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What do most Americans view as a critical issue: abortion, rising costs or guns?

It feels like abortion debates are happening everywhere these days. But are they critical? Here’s what Americans say

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Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.

Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Washington, as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi, where a 2018 law would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability.

Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

This article was first published in the State of Faith newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Monday night.

The topic of abortion was at the center of intense political debates even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022.

Since that decision was handed down, efforts to adjust abortion-related policy have become even more fraught, and multiple lawsuits have sprung up regarding abortion bans and medication abortions.

What’s surprising, given these ongoing political and legal battles, is that fewer than half of Americans today view abortion as a “critical issue.” Just 36% of U.S. adults described the topic that way in a new survey on American politics from Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution.

The survey showed that abortion debates don’t loom nearly as large in Americans’ minds as issues like rising housing costs and crime.

“Among 20 political issues, Americans are most likely to rate increasing costs of housing and everyday expenses (62%) as a critical issue. About half also say crime (50%), health care (49%), human trafficking (48%), the health of democracy (47%), what children are learning in public schools (47%), and access to guns and gun safety (46%) are critical issues,” researchers reported.

Abortion fell in the bottom half of the list if you ranked the 20 items by share of U.S. adults who describe them as critical. Artificial intelligence (19%) and LGBTQ rights (14%) were the least likely to be seen as critical issues, the survey found.

Although only around one-third of Americans view abortion as a critical issue, the topic will play a notable role in the 2024 election, according to the survey, which showed that many voters have the topic on their minds as they assess political candidates.

“Approximately four in ten Americans (39%) say they will only vote for a candidate who shares their views on abortion. Slightly more Americans (42%) state that they will take a candidate’s position on abortion into consideration when voting. Fewer than two in ten Americans (17%) say they do not see abortion as a major issue,” researchers wrote.

White evangelical Protestants are even more likely than the average American to tie their voting decisions to a candidate’s abortion views.

The survey showed that nearly half of members of this faith group (46%) said they would only vote for a candidate with the same views as them on abortion, compared to 36% of Hispanic Catholics, 33% of Black Protestants, 33% of white Catholics and 28% of white mainline Protestants.

The new survey report was based on responses from a representative sample of 2,525 U.S. adults. Responses were collected online from Aug. 25-30. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 2.19 percentage points.

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Term of the week: St. Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas Church was built in Alaska in the mid-to-late 1800s as Russian Orthodox missionaries attempted to convert and baptize Alaskan natives. Soon after its construction, the small building was picked up and moved about 25 miles by villagers who were looking to escape the onslaught of trappers and gold miners, according to Religion News Service.

St. Nicholas Church came to rest in the Native village of Eklutna, just outside Anchorage, and has served as a spiritual touchpoint for the local tribe, despite the fact that tribe members have their own, non-Russian Orthodox religious practices. It’s currently undergoing a significant restoration project paid for by a grant from the National Park Service.

“It is a tourist site and tourist destination and an informative site,” Jobe Bernier, a historic architect, told Religion News Service. “However, its primary function is sacred and that’s important to all of us, even those of us that are not Russian Orthodox.”

What I’m reading...

As fighting continues in Israel and Gaza, Jewish and Muslim students in the United States are facing discrimination and even violence, according to two separate reports on campus conditions from Religion News Service.

The Associated Press published a similar piece focused on how the Israel-Hamas war is affecting college chaplains.

Last week, I stumbled onto a fascinating article about how researchers study lying and what recent studies on lying have uncovered. Apparently several projects have yielded the same conclusion: Americans don’t lie at equal rates. Instead, a small group of people lie prolifically, while the rest of the country rarely fibs.

My book club recently read a book about growing older and the danger of wasting your older years wishing you were still young. I couldn’t help but think of that book as I read author Anne Lamott’s lovely essay for The Washington Post about living on borrowed time.

Odds and ends

I spent a pretty embarrassing amount of time in the past week watching a video of an opossum getting dragged off the field during the Nov. 2 Texas Tech-TCU game.

My friend Bobby Ross Jr. wrote about what it was like to watch his beloved Texas Rangers win the World Series and the link between baseball fandom and faith.