Values voters are, as the name suggests, voters who say they make their Election Day choices primarily motivated by their moral values, a political calculus that would prioritize good moral character in candidates for office. In practice, however, a new data analysis from FiveThirtyEight shows the most important values for values voters are actually policies — and candidates who pledge to defend those positions can win values voters' support irrespective of their personal morality.
To be clear, values voters' views on these top policy topics are informed by their values, but when it comes to voting, those secondary positions, rather than the values themselves, dominate the decision. For example, a 2004 poll of self-described values voters found 44 percent "mentioned specific issues like abortion or gay marriage" as the top concerns that came to mind when they thought of "moral values." Just 23 percent mentioned candidates' character.
Likewise, a 2015 poll of evangelicals, a group with considerable overlap with the values voters category, found their presidential vote was more determined by positions on key policies than by whether moral values were evident or absent in candidates' own lives. There's even some anecdotal evidence of this dynamic among this morning's headlines here at The Week: "Trump voter claims not even Jesus could convince him Trump has done anything wrong."