Poll: America's Cultural Divide

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For many Americans, the electoral lines laid down November 3rd demarcate more than just political differences; many stare across those lines and see fellow citizens with very different values and goals in other aspects of life beyond politics, too.

Some of the greatest differences between Bush and Kerry voters (what many call Red and Blue America) occur in the role religion should play in the public sphere. Kerry voters are concerned if politicians grow too close to religious leaders, Bush voters are troubled if politicians aren't close enough to religious leaders. As for "moral values," it continues to be more cited by Bush voters than Kerry voters.

But these two groups have much in common, too: both sets of voters decry what they see as a popular culture that is lowering moral standards in the U.S.


RELIGION AND VALUES

More than half of those who voted for Bush and Kerry say they do not believe the other candidate's voters share their values or goals in areas of life beyond politics. Four out of ten don't think those who did not vote the same way they did share their moral values, specifically.

BUSH VOTERS' VIEWS OF KERRY VOTERS:

Share non-political values & goals
Yes
43%
No
53%

Share moral values
Yes
50%
No
39%

53% of Bush voters say Kerry's supporters do not have the same values and goals outside of politics. 43% say they do. Slightly more Bush voters think Kerry's voters share their moral values.

Kerry's voters, for their part, are equally as likely to cite goal and value differences between themselves and Bush's backers. 56% say those who voted for Bush instead of their candidate don't share their goals or values either, and 44% think Bush's supporters don't share their moral values.

KERRY VOTERS' VIEWS OF BUSH VOTERS:

Share non-political values & goals
Yes
40%
No
56%

Share moral values
Yes
46%
No
44%

Attendance at religious services was a major division between each candidate's supporters in this election, with Bush's voters more likely than Kerry's voters to be frequent church-goers.

What do "moral values" mean to these voters? When asked to describe it in their own words, voters said that moral values meant ethics, being a good person and general personal beliefs. There was little difference between the two candidates' supporters on this question.


RELIGION AND POLITICS

Just about half of all Americans would prefer elected officials keep a bit of distance from religious leaders, while about a third would like to see greater attention given to religious leaders by officials. Kerry and Bush voters express sharp differences of opinion on this: Bush voters are more likely to be concerned when politicians don't heed religious leaders enough; most Kerry voters get worried when the two get too close.

But both camps reject the notion that political officials with strong religious beliefs should try to turn those beliefs into law. Few Americans back this idea.

More than half of Americans feel that those with strong religious beliefs are not discriminated against in the U.S., but over a third think they are. That feeling is more predominant among Bush voters; 42% think people with strong religious beliefs face some discrimination. That figure rises to 57% among Evangelical Christians.

Evangelical Christians are widely credited with helping return President Bush to the White House, and while more Americans generally think they have the right amount of influence on George W. Bush's decisions, nearly a third think they have too much influence. More Americans expect that over the next four years Evangelicals will have the same amount of influence as they do now.


MORALITY, THE MEDIA AND HOLLYWOOD

On the issues of moral standards in popular culture, voters find common ground. 70% of Americans say they are very or somewhat worried that popular culture, as depicted in television and movies, is lowering moral standards in the U.S.

Hollywood takes much of the blame for this, as most say its products are driving down those moral standards. This is a big point of agreement for the two electoral camps: Bush voters overwhelmingly think so, more so than Kerry voters, but half of the latter agree.

IMPACT OF HOLLYWOOD ON POPULAR CULTURE

All Americans
Raising Standards
6%
Lowering Standards
62%
No Impact
29%

Kerry Voters
Raising Standards
9%
Lowering Standards
51%
No Impact
39%

Bush Voters
Raising Standards
2%
Lowering Standards
78%
No Impact
17%

Bush voters are, though, more apt to say that they see more gay characters on TV and in the movies than they would like -- 51% feel this way. Far fewer Kerry voters say the same; 48% say TV and movies have the right amount of gay themes and characters. Overall, 42% of Americans say that television and movies now include too many gay characters and themes for their taste.


SAME SEX MARRIAGE

Americans also divide on the question of same sex marriage. One in five Americans think gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry, while another 32% say they should be permitted to form civil unions. 53% of Americans support some type of legal status for same-sex couples, but 44% think the relationships of same-sex couples ought to have no legal recognition.

SAME-SEX COUPLES SHOULD BE ALLOWED:

All Americans
To legally marry
21%
To form civil unions
32%
No legal recognition
44%

Kerry Voters
To legally marry
32%
To form civil unions
35%
No legal recognition
29%

Bush Voters
To legally marry
8%
To form civil unions
36%
No legal recognition
53%

Bush and Kerry voters disagree on this issue. Nearly seven in 10 Kerry voters support some type of legal status for same sex couples, compared to 44% of Bush voters. More than half of the latter think there ought to be no legal recognition of same sex couples' relationships.

73% of Americans who support some legal status for same-sex relationships say they could vote for a candidate that disagreed with them on the issue of same-sex marriage. However, among those who oppose both same-sex marriage and civil unions, more than half -- 52% -- say they could not vote for a candidate that held an opposing view on this issue.

But 56% of Americans think defining marriage as only between a man and a woman is not an important enough issue to warrant changing the U.S. Constitution. Four in 10 say it is important enough.

IS DEFINING MARRIAGE AS ONLY BETWEEN A MAN AND WOMAN IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO CHANGE THE U.S. CONSTITUTION?

Yes
40%
No
56%

Those who voted for Bush earlier this month, conservatives, and weekly churchgoers are more likely to think amending the Constitution to define marriage is an important issue.

47% say being homosexual is something a person cannot change (an increase from March), while 39% believe being gay or lesbian is a choice that people make. Bush and Kerry's voters hold different views; 46% of Bush supporters think homosexuality is a choice, compared to 26% of Kerry's voters.

Views on whether homosexuality is a choice inform views of same sex couples' relationships. Of those who believe homosexuality is a choice, 67% oppose any legal recognition of same-sex relationships. Among those who believe homosexuality is not a choice, 73% favor some type of legal recognition of same-sex relationships.


ABORTION

Like same-sex marriage, Americans' views on the issue of abortion affect their votes mostly in one direction. 34% say abortion should be generally available to those who want it, 44% say it should be available but under stricter limits, while 21% think abortion should not be permitted at all. Those views have changed little in recent years.

ABORTION SHOULD BE …

Generally available
34%
Available with stricter limits
44%
Not permitted at all
21%

Not surprisingly, Bush voters are more likely to think abortion should not be permitted at all, while more Kerry voters think it should be generally available.

While majorities of those who think abortion should be available say they could vote for a candidate that disagrees with them on the issue, a majority of abortion opponents say they could not vote for a candidate who didn't share their views on abortion.


LOOKING BACK ON THE ELECTION

Looking back, many Bush voters now say that moral values were the main rationale behind their vote choice; it nearly tied with national security. Kerry's voters overwhelmingly report having been more focused on economic issues; something few Bush voters were.

MOST IMPORTANT IN YOUR VOTE?
(Registered voters)

All Americans
National security
32%
Economic issues
37%
Moral issues
24%

Kerry Voters
National security
21%
Economic issues
63%
Moral issues
14%

Bush Voters
National security
40%
Economic issues
16%
Moral issues
35%

When offered only two factors, national security and the economy, 68% of Bush voters chose national security.

Asked to volunteer the number one issue in their vote, 23% volunteered the war in Iraq. 9% mentioned the economy and jobs, and 8% cited terrorism. Again, Bush and Kerry voters held different views. 39% of Kerry supporters cited the war in Iraq, and another 14% mentioned the economy and jobs. Among Bush voters, 16% mentioned the president's leadership, 14% volunteered terrorism, 11% mentioned moral values, and 10% mentioned abortion.

Bush voters were more heavily driven by the personal characteristics of the candidates. Though majorities of both candidates' backers said issues determined their vote, 29% of Bush's voters pointed to personal qualities, more than double the percentage of Kerry voters.


For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 885 adults interviewed by telephone November 18-21, 2004. There were 795 registered voters. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on all adults and all registered voters.
  • Joel Roberts

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