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updated 9/29/2006 9:33:26 AM ET 2006-09-29T13:33:26

Does God decide elections? A new poll found that receptiveness to religion really can help a candidate -- and the party most often seen as friendly is the GOP.

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A majority of respondents to a "values voter" survey from the Center for American Values in Public Life, an offshoot of the progressive group People for the American Way, said they thought the Republican Party was receptive to religion. More than 20 points fewer said the same about Democrats.

Fewer than two in 10 saw either group as generally unfriendly toward religion, however. A 43-percent plurality said the Democratic Party was neutral; a quarter said the same of the GOP.

When asked which party was more concerned with safeguarding religious values, Republicans came out 16 points ahead of their counterparts. But Democrats came out far ahead on protecting personal freedoms and looking out for the middle class. The two parties were statistically even on which better stands up for its principles.

Respondents were split on how much focus religion should get from the powers that be. Forty-four percent said they were more worried by public officials who don't pay enough attention to religion; 46 percent expressed more concern about public officials who are too close to religious leaders.

Classic wedge issues might be effective in riling up each party's respective base, but they also might not speak to voters in the most powerful way. Just 12 percent told pollsters that they think issues like abortion and same-sex marriage are more important than topics like poverty and affordable health care. A whopping 85 percent put the latter first.

MOOD METER: A Gamble On Gas Prices
With the awareness that economic conditions influence people at the polls, politicians on both sides of the aisle kept an eye on the rise and fall of gas prices this summer -- and a new poll set out to determine whether Americans ascribe an insidious motivation to the roller-coaster ride.

Gallup/USA Today pollsters asked a half-sample of respondents whether they thought the Bush administration "has deliberately manipulated the price of gasoline so that it would decrease before this fall's elections" or "the recent decline in the price of gasoline has not been due to any manipulation by the Bush administration."

A majority of respondents gave the administration the benefit of the doubt -- but not by a huge margin. Fifty-three percent said they thought there hadn't been any manipulation; 42 percent said the administration engineered the price drop with the elections in mind.

CAMPAIGN CHECK: Tracking The Top 10
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sent a triumphant press release this week, crowing about "commanding leads" for Democratic Senate candidates in polls from Maryland , Minnesota , Ohio and Pennsylvania . (All four of those races are in the top 10 on Chuck Todd's rankings of the seats most likely to flip.)

Just one Republican on Todd's list seems to be well ahead of a Democratic incumbent: New Jersey's Tom Kean Jr., who broke out of his small margin in front of Bob Menendez (D) in a new survey that puts him 6 points ahead.

The remaining key states on Todd's list -- Montana , Missouri , Rhode Island , Virginia and Washington -- either show big discrepancies between polls or come in with margins too close to call.

Gwen Glazer is managing editor at nationaljournal.com

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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