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Religion and the public

The survey was simply supposed to profile the values of the American public for comparison with the values of an insurance company's policy owners. But it came up with unexpected signs of religious rsurgence among Americans. These call to the society and its leaders for a response in keeping with a heightened concern for moral issues.

It is especially on these issues that the survey found the majority of leaders out of touch with the public. It suggests that Ronald Reagan won the presidential election not so much for his "known and admired qualities" as for his success in "sounding a 'call to faith' in traditional American values."

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As long ago as the 1976 Republican convention, some Reagan supporters were minimizing such policy matters as defense and economic policy in favor of such moral or social issues as abortion, drugs, and pornography. Now some Reagan supporters are impatient with the decision of Congress and the administration to put the moral and social issues on the back burner while debating the economy.

According to the new survey, moral issues are likely to become increasingly important in the choice of future leaders. Disillusioned by lapses at the top in recent history, the American people look for moral leadership. They place "honest" ahead of "inteligence" or "competence" as the quality most sought in a president.

Little relationship was found between religious commitment and political conservatism. There was small difference between liberals and conservatives on conventional major political issues. The difference in outlook was more on moral questions and between the religious and nonreligious. Almost three-quarters of the religiously committed people opposed sexual relations between unmarried persons, for example, as contrasted with 11 percent of the religiously noncommitted.

Religious commitment was determined not in terms of denominational affiliation so much as through answers to a series of questions. According to the answers, 74 percent of Americans consider themselves religious; 75 percent frequently feel that God loves them; about one-half pray and attend religious services.

A quarter of the population over 14 years of age -- 45 million people -- we found to be "intensely religious." These are people who are active in their communities and who consider moral and religious issues the first-priority political concerns of their country.

"I never expect against as a social scientist to see anything as powerful in explaining so much of what Americans do," said the survey's director, John Pollock. "People are judging things in moral terms . . . they are using religion privately and in the public sphere."

This is encouraging news when so many analyses are being made of why Americans are as they are. Without question it is the values rooted in morality which should be the wellspring of America.

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