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VOTERS LIKE CANDIDATES PIOUS BUT PRIVATE ABOUT IT, POLL SAYS

Voters like their presidential candidates to be religious, but many do not want to know the details, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The Pew Research Center found seven out of 10 registered voters considered it important that the president hold strong religious beliefs, but half expressed discomfort with candidates who speak in personal terms about their faith.

Senior citizens were most uncomfortable, with 56 percent voicing unease with excessive expressions of religiosity.

"That goes back to a time when . . . bias was a real issue for those people," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

The presidential campaign has been rife with religious references, though it remains unclear whether this will have any effect on the Nov. 7 presidential election.

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush and Democratic nominee Al Gore have spoken of their Christian faith, and Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph I. Lieberman has made his Orthodox Judaism part of his campaign.

The Connecticut senator has often emphasized the important relationship between his faith and his politics.

"There is no evidence of a backlash against Lieberman and the way he has expressed his faith publicly," said Kohut, whose organization surveyed 2,799 adults from Aug. 24 to Sept. 10. The poll was considered to be accurate within 2 percentage points.

In other findings, the poll indicated that 21 percent held an unfavorable view of Muslim Americans, compared to 16 percent who viewed evangelical Christians unfavorably, 9 percent for Catholics and 8 percent for Jews.

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