WASHINGTON—Forget Iraq. Forget terrorism. Forget the economy. The biggest factor shaping people's votes Tuesday (Nov. 2) was the mother of all sleeper issues—"moral values."

In nationwide exit polls, one in five voters said moral values were the most important issue in casting their votes, outpacing every other major topic. Those "values" voters overwhelmingly went for President Bush over Sen. John Kerry, 79 percent to 18 percent.

The stronger-than-expected role of moral values signals that the nation's values agenda is likely to be dominated by "social morality" concerns for abortion, gay marriage, and stem-cell research—issues vital to Bush's base. The election also marks a defeat for progressive groups who tried to cast "social justice" concerns of poverty, war, and the environment as moral issues.

Either way, Jim Wallis, a self-described progressive evangelical, said neither blue states nor red states should try to claim a corner on the values market.

"The right wants to say these are the only moral values, the left wants to say only our issues are moral values," said Wallis, convener of the Washington-based Call to Renewal anti-poverty group. "The truth is there are moral values across the spectrum."

Just how did values become so important, especially in a race dominated by terrorist threats at home and abroad? Wallis faulted the Democrats for a self-inflicted wound on abortion. Kerry's party alienated values-driven voters who could have been wooed by his domestic policies but could not stomach his party's ardent support of abortion rights.

In Ohio, for example, where moral values ranked second (behind the economy), Kerry lost among Catholics 55 percent to 44 percent, which may have been enough to swing the ...

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