A majority of U.S. college students say religion is important in their lives and that they're concerned about the country's moral direction, a finding that could influence the way they vote in upcoming elections, according to a recent Harvard University Institute of Politics poll.

In a telephone survey of 1,200 American college students, seven out of 10 say religion was somewhat or very important in their lives, and one in four say they'd become more spiritual since entering college.

Fifty-four percent say they were concerned about the moral direction of the country.

Students who were surveyed say abortion policy, stem cell research and gay marriage provoked questions of morality. Fifty percent say the U.S. government's response to Hurricane Katrina raised questions of morality.

Jeanne Shaheen, the director of the Institute of Politics, says in a statement that the findings showed that “religion and morality are critical to how students think about politics and form opinions on political issues.”

“Students have gone from the ‘me' generation, Generation X, to the ‘we' generation,” Shaheen says.

American college students could play a major role in upcoming elections. Eighteen- to 24-year-olds cast 11.6 million votes in the 2004 presidential election, 3 million more than in 2000, according to the institute.

© 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.