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New Post-Election Poll Demonstrates Political Diversity of Evangelical Christians

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In the 2008 election, media organizations and pollsters are relying on an outdated script by treating evangelicals as a monolithic voting bloc. The exit polls (sponsored by the major networks, CNN, Fox, and the Associated Press) provide the data for nearly all post-election analysis. Yet, thus far, exit polls have only asked one party’s primary voters whether they considered themselves “born-again or evangelical Christian.”

A new post-election poll in Missouri and Tennessee, commissioned by Faith in Public Life and the Center for American Progress Action Fund conducted by Zogby International, demonstrates the diversity of evangelical voters and the need for more thorough polling and careful analysis. Large numbers of white evangelicals participated in the Republican and Democratic primaries; majorities of both Democratic and Republican evangelical voters want a broader agenda that goes beyond abortion and same-sex marriage, and like other voters, white evangelicals ranked jobs and economy as the most important issue area in deciding how to vote.

One in three white evangelical voters in Missouri and Tennessee participated in Democratic primaries.
Comparatively, only one in four white evangelical voters in Missouri and Tennessee supported Senator John Kerry in the 2004 general election.

While this year’s exit polls in both states identified all Republican white evangelical voters, the Missouri exit polls failed to identify 160,000 white evangelical Democratic voters, and the Tennessee exit polls failed to identify 182,000 white evangelical Democratic voters. In both states, this group of overlooked white evangelicals represents a figure equal to or greater than all African American voters, all voters over 65, or all voters who said the Iraq war is the most important issue facing the country, according to the state exit polls. (Nineteen percent of all Democratic voters in Missouri and 29 percent of all Democratic voters in Tennessee were white evangelical.)

Majorities of both Democratic and Republican evangelical voters want a broader issue agenda that goes beyond abortion and same-sex marriage to include ending poverty, protecting the environment, and tackling HIV/AIDS—rather than sticking to the more limited agenda of opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. Majorities of white evangelicals in both states support a broader agenda by more than 20 percentage points.

Sixty-two percent of white evangelical voters in Missouri embrace a broader agenda (75 percent of Democratic voters and 56 percent of Republican voters). In Tennessee, 56 percent of white evangelical voters embrace a broader agenda (60 percent of Democratic voters and 54 percent of Republican voters).

In both states, white evangelicals who ranked jobs and economy as the most important issue area in deciding how to vote far outnumbered those who considered abortion and same-sex marriage most important. In Missouri, 30 percent of all white evangelicals ranked jobs and economy the most important issue, while 14 percent considered abortion and same-sex marriage the most important (12 percent chose Iraq, 11 percent health care, 7 percent immigration, 6 percent terrorism, 4 percent taxes and 4 percent education). In Tennessee, 34 percent of all white evangelicals ranked jobs and economy the most important issue, while 19 percent considered abortion and same-sex marriage the most important (8 percent chose Iraq, 8 percent health care, 6 percent education, 6 percent immigration, 5 percent terrorism, 4 percent taxes).

Candidate preference

The media has failed to analyze the preference of white evangelicals in the Democratic primaries.  Senator Hillary Clinton’s support from white evangelicals surpassed that of Senator Barack Obama’s in Missouri 54 percent to 37 percent and in Tennessee 78 percent to 12 percent.

As widely reported in the media because the exit polls in every state have asked Republican primary voters whether they considered themselves evangelical, Governor Mike Huckabee did well among white evangelical voters in Missouri, Tennessee, and other states—though he did not capture a majority of white evangelical voters in either.

Methodology

Zogby International was commissioned by Faith in Public Life and the Center for American Progress Action Fund to conduct a telephone survey of Democrats and Republicans who had voted in the primary elections on Tuesday, February 5, 2008 in Missouri and Tennessee. All calls were made February 5 and 6, 2008. Missouri sample size: 402 Democratic primary voters and 402 Republican primary voters. Tennessee sample size: 401 Democratic primary voters and 400 Republican primary voters. MOE +/-5.0 percentage points. Margins of error are larger in subsets.

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