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Evangelicals Are “Extreme” – But Is That So Bad?

By: George Barna The election research conducted by the Barna Group after the recent presidential election showed many interesting facets of the connection between faith and political preferences. One of those was just how distinct from the rest of the nation American evangelicals are in their thinking and behavior. For instance, consider the Barna results shown below regarding evangelicals:      Most likely of any faith group to describe themselves as “mostly conservative on political and social issues” (71%) Least likely of any faith group to describe themselves as “mostly liberal on political and social issues” (1%) Highest level of support given by a faith segment to Mitt Romney (81%) despite the fact that they did not particularly like him as a person or as a candidate True to their ideological nature, evangelicals were the least likely of all faith groups to say that they “always vote for the presidential candidate that represents my party.” Only one out of every six claim to do so While evangelicals believe that the character and personality of presidential candidates is significant, they were the faith segment least likely to say that it matters in their voting decision more than a candidate’s positions on the issues. Just one-quarter of evangelicals (26%) prioritize character and personality over ideology and issue stands By more than a 2:1 margin, evangelicals said their faith affected their presidential preference a lot. Nearly three-quarters of all evangelicals stated this view (72%) While about half of all voters felt that the religious beliefs and behavior of the candidates received too much attention, evangelicals were the faith segment least likely to concur (21%) Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith was often the subject of speculation regarding how it would affect voters. Many journalists were surprised to discover that evangelicals were among the least likely faith groups to say that it affected their vote negatively (only 10%) Overall, slightly less than half of the public felt strongly that the media did not provide “balanced and unbiased coverage of the presidential campaign.” However, two-thirds of evangelicals strongly rejected the idea that the coverage had been balanced and unbiased (65%), making them the religious segment most negative toward media coverage Roughly half of all adults stated that they believe the United States will be better off four years from now than it is today. Not so among evangelicals; they were by far the group least likely to expect a better future than present (14%) A higher proportion of evangelicals than any other voter segment (89%) believes that the country seems more divided now than at any time during their lifetime Evangelicals were more hopeful than any other faith group that future elections could be decided by the popular vote rather than Electoral votes. Three-quarters of them (73%) favor a shift from the Electoral College to the popular vote The faith segment most likely to argue that “most people do not know enough about the major issues to be well-informed voters” was evangelicals (90%)

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That is an amazingly consistent body of information – unusual in itself in this age of chaos, confusion, and ambiguity. But the overall tenor of the data raises other challenging questions for the evangelical body to consider:      Will evangelicals ever be satisfied with the outcomes of political processes in a nation which is clearly moving to a more liberal worldview? Will any political party be capable of adequately serving the ideologically-driven needs and expectations of the segment? When the media describe evangelicals as “extreme” or “fringe”, how can evangelicals argue that such is not the case? Is there a more effective and positive way of positioning their place on the political spectrum? Since evangelicals are more inclined to vote than other voter segments, and they will usually back the most conservative candidate on their issues of choice, why would any major party cater to their demands? At 7% of the public and just 9% of the voters, it is shocking how much influence evangelicals have. What will happen if other, more moderate faith segments become more politicized and vocal about their middle-of-the-road views?

GB 2/1/13