PRINCETON, NJ -- A recent USA Today/Gallup poll finds three in four Americans saying the positions of the presidential candidates on family values will be an important factor in determining their vote for president in November 2008, with just more than one in three saying they will be "extremely" important. When asked what the words "family values" conjure up for them in the context of a political campaign, Americans most often say the family unit, family structure, or strong families. Americans also frequently say the issue of family values represents a political ploy or a way to win votes, or that it relates to healthcare issues, morality, or abortion.
Importance of "Family Values" to Vote for President
The Nov. 2-4, 2007, poll asked Americans whether the presidential candidates' positions on family values will be extremely important, very important, not that important, or not important at all in determining their vote for president next year. The vast majority of Americans say the candidates' positions on this issue will be extremely (36%) or very (39%) important to their vote. Only about one in four say the candidates' positions will not be important.
"Family values" resonates more with some groups of Americans -- such as Republicans, self-described conservatives, and women -- than it does with others.
Republicans (86% extremely or very important) are more likely than independents or Democrats to say the family values issue will be important to their vote for president next year; still, a strong majority of both independents (71%) and Democrats (72%) say this issue will be important.
Eighty-eight percent of conservatives say the candidates' positions on family values will be extremely or very important to their vote next November, much higher than the 75% of moderates and especially the 58% of liberals who say this.
Women (79%) are somewhat more likely than men (70%) to say the presidential candidates' views on family values will be extremely or very important to their vote for president.
Americans Explain "Family Values" in Their Own Words
The poll asked Americans to explain, in their own words, what they think the words "family values" mean in the context of a political campaign. The most common answers respondents give in essence repeat some variant of the word "family" -- the family unit, family structure, and strong families. Thirty-two percent of Americans respond in this way, basically restating the term "family values."
Twelve percent of Americans reply cynically that the notion of family values is a political ploy, a way to win votes, or a phony issue.
Eleven percent say "family values" connotes healthcare and health insurance to them. Ten percent mention morals and morality, and another 10% say abortion. Smaller percentages of Americans mention things like education, religion and Christianity, honesty and integrity, marriage, gay marriage, and taxes.
There are only minor variations by partisanship in views of what family values means in the context of a political campaign. Republicans, independents, and Democrats most frequently mention some aspect of the family unit. The only two statistically significant variations involve healthcare and abortion: a slightly higher percentage of Democrats (15%) than Republicans or independents (9% each) say healthcare comes to mind when they think of "family values" in a political campaign, while Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to say abortion, 14% to 7%.
The perceptions of conservatives, moderates, and liberals regarding family values are similar to the extent that the top response for each group relates to the family, including the family unit, family structure, and strong families.
But liberals (18%) are more likely than conservatives (8%) to say "family values" is a political ploy and a way to win votes. By comparison, conservatives (13%) and moderates (15%) are more likely than liberals (5%) to say "family values" represents healthcare issues in the context of a political campaign, and conservatives (13%) are more likely than moderates (8%) or liberals (7%) to mention the abortion issue.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,024 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 2-4, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.