As the party conventions intensify the race for the White House, a significant new voting block has been revealed--"Bible Study Moms."

Married Christian women with children constitute 22 percent of all female voters and could replace the so-called "Soccer Moms" identified in the last presidential contest as one of the key groups for the candidates.

A nationwide survey found that 81 percent of the group are pro-life and that their main concern--listed by 23 percent--is the decline in moral values. Fifteen percent cited fears about crime, 14 percent expressed concern about social security and aid to the elderly, while only 5 percent mentioned foreign policy.

The study was commissioned by the Beverly LaHaye Institute (BLI), the research arm of Concerned Women for America (CWA) and was "an important barometer of women's thinking," according to senior fellow Janice Shaw Crouse.

"This poll confirms what close observers have been seeing," she said. "Mothers at the grassroots level--'Bible Study Moms'--are concerned about the world in which their children are growing up. They are disturbed about the decline in moral values and the increase in crime. They don't want these negative influences impacting their kids."

CWA founder LaHaye said that the poll also underlined that mothers were a significant portion of the American electorate. "Mothers have always been a barometer of national thinking," she said. "Pocktebook issues didn't even come close to moral and safety issues for America's mothers."

The survey of 1,000 found that 67 percent thought that the country was "on the wrong track"--compared with 50 percent of women overall and 47 percent of all Americans. The "Bible Study Moms" were also more likely to be Republican (56 percent) than Democrat (43 percent) while voters in general are more evenly divided.

But Republican candidate Gov. George W. Bush cannot necessarily rely on their votes. For while 72 percent of "Bible Study Dads" said they would likely vote for the Texas governor, only 58 percent of the women surveyed said the same.

"The reality is, most people need a reason to go out and vote," said CWA director of communications Wendy Wright, who pointed to the low voter turnout in the 1996 election. "With the strong feeling among 'Bible Study Moms' that abortion is wrong and that there is a decline in moral values in our country, the candidates that are pro-life and have solid moral values will resonate with these voters and motivate them to vote."

Crouse said that the BLI survey had identified a significant block of women voters largely ignored in the polling data and showed their particular importance in the Midwest states, where their numbers are the greatest.

The survey, conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide, also found the "Bible Study Moms" to be mostly Baptist (38 percent), white (85 percent) and homemakers (71 percent).

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