Saturday, February 09, 2008

Barna on the 2008 Election

Is the tide of votes among "born again" Christians in America turing toward liberal? George Barna and his "peeps" seem to think so.

In the most recent Barna Update, polls show that if the election was today, born again Christians would favor the Democratic nominee (whoever that would be) 40% to 29% with 28% undecided. This is a shift over previous Presidential Elections, fluctuating from 39% to 35% in favor of the GOP in 1992 to a lopsided 62% to 38% in favor of the GOP in 2004.

What is perhaps more surprising is that 20% support Hilary Clinton to Obama's 18 and Huckabee's 12%. Does that surprise anyone else? "Born agains" favor Hilary over Huckabee almost 2 to 1!

When the field is narrowed to "Evangelicals," the results tend to be more conservative, like you (by that I mean "I") would expect, but the results are still quite different from past years. 40% of Evangelicals say they would support the GOP candidate, while only 11% already plan to vote Republican. The interesting part is that 40% are still undecided. As a comparison, 85% of Evangelicals voted Republican in 2004.

To define the terms better, here is how Barna defines the labels "born again" and "evangelical."

"Born again Christians" are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as "born again."

"Evangelicals" meet the born again criteria (described above) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as "evangelical."

Assuming this information is valid (which it appears we have little reason to doubt it), here are a few of my observations/questions:

1. How much of this apparent shift is due to a change in substance, versus wanting "a change in scenery" from having a the same Republican in office for 8 years? For example, 2000 "felt" like a Republican year after 8 years of Clinton. 2008 "feels" like a Democratic year after 8 years of Bush. In short, is this trend long term or short term, a shift or a phase?

2. Are the steroetypes about Evangelicals being Republicans breaking down?

3. Why do "born agains" support Hilary over Obama?

4. How much of the apparent shift has to do with lack of "success" in Iraq? (i.e. if the war had gone differently, how might the numbers be different?)

5. In the future, will we look back at 2004 as the height of the political power of Evangelical Christians?

Your thoughts?

(Hat tip to


Chip Burkitt said...

Political power is transitory and illusory. Maybe evangelicals are finally realizing that.

Mark said...

They choose Hillary over Obama because they know that Obama is more electable; thereby making him a stronger opponent against the Republican nominee. In short, choosing Hillary furthers their own political interests.

Nick said...

Mark, I think you are interpreting the info wrong. I take it to mean that 20% of "born agains" support Hillary, actually support her for President, not that they want her to get the nod and then get beat.

That is surprising to me.

Tim said...

I am very surprised about support for Hillary, but the margin being so close with Obama is really a toss-up. I would be the margin of error is greater than 2%.

The thing about Huckabee is that a lot of conservatives don't believe he is really fiscally conservative enough to be supported. The irony is that Bush was supposed to be fiscally conservative, and clearly he was not. The other problem is that there really hasn't been a true conservative in the race for either side. And I think that should be examined as part of this poll. There isn't a proto-typical candidate for evangelicals to support.

To be quite honest, I like Obama despite that he has some (many?) opposite viewpoints to me. There is something that can be said about his character, how he stands for his values, and most importantly his fair-mindedness. I honestly believe that I could have a tense conversation with him about a topic we did not agree on, yet still walk out of the room each respecting each other. I would definitely recommend listening to his keynote he gave at the Sojourners conference in 2006.

Mark said...

I'm surprised to hear that Tim. When I asked you before, if you HAD to vote for a democrat, who would it be, you said Hillary. I like Obama for the Democrats and I like McCain for the Republicans. The reason is each of them seem willing to work with the other party to get things done and not bicker.
Ah, then I did interpret it incorrectly, Nick. I would have never imagined no more than a hand full of born again Christians voting for a democrat. What I've observed is that if one is a born again or an evangelical, they almost always vote republican. I have to remember there is a distinction between a born again and an evangelical. So, the evangelicals are the more conservative group?

Nick said...

Yes, Mark, I think that is the key. The evangelicals tend to be much more conservative. The "born again" group would include a lot of catholics and other mainliners that wouldn't associate with "evangelicalism" and would be more liberal. It still surprises me, as it does you, that Hillary is favored.

Tim (and Mark), I like Obama too. Do you know where Obama's address to Sojourners can be wound on the www?

Mark said...

Here you go Nick,

'Call to Renewal' Keynote Address

Matt Brinkman said...

Nick, if you would prefer to hear Barack Obama give the speech, you can find the MP3 here.

Nick said...

Thanks guys!

Matt Brinkman said...

I'm not sure how severe the evangelical/Republican schism is, but if it exists*, it causes all sorts of problems for the Republican party going forward.

Since the mid 1980's but most decidedly in 2000 and 2004, evangelicals started playing a role in the Republican party analogous to the role labor plays for the Democrats. More important even then the block of votes they provided, those who attended church regularly were the boots on the ground for Republican party--especially for their GOTV efforts. If evangelicals desert the GOP it might take decades to fill the void.

*To the extent that the shift is real, I think it can be traced back to the Republican establishment's obvious disdain of the one evangelical candidate in the race--Mike Huckabee. The Republican elites have made it clear that while they love the votes and the unpaid labor, they have little time for actual evangelicals.

Mark said...

"...the Republican establishment's obvious disdain of the one evangelical candidate in the race--Mike Huckabee."

To me, disdain for Mike Huckabee is actually a sign of health for the Republican party. It shows that they are trying to wrest control back from the theocratic religious right composed of WASPs.

Nick said...


I agree. I think it is a good thing, like you said, and for the reasons you said.


Interesting analysis. I'm not sure that I buy that loss of the Evangelical vote would hurt the GOP much for more than 1 election. Hasn't history shown that a party will morph toward what they think the people want, what will get money for support from interest groups and what will get votes? I think that, yes, it will "hurt" them in the short term, but that it will actually just result in the changing of the face of the GOP.


Matt Brinkman said...

Please add a huge IMHO to this entire discussion. Rather than bore everyone with a repeated string of caveats and qualifications, I'm going to make a series of categorical statements. I do recognize that I might well be wrong.

Mark: While I agree with you in the general philosophical sense, in political terms chucking evangelicals would be a disaster for the Republican party. Switching things around, Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas argue in Crashing the Gate, that one of the problems (in the general sense) with the Democratic party is that special interests hold too much sway. Even if one agrees with that assessment, it would political suicide for the Dems to chuck organized labor and the support they provide.

Nick: I disagree with your belief that this would be a short term hit for the Republicans. Rather than talk about the historical reason why this came to be, you can just ask yourself how long would it take for the Democratic party to replace organized labor. My argument is that evangelicals fill exactly the the same ecological niche on the Republican side.

As far as the Republican party morphing into something different, I can't see that. What would they morph into? For forty years the Republican party and assorted hangers on (e.g., the Club for Growth) have made it their mission to purge the party of anyone who does not hew to their ultra-conservative world view. As a result, they can't bring in moderates to renew the party because there are no moderates left in the party. They would need to find another brand new big conservative voting block in order to be able to change their face. I don't see such a group on the horizon.

Nick said...

Well put, Matt. I think we can all agree that IMHO could come before all of these comments on politics, and attitude that is so often missing.

As far as talking about the GOP changing/or not changing, I'm going to appeal to my limited knowledge of political history to try and make my point.

I think we would agree that the GOP looked different in 1992 ann it did in 2004 (at least in terms of what was being stressed that election year). In '92 it seemed to be all about taxes. In '04 it was a morality struggle. Now, it may be true that the stances on issues didn't change, but that it was merely a shift in emphasis. but, I would argue, that it does change the party over time (as we would agree that the GOP today is somewhat different than the GOP in the 50's). I see the same thing happening.

But, I may be wrong.

In addition, and I'm more asking then telling here, you guys who are older can help me, hasn't the marriage between Republicans and evangelicals old been a couple of decades old? The evangelical explosion has only been in the last 25 years or so, and before that, I'm not sure that either political party had a monopoly on Christians. Am I right on this?

BTW, i listened to Obama's speech. It was very good.

Mark said...

"Mark: While I agree with you in the general philosophical sense, in political terms chucking evangelicals would be a disaster for the Republican party."

I don't think they are chucking Evangelicals at all. I think they are trying to regain control back from Evangelicals. They want to run on sound conservative principles like small government, fiscal responsibility, etc, which Evangelicals still favor. They don't want to run on Evangelical priorities anymore like hating gays, banning scientific research to help sick people, trashing the environment, starting holy wars, promoting ignorance in our schools with creationism, etc.

Sorry, I got on a bit of a rant at the end but that is really how liberals view Evangelical policies. That's why liberals are so energized to vote this year. Liberals are tired of it. Have you seen this? This doesn't indicate who would win the presidential election, all it shows is that a lot of democrats seem to be involved this year.

Matt Brinkman said...

Nick, you are correct. The "marriage" that you speak of has been in place for a little over a quarter century. Simplifying a bit, the linkage between the Religious Right and the Republican party can probably be dated to 1979 when Richard Viguerie and Paul Weyrich convinced Jerry Falwell to form the Moral Majority.

I also agree that the election of 1992 looked different than the election of 2004. But for the Republican party to change emphasis going forward, they need to have a competing ideology within the party and a person that embodies that ideology to coalesce around. I don't see that ideology nor the agent of change on the horizon, but I've been wrong before.

Mark, I resemble that rant! Sure the theo-cons hate gays and scientific research, but even the moonbats at the Great Orange Satan know that the neo-cons own the war and the corporatists are the ones responsible for trashing the environment. ;)

Seriously though, the Republican establishment is not attempting to wrest control back from the evangelicals. The conservative elites are attempting to ensure the evangelicals remain in their place, which is doing the hard political leg work of the party and voting as they are told, while learning to be content to be treated as the red haired stepchildren of the GOP. Thomas Franks is precisely right in What's the Matter with Kansas?, when he argues that the social conservatives are being used by the corporatist and neo-con factions of the Republican party.

Nick said...

Hmmm, Matt. Very interesting. so, what might this competing interest be? Hmmm...Family? That may just be a subset of the moral majority, though. got me thinking.

Thanks for this.