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Updated 11:00 AM June 30, 2008




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New U-M project probes Americans' values

As the fall elections draw near, a new research project is probing the values behind Americans’ political decisions.

The project Web site provides visitors with a chance to weigh in on a changing array of hot-button issues from polygamy to patriotism to same-sex marriage.
Public comments and responses to poll questions on the site will inform the content of a major survey on Americans’ Evolving Values, to be fielded by the Institute for Social Research (ISR).

“I am very enthusiastic about this Web site,” says Wayne Baker, a professor at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and a faculty associate at ISR. “Not only will it help to define the content of the coming survey, it represents a new, open source approach to research that is based on the wisdom of crowds rather than only the insights of a small group of academics.”

Baker, a sociologist, is developing the content and leading the discussions on the Web site, which offers site visitors a chance to comment on the topic of the day or on other issues on their minds. Baker is collaborating with social psychologist James Jackson, who directs the ISR, for the nationally representative survey on Americans’ Evolving Values.

“We live in a time when there is more debate than ever about what being an American means,” Jackson says. “As we move forward, it is vital to understand the underlying values and principles that Americans of all ages and backgrounds share. An important goal of this larger project is to clarify how basic values are linked with political, economic and religious behavior.”

Baker has developed the OurValues Web site in collaboration with David Crumm, founding editor of and former religion writer with the Detroit Free Press.

“The recent controversies about the spiritual advisors to both presidential candidates have receded, but religious and moral values remain an important dimension underlying many contemporary political issues,” Crumm says. “Dr. Baker’s project is a new way for concerned Americans to let leaders know what they value and why.”

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