Saturday, Mitt Romney addressed the graduation crowd gathered at Liberty University with a strong but broad defense of the role of Judeo-Christian values in America:

Central to America’s rise to global leadership is our Judeo-Christian tradition, with its vision of the goodness and possibilities of every life….The American culture promotes personal responsibility, the dignity of work, the value of education, the merit of service, devotion to a purpose greater than self, and at the foundation, the preeminence of the family.

Romney steered clear of specifically referencing his Mormon faith, instead concentrating on broader cultural comments. He did, however, explicitly state that he defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

This was in response to President Obama’s “aha!” moment when he realized, last week, that he does support gay marriage after all.

With the economy in tatters, to some the issue of gay marriage hardly seems central compared to other pressing concerns facing our country.

But research I’m working on shows that it is exactly these issues, where the sides are clearly defined and the issue is uncomplicated (at least in understanding the core question), that many Americans are using as proxies for understanding which party represents their broader political preferences.

In the words of one research participant, “I’m a smart person, and I have NO idea what most of these issues are about. The issues that are the easiest for me to grasp–like gay marriage and abortion–where there’s not much wiggle room…those are the ones that cause me to say i’m a liberal. And I think we need to cut taxes, but it’s just too complicated.”

It’s helpful, if jarring, to understand that some fellow Americans aren’t able, or willing, to make their decisions based on anything but the most surface-level issues.

Yesterday, Romney listed personal responsibility as one of the core tenets of American culture; as the responsibility or burden to investigate issues beyond that superficial level is shirked, can we have hope that American culture will be sustained?