminished in 2006. White evangelicals and Catholics in particular increased their support for progressive candidates.

Several panelists remarked that these political shifts reflect spiritual changes, rather than a strong allegiance to progressive candidates. Many religious voters were disillusioned by the current administration, and their votes reflected this disappointment. David Kuo noted the danger of connecting one’s spiritual vision too closely with a political agenda and argued for religious people to take a temporary “fast” from politics in order to reclaim their spiritual principles and priorities.

Rev. Samuel Rodriquez described Latino voters as “quintessential moderates” who care about God, family, and a wide range of social and economic justice issues, and who turned away from conservatives in 2006 for promoting punitive immigration measures.

Rev. Timothy Ahrens, founder of We Believe Ohio, said that the concerns of many evangelicals about poverty and the economy were instrumental in their voting this November. He also noted a disparity between evangelical congregations and their ministers. For instance, 44 percent of Ohio’s evangelical church-goers supported the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland, while only 17 percent of their ministers did.

Jonathan Miller urged progressives to work with faith-communities on issues of shared values such as poverty, Darfur, and social justice, saying “we have to build relationships so that we can work on common ground issues.”

Panelists agreed that the election presented progressives with an opportunity to engage newly aligned voters. Rev. Rodriguez added that if progressives properly address the concerns of Hispanic voters, these voters could emerge as “the bridge between both sides of the political aisle.”

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