Friday, August 15, 2008

Evangelicals & Politics

There is a very interesting study out by the Barna Group concerning voters and their presidential candidate preferences. I recommend that you read the entire study, as it gives some very good insight into why people are supporting their candidate of choice. But the most interesting aspect of the study is the fact that the Barna Group shows McCain with a huge lead (61%-17%) over Obama among evangelicals. Now this certainly doesn't play into the narrative we've been getting from many media outlets over the last few months. I've read countless articles about Obama's supposedly strong support among "evangelicals", but as this study points out, very few surveys bother to determine whether their subjects are truly evangelical.
One of the most frequently reported on groups of voters is evangelicals. Most media polls use a simplistic approach to defining evangelicals, asking survey respondents if they consider themselves to be evangelical. Barna Group surveys, on the other hand, ask a series of nine questions about a person’s religious beliefs in order to determine if they are an evangelical. The differences between the two approaches are staggering.

Using the common approach of allowing people to self-identify as evangelicals, 40% of adults classify themselves as such. Among them, 83% are likely to vote in November. Among the self-reported evangelicals who are likely to vote, John McCain holds a narrow 39% to 37% lead over Sen. Obama. Nearly one-quarter of this segment (23%) is still undecided about who they will vote for.

Using the Barna approach of studying people’s core religious beliefs produces a very different outcome. Just 8% of the adult population qualifies as evangelical based on their answers to the nine belief questions. Among that segment, a significantly higher proportion (90%) is likely to vote in November, and Sen. McCain holds a huge lead (61%-17%) over the Democratic nominee. Overall, just 14% of this group remains undecided regarding their candidate of choice.
This certainly ties in to something I wrote about several weeks ago, when I noted a Pew survey which showed that nearly 60% of evangelicals believed that "many religions lead to eternal life." So, if only 8% of the adult population in this country qualifies for Barna's standard of evangelicalism, what kind of standards are they using?
"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."

Non-evangelical born again Christians meet the born again criteria described above, but not the evangelical criteria.
Nearly half the people in this country think of themselves as Christians. But if only 8% can qualify as evangelical by meeting the very basic requirements listed above, which pretty much represent the basic definition of Christianity, we're in bigger trouble than I thought.

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