Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

With the Economy Slumping, Values Voters Are Caring Less About Values

Remember the headlines after the 2004 election about how millions of voters pulled the lever based on moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage? This year, thanks to the economic problems, even those “values voters” care less about values.

This came through clearly the new Twelve Tribes study by Beliefnet and Prof. John Green of the University of Akron. (Click here for the full Twelve Tribes lowdown).

Overall, the Twelve Tribes survey indicated that just 13% of voters now listed moral issues as their primary concern, half the percentage who did in 2004.

Among members of the Religious Right, the percentage emphasizing social issues plummeted from 50.7% to 37.2%, while the portion emphasizing the economy rose from 18% to 40%. Among the Heartland Culture Warriors – a Tribe consisting of conservative Catholics, conservative mainline Protestants and Mormons — 57% now list the economy first, compared to 28% in 2004.


And, significantly, among Latinos – almost half of whom worship weekly – the emphasis on the economy has skyrocketed from 48% up to 61%. The pattern was repeated among crucial swing Tribes such as Convertible Catholics and Moderate Evangelicals.

Notably, the survey that formed the basis for the Twelve Tribes was conducted this summer, before the most recent financial crisis. If anything the primacy of economic issues has grown since then.

This creates huge opportunity for Barack Obama to win over voters who might otherwise find him too liberal on social issues.

But Democrats can easily misread this data. Many of the swing voters care more about the economy but have not moved to the left in terms of what they want done. For instance, 26% of Convertible Catholics wanted fewer government services; now 38% do. The economic message needs therefore to be one about more jobs and lower taxes, not about more government social programs. There’s still a lot of residual suspicion about big government liberalism, possibly even more now than four years ago.


Democrats would also be wise, then, to also counter the notion that they’re old style liberals. Obama has done this so far primarily by proposing a tax cut and, to some degree, by talking about his religion. What he’s lacked is a cultural conservative issue. Bill Clinton in 1992 helped win over these voters by talking about fighting crime and ending welfare “as we know it.” Obama occasionally talks about the importance of fathers being more involved in their families, but has had no easy-to-recall issue that convinces “swing tribes” that he’s not a cultural liberal. That’s a problem for any Democrat but may bei articularly risky for a liberal, African American from Chicago.

Adapted from Steven Waldman’s column at For more on the Twelve Tribes click here.

Comments read comments(7)
post a comment
Steven Ertelt

posted September 30, 2008 at 4:25 pm

Another attempt to suppress the turnout of pro-life voters, but it won’t work.
Your reading of the Akron poll ( leaves out some crucial components.
Green’s survey finds evangelicals favor McCain over Obama 57.2 percent to 19.9 percent. That’s similar to the 60.4% to 19.6% edge President Bush had over John Kerry at the same point four years ago.
And actually, Green said 20 percent of evangelicals say social issues like abortion are most important and that most of those voters are in McCain’s corner.
“Although social issues are less important, they continue to resonate in the evangelical community,” Green said. “The Obama campaign has not yet been able to overcome that.”
The numbers would likely be higher for McCain, but the survey was conducted prior to him selecting pro-life Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. Palin has energized pro-life voters and the evangelical and Catholic communities behind his campaign.
Even with the economic issues, pro-life voters will once again outnumber pro-abortion voters by 2-1 or 3-1 margins.
As a result, if McCain wins it will be because of these voters. And, if he loses, pro-life voters will make it closer than it would have otherwise been.
Steven Ertelt

report abuse

Noodle Beach

posted September 30, 2008 at 9:03 pm

Steve – Just heard you on NPR and while I liked your points about the movie Religulous I am disapointed that you let your interviewer turn the piece into a negative commentary about Sarah Palin. You helped it along by saying (again) that there were “many” questions you would like Sarah Palin to answer about her faith…I thought you were there to provide an alternative view to Mr. Maher.
Why is this so important for you? It is not enough to know that she is a church-going scripture-based Christian woman who prays about things in her life and others pray with her and for her? What evil truth do you think you will uncover? Are you afraid she believes the end times will come during her lifetime, thereby buying into the Bill Maher theory that this is somehow dangerous?
Your intense interest in the nuts and bolts of her beliefs makes me think you do not support her anyway and are trying to find a theological reason to support your view.
Some words on Bill Maher and his “film.” As you heard on the Fresh Air piece, these two obtained much of the content in the movie — interviews of people and their faith — in a somewhat deceitful way — by not informing interviewees their voices would be used to make fun of religion. This is a perfect commentary on Maher — he has no belief in God therefore no higher moral code guides his behavior, which is why he laughed when describing how the interviews were obtained. We should all be so enlightened as he.
But more importantly, Maher confuses religion with faith in God. He cites the pain and suffering and death, strange behavior, weird customs, and all manner of abnormal and irrational actions as proof that religion is silly and dangerous. He’s right — religion is a creation of man, not God, therefore extremely flawed. To secularists religion and faith in God are the same, but they are not. Religion is a human byproduct of an expression of faith in God — man’s attempt to create rules of worship. God did not establish Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopaleans, Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons, Methodists or Baptists, and certainly didn’t intend to inspire the wars, hate and death that may have accompanied conflicts among these groups.
He DID set apart his people Israel, instructed their behavior with the Law, and told them to expect a Messiah. In the New Testament the Lord sent his son Jesus, who among other things swept aside the Law that Israel’s Pharisees had turned into an instrument of power over its citizens. So in fact rather than establishing a “religion,” Jesus turned upside down the prevailing “religion” of the day, because it was the Jewish Law taken to unintended extremes.
The fact that we as humans have ruined pure faith in God by morphing our faith into rules of observance, liturgical standards, nuances of what we believe in (“cardinal” sins or “ordinal” sins), whether you eat meat on Fridays, whether women can serve in the clergy, etc etc etc, is NO REASON to attack the basis of faith in God. What might be ridiculous to Mr. Maher is HOW people express their faith in God, and if that is true, even as a scripture-believing Christian, I agree with him.
What Mr. Maher seeks to do is further his religion – secular humanism.

report abuse


posted October 1, 2008 at 11:43 am

Though Talk Like a Pirate day was weeks ago I cannot help but spew a piratical, “Aaaargh”!
One of the reasons that we are in this incredible financial mess is that no one seems to grasp that this – THIS VERY QUAGMIRE – Is a values question as profound as any other. In many ways the stuff that was touted as “values” was a smokescreen that distracted us from the values of the financial engineers that steered this economic train down a sideline that ended in a swamp.
Financial matters are values matters. Very simply – “What do you value?” equals “what will you pay for?”. We are paying for the greed and abyssmal appetite of the mortgage mongers who started this frenzy of feasting on willing prey. There are few innocent parties in this – so rather than wax eloquent on blame and retribution lets work out a plan to free all of us from the maw of bankruptcy. What do we value and for what will we pay? We will pay to get out of the jaws of debt.
Our Chrstian prayer that God “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” takes on a very real and tangible presence. What greater a values statement than this to address not some abstract concept but the very real values of our day.

report abuse

Charles Cosimano

posted October 1, 2008 at 11:01 pm

Moral values are a luxury that people worry about when they can afford to, when they have nothing more important to worry about, like the economy.
It is no accident that the first thing to go overboard in the Depression was Prohibition.

report abuse


posted October 2, 2008 at 12:13 am

The latest polls say it all. A combination of the debate, economy, and Republicans deciding against Palin.
The latest Quinnipiac polls show Obama crossing the 50 percent threshold in all three of those states:
Florida: 51 – 43
Ohio: 50 – 42
Pennsylvania: 54 – 39
A set of five CNN/Time battleground polls also show Obama breaking away in some key states:
Florida: Obama 51%, McCain 47%
Minnesota: Obama 54%, McCain 43%
Missouri: Obama 49%, McCain 48%
Nevada: Obama 51%, McCain 47%
Virginia: Obama 53%, McCain 44%

report abuse

Jeffrey Allen

posted October 2, 2008 at 3:14 am

Just wanted to point out that these “12 tribes” categories don’t contain everyone – where do the theologically conservative (read: orthodox), socially aware (consistent pro-life: anti-abortion, anti-war; anti-poverty; pro-universal healthcare; pro-immigration) folks go? Hmmmm…..Not everyone fits in your boxes.

report abuse

Pingback: Did the Financial Crisis Kill McCain? No. - Steven Waldman

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!
Thank you for visiting this page. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Top Religious News Most Recent Inspiration Post Happy Reading! ...

posted 6:00:22pm Apr. 20, 2012 | read full post »

Good Bye
Today is my last day at Beliefnet (which I co-founded in 1999). The swirling emotions: sadness, relief, love, humility, pride, anxiety. But mostly deep, deep gratitude. How many people get to come up with an idea and have rich people invest ...

posted 8:37:24am Nov. 20, 2009 | read full post »

"Steven Waldman Named To Lead Commission Effort on Future of Media In a Changing Technological Landscape" (FCC Press Release)
STEVEN WALDMAN NAMED TO LEAD COMMISSION EFFORT ON FUTURE OF MEDIA IN A CHANGING TECHNOLOGICAL LANDSCAPE FCC chairman Julius Genachowski announced today the appointment of Steven Waldman, a highly respected internet entrepreneur and journalist, ...

posted 11:46:42am Oct. 29, 2009 | read full post »

My Big News
Dear Readers, This is the most difficult (and surreal) post I've had to write. I'm leaving Beliefnet, the company I co-founded in 1999. In mid November, I'll be stepping down as President and Editor in Chief to lead a project on the future of ...

posted 1:10:11pm Oct. 28, 2009 | read full post »

"Beliefnet Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief Steps Down to Lead FCC Future of the Media Initiative" (Beliefnet Press Release)
October 28, 2009 BELIEFNET CO-FOUNDER AND EDITOR-IN-CHIEF STEPS DOWN TO LEAD FCC FUTURE OF THE MEDIA INITIATIVE New York, NY - October 28, 2009 - Beliefnet, the leading online community for inspiration and faith, announced today that Steven ...

posted 1:05:43pm Oct. 28, 2009 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.