Terrorism and moral values trumped the economy, health care, education and the war in Iraq in Tuesday’s presidential election, according to exit polls reported at MSBNC.com.

Eighty-six percent of people who said terrorism was the single issue that mattered most in deciding how to cast their ballot voted for President Bush, while those who thought moral issues mattered most went for Bush 79 percent to 18 percent for Sen. John Kerry.

Kerry found strong support among voters who identified their most important issue as economy/jobs (80 percent), health care (78 percent), education (74 percent) and Iraq (74 percent).

As predicted in earlier polls, Bush found strong support among white evangelical voters, who voted with him over Kerry by a 77 percent to 22 percent margin. Protestants as a whole favored Bush over Kerry 58 percent to 41 percent.

Bush divided the Catholic vote with Kerry, who was criticized during the campaign for breaking with his church’s teaching on abortion rights and stem-cell research. The president carried 51 percent of the Catholic vote, compared to 48 percent for Kerry. Catholics who attend church weekly were for Bush 55 percent to 44 percent, while Catholics who do not attend weekly tilted toward Kerry 52 percent to 47 percent.

Bush’s strongest single voting bloc, however, was white, Protestant, conservative evangelicals who say they attend church at least once a week. While comprising just 8 percent of all voters, they supported Bush 95 percent to 4 percent for Kerry.

More than nine voters in 10 (91 percent) who said a strong religious faith is the quality that mattered most in deciding on a candidate voted for Bush. Other voters favored Bush because “he is a strong leader” (86 percent) and because “he has clear stands on the issues” (78 percent).

Qualities most important to Kerry voters were he would bring about “needed change” (95 percent), he is intelligent (91 percent) and “he cares about people like me” (75 percent).

Overall, 52 percent of voters said they approve of the way Bush is handling the presidency, compared to 46 percent who disapprove. Fifty-four percent said they believe the country is safer from terrorism than it was four years ago, compared to 42 percent who thought it is less safe.

Half agreed with the U.S. decision to go to war with Iraq, while 46 percent disapproved. More than half (52 percent) said they believe things are going badly in Iraq, compared to 43 percent who thought things are going well.

Seventy-one percent said they are worried that there will be another major terrorist attack in the United States. Twenty-four percent said they are not worried. A minority said the war in Iraq has improved the long-term security of the U.S. (45 percent), while 53 percent said it has not.

Thirty-one percent said their family’s financial situation is better today when compared to four years ago, 28 percent said it is worse and 39 percent about the same.

Whites voted for Bush 57 percent to 42 percent. Blacks favored Kerry 89 percent to 11 percent. Hispanics divided 55 percent for Kerry and 42 percent for Bush.

Bush won among voters with family incomes above $50,000 (55 percent to 44 percent), while Kerry won 56 percent to 43 percent among those earning less than $50,000.

Kerry did well among voters aged 18-29, winning 54 percent to 44 percent for Bush. Bush carried all other age groups, however, doing best with those 60 and older, who voted for him 53 percent to 46 percent.

Most Bush voters (58 percent) said they were voting mainly “for” their candidate, while 71 percent of Kerry supporters said they were voting mainly “against” his opponent.

A minority, 41 percent, said they believe in general that Kerry says what he believes, while 55 percent said he says “what he thinks people want to hear.”

A similar division occurred over whether President Bush pays more attention to the interests of ordinary Americans (40 percent) or large corporations (55 percent).

While abortion and stem-cell research emerged as issues in the campaign, a majority of Americans appeared more pro-choice than their president. Fifty-five percent said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 41 percent said it should be illegal in all or most cases.

While just a fourth of voters (26 percent) said gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to legally married, the rest were divided between those who believe they should be allowed to legally form civil unions but not marry (35 percent) and others who believe there should be no legal recognition of same-sex relationships (36 percent).

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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