Surprising issues driving voter decisions


To listen to the mainstream media, the only issues that matter in relation to the upcoming election are immigration and Donald Trump. A new national survey by the American Culture and Faith Institute, however, highlights a variety of other issues that likely voters identify as having “a lot of influence” on their votes in November. The survey also underscores how a unique mosaic of issues is of concern to divergent segments of the voting public, and there are varying levels of impact those issues have on the thinking of those divergent segments.

Four Issues Everyone Cares About

Some issues get everyone, regardless of their political ideology, heated up. The survey identified four such issues that will have a dramatic impact on voters’ choices in November. Seven out of ten likely voters consider government performance, gun rights, and Donald Trump to be major influences on their votes, with crime and violence the fourth a major consideration that will affect large numbers of people, regardless of their ideology.

The elephant in the room, of course, will be Donald Trump – his policies, tweets, personal life, and anything else the media emphasize about him. The president is considered a critical influence on the voting choices of two-thirds of November’s likely voters. Conservatives and liberals are more likely than moderates to consider the Trump legacy in the decision-making, but Mr. Trump looms as a well-above-average consideration even in the thinking of moderates.

The survey revealed that while opinions of Mr. Trump have improved substantially since his inauguration, his critics continue to outnumber supporters. Currently, 43% of adults have a favorable opinion of him while 51% have an unfavorable view. Conservatives and liberals are a mirror image in their views of him. Conservatives have a 77% favorable – 20% unfavorable view, while liberals have a 23% favorable – 75% unfavorable view. Moderates lean more toward the negative (35% favorable – 56% unfavorable). In the November swing states, the president’s rating is closer to even: 45% favorable, 49% unfavorable.

Gun policy is another crucial issue. While it is most compelling to liberals (71% say it will have “a lot of influence” on their November votes), the issue also matters greatly to both conservatives (63%) and moderates (60%).

The quality of government performance is a big deal to all three ideological segments, again led by liberals (64% said the issue will have “a lot of influence” on their voting), with conservatives just a few points back and moderates about ten points lower.

An issue that gets little media attention, but which voters typically rated as a top-tier influence, is crime and violence in America. In fact, when asked to identify the two issues that will have the greatest influence on their voting decisions, crime and violence emerged as the third-ranked issue among likely voters. It was the top-ranked issue among both moderates and liberals, and fourth-highest among conservatives.

Three Issues That Primarily Drive One Particular Segment

The survey indicated that there are three issues that will have a greater impact on voting decisions among conservatives than among other ideological segments. Specifically immigration, religious liberty, and the nation’s moral decline were top concerns to conservatives.

Similarly, there were three issues that will have heightened influence on the voting ruminations of liberals in comparison to other voters. Those issues included environmental policy, racism, and economic inequality.

The survey also suggested that there were three issues that have substantial influence on conservatives and moderates but not to liberals. Those matters were taxes, jobs, and national defense and terrorism.

Finally, there was one issue – healthcare – that appeared to be of significant importance to liberals and moderates, but not to conservatives.

Impact Issues Vary by Faith Group

ACFI has long studied the population by a variety of religious segments. In the current study, seven particular segments were focused upon: SAGE Cons, born again Christians, notional Christians, adults associated with a non-Christian faith, Skeptics, Catholics, and Protestants.

Surprisingly, there was only one issue that generated a high degree of voter influence across all seven of those segments: gun policy.

There were several issues that were deemed to be of great influence on voting decisions by six of the seven religious segments. Those issues included crime and violence (with the exception of SAGE Cons, among whom that is a moderately-high influencing factor); the quality of government (people of non-Christian faith rated this as just moderately influential to their voting choices); tax policy (which Skeptics rated as only moderately influential); and healthcare policy (considered moderately influential among SAGE Cons).

Three additional issues were considered to be highly influential among five of the seven segments. That included employment and jobs (with people of non-Christian faiths and Skeptics being the exceptions); Donald Trump (highly influential to each segment except Catholics and adults of non-Christian faiths); and defense/terrorism (with people of non-Christian faiths and Skeptics being the exceptions).

Immigration was identified as likely to have a high level of influence on the voting choices of four segments: SAGE Cons, born again Christians, Notional Christians, and Catholics.

A Dozen Issues That Are Not Influential

A pack of twelve issues showed very little likelihood of influencing how voters, based on their ideological and spiritual profiles, will fill out their ballots in November. Those comparatively insignificant issues included the following:

  • Congressional gridlock
  • Educational quality
  • Gay rights
  • Government debt and spending
  • Infrastructure
  • Israel-Palestinian conflict
  • Marijuana legalization
  • Marriage and family stability
  • Police
  • Poverty
  • Sanctuary cities
  • School choice

Issues of Narrowly-Defined Interest

The survey showed that several issues are of great influence on the thinking of a few segments, but not on the decision-making of most voters.

  • Abortion policy is of greatest influence on the voting decisions of SAGE Cons, born again Christians, and Protestants. All three of those segments, however, listed abortion as just a moderately-influential issue on their November choices.
  • Oddly, consideration of future court nominations and confirmations was of little potential impact among born again and Notional Christians. Other faith segments view it as a matter of moderate personal influence.
  • Positions related to religious liberty were deemed highly influential among SAGE Cons; moderately influential on the voting choices of born again Christians, adults aligned with non-Christian faiths, and Protestants; and of little significance to notional Christians, Skeptics, and Catholics.
  • Gender equality was of substantial influence among Skeptics. It was designated as having little influence on the voting choices of all six other faith segments.
  • Gay rights policy was considered to be of very little influence on the voting decisions of all seven faith groups studied.
  • The moral decline in the United States was rated as highly influential on the voting thoughts of SAGE Cons and born again Christians but of little influence on the ballot reflections of the other faith segments.

How Likely Voters Differ

When the rankings of the issues by all of the survey respondents were compared with the views of the subset of likely voters in the November election, several patterns were noticed. The most obvious was that likely voters have a higher level of interest in a large portion of the issues studied, supporting the idea that they are more likely to be driven by issues than personalities and slogans in the election. Their concern with public policy is one of the critical factors that drive them to the polls.

Second, the issues of lesser importance to adults, in general, coincide with the issues of less influence on likely voters. Matters such as environmental policy, court nominations and confirmations, religious liberty, abortion, gender equality, marijuana legalization, and gay rights are secondary considerations to most adults, whether they plan to vote in November or not.

Third, likely voters have a significantly heightened interest in several issues. Those include the quality of government, Donald Trump, immigration, and national defense/terrorism. Combined with a trio of issues that are of similar interest among both all adults and likely voters – i.e., gun rights, tax policy, and jobs – that list comprises the seven issues that will have the greatest impact on the outcome of the mid-term election.

About the Research

The research described in this report is drawn from FullView™, a monthly nationwide survey with a randomly-selected sample of adults, age 18 or older, whose demographic profile reflects that of the adult population. This analysis is based on an online survey conducted among 1,000 adults during June 2018.

Survey Definitions

Born again Christians are people who consider themselves as Christian and believe that when they die they will go to Heaven only because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. Being born again is NOT based on describing oneself as “born again” and it is not based on church attendance. Born again Christians are about 30% of the adult population.

Notional Christians are people who say they are Christian but do not meet the “born again” criteria. In other words, they do not believe that they will go to Heaven after they die solely due to having confessed their sins and asked Jesus Christ to be their savior. About 40% of U.S. adults are Notional Christians.

Other Faith is a category that includes anyone who is aligned with a faith community that is not Christian in nature. These 9% of U.S. adults include those who are associated with faiths such as Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Scientology, Hinduism, and the like.

Skeptics are individuals who describe themselves as atheist or agnostic, or who indicate that they do not believe in the existence of God or have no faith-related ties or interests. This segment has grown to incorporate roughly 21% of all adults.

SAGE Cons are a hybrid segment that combines faith and politics. The name stands for Spiritually Active Governance Engaged Conservative Christians. They are defined as adults who are registered to vote; they vote regularly and at higher turnout rates than the norm; they consistently pay attention to news about government and politics; consider themselves to be Christian; are born again (see above definition); are deeply committed to pursuing their Christian faith; are conservative on social and economic issues; and are theologically conservative. They represent between 8% and 10% of the national adult population, constituting some 20-25 million voting-aged individuals.

Likely Voters are registered voters who have a combination of factors that make them appear likely to vote in November, based on ACFI’s past election research. The factors include the person’s attentiveness to news about government and politics; their voting history; the intensity of their intention to vote in November; and their perceived importance of the upcoming election. A statistical algorithm based on these factors was used to calculate their propensity to vote, and thus to qualify as a likely voter.

Swing states refers to the thirteen states that are expected to have a competitive race for the U.S. Senate. Those states are Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

About ACFI and Its Research

The American Culture & Faith Institute is a division of United in Purpose, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The mission of United in Purpose is to educate, motivate and activate conservative Christians to engage in cultural transformation in ways that are consistent with biblical principles. The organization does not support or promote individual political candidates or parties.


American Culture & Faith Institute
By: George Barna
Contact: Terry Gorka –, 805-340-0608