Forget the war in Iraq and the economy. It is religion that will decide the American presidential election this year.
The United States is the most devout of the world's industrialized nations and President George W. Bush is the most openly religious president in decades. He speaks in a language that religious conservatives understand.
In the 2000 election, Mr. Bush won 87 per cent of the votes cast by Southern Baptists, Pentecostals and others on the religious right, as well as 57 per cent of the votes by Catholics who attend church frequently.
The religious vote will be crucial once again on Nov. 2. "The significance of the faith factor cannot be overlooked in Campaign 2004," says California's Barna Group.
The group has been analyzing trends related to values and beliefs since 1984, and says the dominant issue in this year's election is Mr. Bush.
Those who plan to vote for him say it is because of his character and his leadership abilities, while a majority of Mr. Kerry's supporters said they are backing him because "he is not George Bush."
In a survey by the Pew Research Center, 7 in 10 Americans told pollsters they want a president with strong religious beliefs, and don't mind the candidates discussing those beliefs in public. Two out of three Americans said the candidates' values will influence how they mark their ballots.
Mr. Bush makes no secret of his values. He is a born-again Christian, and talks openly and often about his own conversion, and how that commitment to Christ helped him quit drinking.
He says he often prays as he makes his way to a microphone in press conferences, and has been quoted as saying "I believe that God wants me to be president" and that "I get great sustenance from my personal relationship" (with God)."
According to the polls, that's what Americans want - and what they may get. Many are hoping for more fact than faith, but there are an equal number that are hard-core right wing. But even some of those conservatives are having second thoughts.
So here I am, a Canadian, posting about US politics. Or as some will say I'm sure, interfering. A friend had asked if it was really that relevant to her either way. Would her teenager have less homework? Would her hibiscus bloom longer? Would she get a raise at her job at the "chicken farm"?
Well, if there are more nations to be shown the error of their ways (I think Iran is next on the to-do list) Canada will need to beef up it's military - we haven't had conscription since 1945 but that son could be overseas, with no homework at all. If the facts of the Kyoto accord continue to get ignored, that hibiscus could fade. And if the US interpretation of NAFTA results in controls on our egg marketing boards, or bans for supposed health reasons, her job could disappear.
Much of the world will be watching November 2, with apprehension.