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A new report from the Barna Group warns political campaigns that assuming the evangelical vote is “splintering” over abortion would be a mistake, with 19 of every 20 members of that group citing the issue as their top concern.
The report comes just as the U.S. marks the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision in the U.S. Supreme Court that found in the Constitution a fundamental right to terminate a pregnancy at any time for any reason.
“One of the myths about the 2008 election is that the evangelical vote is splintering over issues such as abortion and homosexuality. In fact, when defined based upon a consistent set of theological perspectives, evangelicals remain very united on abortion and homosexuality,” said David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group and director of the study.
“Evangelicals’ top concern – by a wide margin – was abortion (94 percent). This was followed by the personal debt of Americans (81 percent), the content of television and movies (79 percent), homosexual activists (75 percent), and gay and lesbian lifestyles (75 percent,)” the report on the assessment of voters’ values and morals said.
The report said evangelicals “were more likely than other adults to be concerned about illegal immigration, but they were less worried about HIV/AIDS than virtually any other segment of the population. One of the most significant differences of opinion expressed in the survey was the skepticism evangelicals harbor toward global warming (only 33 percent identified it as a major issue) compared to the rest of the population.”
Kinnamon said the “rich fabric” of the American electorate reveals that there are a wide range of interests and priorities among those who describe themselves as Christians, and it’s simply a “gross oversimplification” for campaigns to classify voters by Republican-Democrat or conservative-liberal labels.
“Understanding the faith-driven vote is as complex as assessing the nation’s spiritual profile,” Kinnaman said. “Around election time, Christian voters – and in particular, evangelical voters – are painted with broad brushstrokes.”
The reality is there are registered Democrats who are born-again Christians who are more concerned about abortion than “secular Republicans,” he said.
The Barna Group’s work focused on assessing the role moral and social issues will play among voters in November. Going beyond the question of which candidate will Christians support, it identified the perceived importance of 10 issues, including abortion and homosexuality which often are linked to so-called values voters.
“Americans are troubled by a diverse palette of concerns,” the report said. “Three types of issues are of particular concern, perceived as ‘major’ problems facing the country by three-quarters of the population. Those included poverty (78 percent), the personal debt of individual Americans (78 percent), and HIV/AIDS (76 percent),” the report said.
“A quartet of issues emerged as moderate concerns, including illegal immigration (60 percents of adults said this is a major problem facing the country), global warming (57 percent), abortion (50 percent), and the content of television and movies (45 percent),” the report continued.
“Following that, homosexuality was identified as a major problem facing the nation by about one out of every three Americans,” the report said, including virtually identical results for questions regarding homosexual “activists” and homosexual “lifestyles.”
Also examined was the level of concern raised by “the political efforts of conservative Christians,” and while the report noted that was the least significant of the 10 issues explored, “nearly one out of every four Americans (23 percent) – representing about 51 million adults – described this factor as a major source of distress.”
The report said voters were divided into several categories to obtain the rankings, including born again Christians, who accounted for nearly half of all ballots cast in 2004. Evangelical Christians would be a smaller subset of that group. The categories included born again Democrats, independents and Republicans, as well as those who are not born again Christians under a uniform theological definition.
Overall, the 68 million registered voters who are born again Christians expressed concern for personal indebtedness (79 percent), poverty (78 percent) and HIV/AIDS (77 percent), similar to other voters, the study found.
They also were concerned about illegal immigration (68 percent), abortion (67 percent), movie and television content (60 percent), homosexual lifestyles (51 percent) and homosexual activists (49 percent), the study showed.
“Faith affiliation does not neatly follow party lines: about two out of every five registered Democrats are born again voters, while roughly three out of every five Republicans are classified by the Barna team as a born again,” the report said.
The findings discovered:
- Born again Republicans are most concerned about Americans’ personal indebtedness (80 percent) and abortion (80 percent), while non-born again Republicans are most concerned about debt (74 percent), and HIV/AIDS (68 percent).
- Born again Democrats are most likely to identify HIV/AIDS (86 percent) and poverty (86 percent) as major problems, just the same as non-born again Democrats.
- Born agains who are registered as Independent are most concerned with personal debt levels (77 percent) and poverty (72 percent). Interestingly, these are also the leading concerns among non-born again Independents (75 percent and 77 percent, respectively).
- As expected, born again members of the GOP are significantly more concerned than are born again Democrats about abortion (80 percent versus 58 percent), media content (69 percent versus 48 percent), homosexual activists (61 percent versus 38 percent), and homosexual lifestyles (58 percent versus 43 percent). However, born again Democrats are more likely to be concerned than are non-born again Republicans about abortion, media content and same-sex relationships.
“Part of the reason these (Christians) are not a monolithic voting bloc is that they possess a wider set of concerns and perspectives than they are often given credit for,” the report said.
The research was based on nationwide telephone surveys during 2007 with thousands of adults and includes a margin of sampling error of 3.2 percent.
Kinnaman told WND the issue is that candidates will have to reach across the variations to get voters’ support. In the GOP, that ranges from secularists who are fiscal or foreign policy conservatives to the evangelicals who hold conservative positions there as well as in social policies.
Democratic candidates will have to reach even further, he said, because one out of five in the Democratic Party professes a belief in atheism or agnosticism.
“In terms of faith perspectives, each of these different tribes is becoming more and more difficult to coalesce,” he said.
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