Literature Review - Senior Project - Bachelor's Degree

A correlation between religious association and political affiliation has been known for some time, but the significance of the connection, though important, had not registered on exit polling results. In the data gathered from exit polling reports during the 2004 United States Presidential Election, a surprising statistic jumped into the news: 22% of those polled as they left voting booths said that the most important issue influencing their choice for president was “Moral Values” (CNN.com). “Moral Values,” in fact, surpassed other, seemingly more pressing, social issues such as “Economy/Jobs,” “Terrorism,” “Iraq,” “Health Care,” “Taxes,” and “Education” as the number one priority for the electorate. However, in the weeks that followed, some reporters, statisticians, and researchers reported a less than confident opinion on the results of the exit polls, some stating that the polls were flawed by poor interviewing, small interview pools, and a tendency to interview one kind of voter over another depending on locality. One of the skeptics, Dick Meyer of CBS News, wrote,

“While the nexus of the issues boiled into the words ‘moral values’ certainly were a big factor in this election, it’s being exaggerated partly because of the oddities of the poll itself […] [i]f the poll had been worded or constructed only slightly differently, moral values would not have been the top issue. […] If ‘terrorism and Iraq’ [had been] combined […] it would have been the top concern of 34 percent of the electorate, and nobody would be talking about moral values” (Meyer, 2004).

Christopher Muste wrote,

“Most post-election analysis featured the well-known
National Election Pool (NEP) exit poll, conducted by
Edison/Mitofsky for a consortium of TV networks and
the Associated Press. In asking voters about the
issues driving their choice for president, this year’s
incarnation of the major media’s long-standing exit
polls offered the ‘moral values’ option for the first
time” (Muste, 2005).

Other exit polls, Muste notes, have included moral values as an option in prior elections, most notably, The Los Angeles Times, which has offered “moral/ethical values” on its polls since 1992. In the 2004 election, Muste reports, The Los Angeles Times reported that 40% of voters chose moral values as one of their top two most important issues. However, that statistic is actually on par with reports from the 1996 and 2000 elections (40% and 35%, respectively).
Thomas B. Edsall writes, “Pollsters are finding that one of the best ways to discover whether a voter holds liberal or conservative value stands is to ask: How often do you go to church? Those who go often tend to be Republican, those who go rarely or not at all tend to be Democratic” (Edsall, 2005). Though there is no doubt as to the correlation between a voter’s religious affiliation, moral ideology, and political leanings, a few questions do arise from the 2004 election exit poll results: do voters employ personal morality when making voting decisions? If so, does this, then, conflict both with the Constitution of the United States and the separation of church and state? If no, does the media and the reigning political party interpret certain data as a means to a desired effect on the voting populace?
In the course of the research, it is prudent to not only explore what modern researchers, writers, analysts, and experts thought of the phenomenon, but to also put the issue into some kind of historical context. In the final project, I will be exploring morality in politics for the last 100 years, and will follow voting patterns in correlation to religious affiliation (as possible) from the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 to the Presidential election of 2004. In addition, I will be looking at other studies and polls done on the topic of religion in United States politics, as well as journal articles, opinions expressed in periodicals, and philosophical opinions on the subject.


For the context of this research, the term “morality” will be defined as a person’s personal morality or ideology. In this context, we will only be looking at the sort of ideology that impels a person of voting age in the United States to vote one way or the other based solely on one or more personal ideologies.
Religion will be defined, for the purposes of this study, as any of the Judeo-Christian faiths prominate in the United States. This will include Catholicism, Judaism, and Protestantism (all sects). Though regretful, other religions not considered, generally speaking, as being part of what is colloquially called the “Christian Right” cannot be used in this study.
Politics would be defined as the current political structure of the United States, particularly as the US is a secular nation, with presumed laws prohibiting the intermingling of "church and state" which, on the surface, would seem to preclude much religious morality.
Voters will be defined as legal residents of the United States of America who are of legal age to vote.

The variables involved in this study are:
1) The level of self-defined morality in the population of the United States who are of legal age to vote in elections;
2) The importance the voting-age population places on national morality;
3) The level at which the population actually employs moral rationale when making voting decisions;
4) The amount of media each participant in the survey intakes on a regular basis;
5) The delivery method of media intake (print, broadcast, Internet, et cetera);
6) The relative importance of media in the daily routines of the survey participants

Historical Review
The history of religion in United States politics goes back to the arrival of the pilgrims (technically, much earlier: to the creation of the Church of England in 1534 by King Henry VIII), but we will not need to review the history prior to the 1932 election in order to examine the topic except a cursory examination as to the underpinnings of religion in modern society. (For our purposes, we will define “modern” as any event occurring after 1932.)

In order to better understand the intertwining nature of politics and religion in the United States, we will, as I said above, be making a cursory examination of the documents of the preceding eras and look at the philosophical ideas of the early 20th century.

In 1903, James Albert Woodburn, a professor of American history and politics at Indiana University, wrote in his book, Political Parties and Party Problems in The United States, “In a democratic state political rights cannot be secure unless they have their foundations in the righteousness of political life” (Woodburn, 1903: p.372). He goes on to say that “[t]he people must be virtuous. Moral character is the foundation of the state. If the people’s political rectitude and integrity are sapped and undermined, the foundation is gone” (Woodburn, 1903: p.372). This reference is of high value when placing context to the discussion of the relevance of morality in voting, especially within the confines of a historical perspective.

Kenneth J. Heineman writes in his book, God is a Conservative: Religion, Politics, and Morality in Contemporary America that society radically changed in the wake of FDR and the New Deal (Heineman, 1998: 4). God is a Conservative takes us from the 1968 Presidential campaign to the later half of the Clinton administration. Heineman’s book explores the inner workings of campaign strategies for nearly all those who sought the presidency or vice presidency since 1968, including, most importantly, an in-depth look at how the “social conservative,” the “religious Right,” Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant votes are vied for by candidates, sometimes by rhetoric; other times, by seeming manipulation. Heineman also discusses the connection and, at the same time, opposing nature of racial tension as it relates not only to politics and campaigning, but to how different races inside those religions are campaigned to, politically generalized (blacks always vote Democratic, for instance), and pitted against one another. Finally, Heineman provides context for the state of religion in politics in the modern U.S. political system: a them-against-us mentality of social relativists versus social conservatives. Heineman also details the specific issues that seem to make a difference to “religious” voters and how candidates for the office of President have often used these issues as levers to gain votes among the social conservatives. Among these issues are abortion, same-sex marriage rights, and prayer in schools, and, to a lesser extent, pornography, gun control, taxation of private Christian schools, the contents of textbooks, and the general moral failings of modern American (United States) society. We will look at some literature of the two main issues for the so-called social conservatives in the 2004 election, abortion and gay rights.
This section relies heavily on information contained in Krason, 1994)
In 1973, the United States Supreme Court ruled on a case commonly called ROE v. WADE. The record of the vote by the members of the Supreme Court was 7 to 2, thus legalizing the controversial practice of abortion. Many social conservatives have labeled the abortion issue as a Democratic/liberal issue. While the Democratic party since McGovern has taken on the mantle of social relativism, since Nixon’s presidency, there have been few changes to the ROE v WADE ruling. Despite this, the social conservatives continue to blame Democrats for ROE v WADE. Even if the fact that the Supreme Court is designed to uphold the rights outlined in the Constitution of the United States and look at it only from a non-partisan standpoint, there is little proof that the Democratic representatives in the Supreme Court in 1973 ruled in favor of the legalization of abortion; in fact, the voting record shows otherwise. Called “The Burger Court,” in 1973 the Supreme Court was made up of five Republicans (Chief Justice Warren Burger, and Associate Justices Potter Stewart, Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell, and William Rehnquist) and four Democrats (William Douglas, William Brennan, Byron White, and Thurgood Marshall). Of those, only Rehnquist and White voted “no,” thus removing any doubt that ROE v WADE was solely a Democratic party issue; if it had been, the other four Republicans on the court would have voted “no,” as well (thus ruling the case in favor of WADE) and White would have voted with the other Democrats (ROE would have been defeated anyway).

The background and Supreme Court voting record on the case is important only insomuch as many religious conservatives point to the Democratic party as a moral-less party, beginning with ROE v. WADE and continuing through most areas of politics that deal with social issues. What is more important to the scope of the research for this project is how the abortion issue is the “hot-button” issue for many Christians, both Republican and Democrat, who use the issue as a yardstick by which to measure the fitness of a candidate for the office of president. Peter Augustine Lawler, in his article, “Virtue Voters,” writes, “a sizeable and perhaps decisive number of Americans voted against the Democrats’ pro-choice position on moral issues” (Lawler, 2005: p. 23). He goes on to say, “The Democrats […] tend to say that government should be limited to technical or pragmatic questions, and moral choices should be left to the individual” (Lawler, 2005: p. 26). In an article by Emory law professor Harold J. Berman, this sort of division could be embodied in those who “believe that God ordained earthly rulers with the power to make and enforce laws, and that the history of law represented the providential fulfillment of God’s plan” (Berman, 1998: p. 779-801). Later, he writes, “In situations where they appear to conflict with each other, the right solution can only be reached by prudentially weighing the particular virtues of each” (Berman, 1998: p. 779-801).

The issue this study is concerned with, however, is the actual numbers of people who vote for elected officials and laws based on abortion. A telephone poll conducted by Lake, Snell, Perry & Associates on November 1 – 2, 2004 on the behalf of The Gender Gap and Women’s Agenda for Moving Forward (Gender, 2004), asked how much priority the incoming president should give to a variety of issues, including abortion, health care, education, and the environment. According to the results of the telephone poll, 53% of those asked said that abortion should be a high priority.

Same-Sex Marriage Rights
During the 2004 presidential election, there were eleven gay rights initiatives on ballots in as many states. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force writes, “Pundits from across the political spectrum and anti-gay activists are claiming that the gay marriage issue cost John Kerry the 2004 election, particularly because of an antimarriage amendment on the ballot in Ohio.” The article is a list of reasons why the gay marriage amendments that were voted on in the 2004 election were not a factor in John Kerry’s defeat to George W. Bush for the presidency. The article states,

“In a national poll of voters in the 2004 presidential election conducted by Lake, Snell, Perry & Associates, only 2% said that ‘gay and lesbian rights issues’ was the most important issue to them in deciding whom to vote for. The top issue was ‘job and the economy’ (23%), followed by ‘homeland security and terrorism’ (19%), and ‘Iraq’ (13%). Only 10% cited ‘moral values’ as their chief concern” (NGLTF, 2004).

The wild swing of percentages between the poll conducted by the NEP exit poll and the telephone poll by Lake, Snell, et al cannot be explained away by mere semantics of the options asked. Certainly, those with concerns for morality would have answered similarly in comparable numbers in both the exit poll and the telephone poll.

In yet another poll, however, the numbers are, again, different: “It also appears that the issue of gay and lesbian relationships may have helped offset potential gains by Kerry on other issues. Only 26% of all voters supported the idea of legalized gay and lesbian marriages […] ” (Jones, 2004).

In May of 2004, rulings by the Supreme Courts of several States made the same-sex marriage issue one of the most-talked about issues in the media as far as election coverage.

“Margaret Marshall, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, wrote the 4-3 ruling that in November 2003 declared that barring same-sex couples from marrying violated Massachusetts’ constitution. […] In response, Bush endorsed an effort to amend the U.S. Constitution to restrict gay marriage to a man and woman. And the Bush campaign used the gay-marriage issue as a centerpiece of its efforts to turn out conservative Christians in record numbers” (Singer, 2004: p. 3,346-3,347).

Some research has been done in the realm of how voters make their decisions on voting. One particular paper focuses on the gay rights issue as a factor in voting patterns.

“In forming issue opinions, citizens must typically choose between an array of potentially ambiguous or contradictory considerations. The prevailing view is that citizens use mental constructs – issue frames – to select standards of judgment within a given issue domain. These frames are central organizing ideas […] the value frame […] consists of an association between a value and an issue in a specific direction (e.g.; pro- or anti-gay rights)” (Brewer, 2003: p. 173-201).

Brewer’s article reports that he found in the course of his research that “anti-gay morality” (items that supported traditional moral values) appeared in 16% of 400 items; “pro-gay rights” (items that supported non-traditional morality) appeared in 2% out of the 400 items. This information may support the claim that nearly a quarter of the voting population holds “moral values” in at least high regard, if not as the most important issue when voting.

Polls, Facts, and Figures
In fact, many statisticians reported that, although the Republican party claimed that the “moral right” won the election for Bush, the data claimed otherwise. While Bush either maintained or increased his support among Christian voters overall, Kerry saw bigger gains than Bush (as compared to previous Democratic presidential candidates) among mainline and modernist Protestants, and Christians unaffiliated with a specific church or sect (Green, et al, 2004).

In a poll released in late 2005, it was reported that “two-thirds of Americans believe members of the clergy should refrain from promoting political issues in the pulpit” (Keep Politics [...] 2005: p. 15). Despite that statistic, “The religious right (alternatively referred to as the ‘Christian right,’ or its members sometimes called ‘Christian conservatives’) continues to be, in spite of repeated predictions of its demise, a force in American politics” (Hood, 2003). Another poll revealed that 52% of Bush voters in 2004 “reported that […] religious faith was ‘very important’ in their presidential selection” and that “[a]n astonishing two-fifths (40%) of John Kerry supporters acknowledged that religious faith was a non-issue” (The Polling Company, 2005).

Among all Christian voters, most polls showed that those who considered themselves to be of the Catholic faith were most key in hotly-contested regions.

“Bush’s strong performance among Catholics, it turns out, was crucial to his victory. Bush won Catholics 52%-47% this time, while Al Gore carried them 50%-46% in 2000. If Kerry has done as well as Gore, he would have had about a million more votes nationwide. According to Gallup Polls, only one Democrat since 1952 (Walter Mondale in 1984) lost the Catholic vote by this large a margin” (Green, 2004).

Waldman and Green go on to report that Bush gained votes from Hispanic Catholics in particular, raising his percentage totals in 2004 to 42% from the 31% he received from the same group in 2000.

Religion, Morality, Politics – What Do The People Want?
An article in a series appearing in First Things noted that there is a distinct difference between what they termed as “culture politics” and the conflict of moral standards in the United States. “More often than not, culture politics is not a matter of morality vs. immorality (or even amorality) but of moralities in conflict” (Culture Politics, 2001: p. 68).
If not conflicting, then certainly morality is divisive:

“What exactly are those moral values? Different voters defined them differently, but those who voted for Mr. Bush oppose gay marriage and feel matrimony ought to be a union between a man and a woman. They also oppose abortion rights to some degree, and oppose broader government support for stem-cell research. ‘I think we see a big difference in this country between those people who are church-goers, and those who could be called unchurched, […] When we look at those voters who say they attend religious services at least once a week, they voted heavily, more than 2 to 1, for George W. Bush’” (Rather, 2004).

Another article states: “Voters who say that they go to church every week usually vote for Republicans. Those who go to church less often or not at all tend to vote for Democrats” (Page, 2004). Still another article reports:

“Religion has long been a critical factor in American elections. But, until recently its impact has been felt in terms of affiliation – membership in specific denominations and other religious bodies. For example, northern mainline Protestants have traditionally voted Republican, while Jews have solidly been in the Democratic camp” (The New Religion Gap, 2004: p. 4).

In his article, “The Double Citizen: Religious and Secular,” Frederick Turner makes a case that this division between Right and Left, Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal, religious and social, do not, necessarily, have to be divided. He sees compromise on the political and social horizons:

“The current panic on the Left over the one-fifth of American voters who apparently put ‘values’ at the top of their priorities is surely misplaced. No, we are not going to become a theocracy, and Britney Spears is not going to have to wear a chador. America is haggling its way toward compromises on gay unions and abortion and public recognition of religion – and neither side is going to get all it wants” (Turner, 2005: p. 14).

Showing that the people really are divided, a response to Turner’s article appears in the same issue of Society:

“If as Turner complains, his beliefs and those of his friends are a mystery to many in the academy, the fault does not lie entirely on the academic side. Had the religious intellectuals he praises and represents made themselves heard in the criticism of the idolatries of the Christian Right, rather than making common cause with Pat Robertson, William Bennett, and Justice Moore against the Godless heathen, perhaps non-church-going intellectuals would be less inclined to identify ‘religion’ with ignorance, arrogance, and intolerance” (Kleiman, 2005: p. 37).

And, still, there are those who try to take the moderate path:

“[…] Turner is making a point that very badly needs to be made in the preset-day climate of intellectual hostility to religion, particular insofar as religion is thought to have a public face and proposes to address itself to political issues. It is not hard, I think to make the case that the ‘free exercise’ provision of the First Amendment should not be construed as a prohibition against religion […] ” (McClay, 2005: p. 17).

In fact, even “religion” itself seems to be difficult to define in such a way that attends to every possible definition or connotation of the word, much less the guiding principles and philosophy of it. The act of bringing religion into politics makes the idea even more complex. David John Farmer offers:

“Here are ten suggestions – not commandments – for thinking about PA [Public Administration] in its religious context. […] 1. It is hard to know what religion is. 2. It is hard to know whether the separation of church and state is a done deal. 3. It is hard to know how to talk about religion objectively across a religious divide. 4. It is easy to suppose that religion is implicated in the constitutive magma of our society, and also a window toward understanding the constitutive framework. 5. It is easy to suppose that religion can participate in shaping the moral landscape. 6. It is easy to suppose that religion had both an up side and a down side, and that this down side is also part of our societal dynamic. 7. It is sensible to think that PA [Public Administration] should emulate religious ‘best business practice’ to the extent, at least, that religion is in competition with government. 8. It is sensible to think that PA should not be indifferent to the kinds of religious activities which exist in society. 9. It is sensible to be self-revealing when discussing PA in religion, whether or not it is embarrassing. 10. It is lunatic to think in rigid boxes (boxism) about PA in its religious context” (Farmer, 2005: p. 182).

But if religion is appearing in public administration (among other venues), why are there comments such as this one:

“The debates about this ‘new Christian right’ have raised a number of issues that are central to the broader religion-and-politics question, and so it will be useful to consider them. Hadden (as referenced in the quoted text: (Hadden, 1987: p. 1) )begins with some interesting remarks that challenge the sociological model of religion in modern society known as secularization theory. According to this model, the modern history of religion has been a linear, one-directional process in which religion has progressively lost influence in the public arena” (Hollenback, 1988: p. 68).

Not only does religion appear to be divisive among voters and political candidates, opinions on its influence in American society appear to be just as problematic. The research appears to show that, at the same time, both sides of the issue – and neither side of the issue – are correct.

Politics and religion go hand in hand for almost all the issues, including foreign policy (Zunes, 2005: p. 73-78), women’s political leanings (Aldrich, 2003: p. 23-40), and even judicial nominations (The President's News Conference, 2005: p. 683-696). And, with so many dissenting opinions on religion, politics, and the combination of the two – opinions that seem to contradict each other and what the public appears to think (given polling data) – it makes one wonder where the information is coming from… and how accurate it is. Others, too, have wondered, and done their own studies:

“The 2004 elections raised anew questions about values and the vote. The National Election Pool (NEP) exit poll, conducted for a consortium of media organizations, reported that ‘moral values’ was the top issue for voters […] The controversy about the role of ‘values voters’ is an indication of fundamental questions about the changing social bases of political behavior. […] This study contributes to research on the cultural or ‘values; bases of political behavior by responding to the call for ‘better measures’ of values” (Baker, 2005).

The Media
One of the issues that many people discuss when speaking of religion in politics is the influence of the media. It has been said that the media is more liberal in nature (whether that is true or not is beyond the scope of this study), and, hence, pays more attention to topics and stories that are detrimental to conservative viewpoints and issues. One place that is pointed to as a major source of predominately liberal bias is in the so-called “alternative” media of the Internet and web logs (colloquially referred to as “blogs” or journals). And, while it is true that traditional news outlets have suffered declines in subscriber/viewer rates while alternative online outlets have seen tremendous gains, there is no evidence that these unconventional sources have much (if any) influence on political campaigns. However, the political system is paying attention, and was, also, during the 2004 presidential campaign. Users of such media were found to be more politically liberal and younger than users of traditional media (Dillon, 2005). Other writers have noted:

“[t]he people who produce the CBS Evening News do not necessarily share the broader cultural and more specifically religious sensibilities of the people who watch the CBS Evening News. Survey research seems to have confirmed the existence of a ‘new knowledge class,’ located primarily in the academy, the prestige class, and in the popular entertainment industry” (Marshall, 2002).

It could be inferred that the traditional media outlets do not actually hold as much sway over the minds and opinions of the voting populace as they once did, and that people are beginning, more and more, to think individualistically, with little regard to the opinions of the society and culture as a whole… with respect to those who affiliate themselves with a particular religious culture. It has also been considered that the American voters don’t want the media prying into their opinions (Reston, 1986: p. 753-761). The role that the media plays in the way religious voters are portrayed to viewers obviously plays its part, but it is quite a leap of “logic” to assume that the media is responsible for the voting patterns of the social conservatives of the United States.

It is apparent that, despite the vast wealth of research already completed on the impact of religion in modern American politics, on the opinions of those claiming religious affiliation as well as political party affiliation, on the voting patterns of the socially conservative voters in the United States, and, in particular, the exit polling data of the 2004 presidential election, there is still much research to be done. The questions raised at the beginning of this review of relevant literature were not answered sufficiently: There is still no definitive evidence or data either supporting or invalidating the question of whether or not personal morality plays a statistically significant role in the voting patterns in national general elections; in the research located, there was little mention of the relevancy of the Constitution of the United States in relation to “moral values” voting, nor was there any significant mention of a relationship (and conflict) between values voting and the separation of church and state. Lastly, the data of voting patterns must be interpreted with these questions in mind in order to reach a validated conclusion.

It is with this in mind that I plan to continue the research into these questions, thus adding to the available research regarding the American political system, the intertwining nature of religion in American politics, and the media’s role in the perception of said connection.


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