By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
In the 2008 election, it was evangelicals and born-again Christians along with regular church-goers who pray and/or read the Bible daily who voted overwhelmingly for John McCain. Just about everyone else voted for Obama.
These are the results of a new election analysis conducted by The Barna Group, a non-partisan private research group based in Ventura, California.
Of all the faith groups analyzed, it was Catholics who voted the most decisively for Barack Obama. Catholic voters, half of whom are registered Democrats (48%) with the other half split between Republicans (28%) and Independents (20%) backed Obama 56 percent to 43 percent.
On the other hand, Protestant voters, who are evenly split between registered Democrats and Republicans, sided with McCain by a 53% to 46% margin.
Evangelical and born-again voters awarded McCain most of his support among the Christian population. According to Barna’s analysis, 88 percent of evangelicals, who comprise just seven percent of the population and who tend to be registered Republicans, turned out to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket.
Evangelicals chose their candidate on a different set of indicators than did other voters. When asked their primary reason for supporting the candidate they selected, 40 percent of evangelicals said it was because of the candidate’s position on moral issues. Only nine percent of other voters listed that as their driving reason. Other significant reasons for evangelical voters included their candidate’s political experience (23%) and his character (15%).
Among adults describing themselves as “born again” Christians, Sen. McCain enjoyed 57 percent of their vote vs. only 42 percent for Barack Obama. These voters based their selection on a different set of criteria than evangelicals. Political experience ranked highest on their list followed by the country’s future, the candidate’s character, and then the economy. Only eight percent of these voters based their selection on the candidate’s moral values.
Non-born-again Christians gave Sen. Obama a lopsided 62 percent to 36 percent margin of preference over Sen. McCain. This shift came primarily from those non-born again adults who have moderate social and political views. These voters were motivated largely by Obama’s ideas about the future (28%), economic policies (16%) and political experience (15%).
Three-fourths of atheists and agnostics, who comprise the second largest faith group in America behind Christianity, gave their vote to Obama with only 23 percent backing McCain.
About five percent of America’s adult population associates with a faith other than Christianity (e.g., Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.) and this group favored Barack Obama 62 percent to 36 percent.
Overall, Obama scored better with people who were affected by the economy in a “major way” and who described themselves as “stressed out”, “lonely” or “isolated.” Persons having a favorable view of Wicca also tended to vote for Obama.
McCain enjoyed support from the majority of the population describing themselves as committed conservative Christians, those who claimed to be “deeply spiritual” and who were actively practicing the faith (reading the Bible, praying and attending church at least weekly).
However, traditional issues did not appear to energize the right in 2008 as they usually do, says George Barna, founder of The Barna Group.
“There was substantial issue fatigue related to the moral issues that usually rev up the troops on the right. Although the candidates had very distinct and dissimilar views on moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage, those differences were not deal breakers for most voters. Voters are tired of fighting battles that seem interminable. And in a year when there were so many other significant crises and conflicts to consider, people’s focus shifted away from the usual throat-wringing issues.”
This may also have been a turning point for future elections, he said.
“It’s possible that the Catholic vote has now returned to the Democratic fold until another Ronald Reagan emerges to lead the Republicans.”
The Republican Party, according to Barna, now has the challenge of refreshing its identity and restoring its connection with its religious constituency.
“The born again body continues to lean Republican, but there are warning signs that the cozy relationship has been seriously damaged. Because they are almost half of the voting population, neither party can take the born again universe for granted – or write it off,” he said.
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