Barna, Evangelicals, and President Obama

From Barna:

Why do you think an increasing number of evangelicals are supporting President Obama?

April 4, 2012

As the 2012 election campaign approaches phase two – when the major-party candidates have been selected and begin to square off – there is an unmistakable lack of ideological and political unity within the Christian community. A new national survey by the Barna Group among likely voters indicates that there are substantial differences across a wide spectrum of Christian subgroups, with only a one segment unwavering in its commitment to defeat President Obama in November….

Christian evangelicals represent about 7% of the adult population and 10% of the likely voter population. (In other words, they are much more likely to turnout on Election Day than are people from most other population groups.) Among evangelicals, Mr. Obama received little fervent support; only 3% to 5% said they would “definitely” vote for him, depending upon his Republican rival. That paled in comparison to the 53% to 58% who said they would “definitely” support a Republican opponent. That margin of intensity was unrivaled across all other religious subgroups.

Evangelicals were one of just a handful of subgroups among whom support for the Republican candidate did not waiver according to who the Republican nominee is.

In the 2008 election, a Barna Group election study found that evangelicals gave Mr. Obama just 11% of their votes, even though Republican challenger John McCain was generally not appreciated much by the group. One of the most striking changes emerging from the new study is that if evangelicals wind up supporting the eventual candidates in November in numbers consistent with their current preferences, Mr. Obama will receive double the support from the evangelical community he garnered four years ago (22%).


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  • JoeyS

    Chris LaTondresse answered this question on Fox news. He is the founder of

  • Kel

    This is confusing…or I’m an idiot. I don’t know which.

    “Among evangelicals, Mr. Obama received little fervent support; only 3% to 5% said they would “definitely” vote for him, depending upon his Republican rival. That paled in comparison to the 53% to 58% who said they would “definitely” support a Republican opponent.”

    And yet, the argument being made is that, according to the new study, President Obama will get double the evangelical support in 2012? I guess without the corresponding numbers from the 2008 election, it is hard to tell what to make of the above numbers.

  • Q: “Why do you think an increasing number of evangelicals are supporting President Obama?”

    A: Because they saw a picture on Facebook of Scot McKnight shaking Obama’s hand.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Good news, if true. Especially since many think the percentage of Christian voting evangelicals represent substantially more than the 10% of all voters that you quote. A reference for this would be helpful.

  • Jeremy

    I think it’s a sign that the “political conservative” death grip on Christians is beginning to loosen. Churches aren’t driving out “liberals” with torches and pitchforks as much anymore.

    I also think it’s a side effect of an increasingly fractured and incoherent Republican party…too many factions vying for power and too little willingness to play well with others is turning off independent voters. They’d rather vote for the guy they know than one of the various extremes represented in the current crop of candidates.

  • I think it’s indicative of the decline of Evangelicalism. I think as younger evangelicals learn their theology, they wonder why they are lumped in with other ‘christians’ with opposing beliefs.

    Then they start voting independent of the party line.

  • Given the way some Republicans are trying to brand Obama as the “anti-religion president,” these numbers are a bit surprising. To be fair, his administration has made a few decisions lately that are troubling to those worried about religious liberty. Still, I wonder if these poll results reflect the hesitance of some Christians to vote for a Mormon if Romney is the GOP nominee.

  • I tend to think it is a sign of Barna’s having problems with statistics. Seriously. I keep seeing more and more that seem to be about proving what they want and less about finding out what is there.

  • wyclif

    I’m an evangelical and an independent voter not happy with either major party, with their gridlock and spending the country into overwhelming debt. That’s why I’m voting for Ron Paul, the only candidate who won’t do business with lobbyists and the Republican and Democratic status quo.

  • Pat Pope

    “there is an unmistakable lack of ideological and political unity within the Christian community. A new national survey by the Barna Group among likely voters indicates that there are substantial differences across a wide spectrum of Christian subgroups…”

    It’s about time this was acknowledged. So often I see evangelicals being described as though we’re one size fits all, think the same, vote the same, etc. ‘Course in some ways I think that’s been perpetuated by some Christians who seem to want to define us one way. As though, if you name the name of Christ you WILL believe in “these” issues, which of course are defined for us by certain leaders as being what we should care about.

  • TJJ

    The devil of polling is in the details, and the details of this poll shows it is basically meaningless. The polling sample of likely voters was only 650 responses, which is a very small sample. And it was nationwide, with no breakdown of states or regions, or is respondents were republican, democratic, or idependants. If most of the 650 response were democrats and/or from blue states which Obama is likely to win, the results are not only meaningless, but misleading.

    A better more meaningful poll would be a larger sample of indepedant evangelical voters from swing states. That would actually tell you something meaningful about current evangelical voting trends (though not a lot about how voting may go in November). But that kind of polling costs a lot more to conduct.

  • Jeff

    Sadly, I suspect the answer is the reverse of what I read people assuming — I bet it’s the fact that Romney is the likely GOP candidate, and many, many evangelicals just can’t get past Mormonism. I say this not to affirm, but to observe.

  • This is BS…Barna Speak. It is confusing and I personally think it is no where near reality. Obama may be one of the worst I have ever seen run a country. But is only my own opinion.

  • DSO

    TJJ @11, I think you are right. My adult students in one southern Chicago suburb will rate closer to 80% of supporting the President. Only anecdotal evidence I know but their support has never wavered through the last 3 years.

  • Mark Pike

    I don’t trust Barna’s polling methods.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    Although polling is not perfect, it has become more of a science. Polls are more right than people may believe even though they only accurately reflect those polled at the momemt (or if the election would be held that day which may be different on a different day because of changing perceptions or national events).

    I can think of several reasons why more Evangelicals may vote for Obama despite the weaknesses of the Republican party or their candidate:

    1. Some conservative Evangelicals are growing up to political realities (a) there are other issues beside abortion and gay marriage and lower taxes like peace over war, the poor cared for and helped, and the ecology and immigrant issues to name a few; or(b) they are so disgusted with Republican empty promises and compromises that they are going independent or starting to vote across lines rather than for one party.

    2. They are waking up to the fact that not only has the world not ended with the Obama presidency, but the economy is some respects has been better than his Republican predecessor. Recent history may show that a democrat in the white house with a Republican house and senate (?) is more favorable than the often alternative of a Republican in the white house with the democrats in charge of the house and senate.

    I’m sure there are a plurality of reasons than the ones I just listed but I for one don’t doubt Barna’s report. I even suspect this may be a hint of what is to come in the next election. I believe there will be a larger gap of victory in Obama’s next election (barring some great national crises) over the Republican nomminee.

  • Steve Sherwood

    Do folks not like or trust “Barna’s methods” for some quantifiable reason or more because they keep saying things that make evangelicals uncomfortable (unChristian, You Lost Me, this statement)? I don’t know personally, but it seems to me in my conversations with people there is a bit of both. Perhaps those that have posted skepticism would share more of what leads them to doubt their methods? I ask this more as a sociological research neophyte, not to be snarky.

  • Rob O.

    Part of the answer, at least, must be that conservative politicians no longer even pretend to be compassionate. The hard right — social Darwinian, pro-corporate, demonizing anyone that doesn’t think like them — has taken over to such an extent that a sort-of-liberal, sort-of-accomodating, likeable but bland President Obama seems to many like the lesser evil. All you have to do is compare what people like Santorum say about gays or single moms or the urban poor with those people that you’ve actually known and met and come to love.

    And part of the answer is that many Christians are waking up to care about a larger set of issues, particularly poverty and the environment. Many are becoming more culture-engaging instead of being content to withdraw to their lifeboat while they watch the ship go down. There’s no way Christians like these could remain reliable GOP voters. They’re still a minority of evangelicals, of course. But 22% sounds very credible from where I sit.

  • TJJ

    Did some further google research, and found out Barna is wrong about the 2008 election. About 24 percent of evangelicals voted for Obama in 2008.

    See this link:

    And is the 2010 elections, about 22 percent of evangelicals voted for democrats. See Link:

    So there has been no significant change in levels of evangelical support for Obama if it is at 22% currently.

  • Dan de Roulet

    If Christians in greater numbers are supporting the President, that’s good; but I don’t buy it yet, despite McKnight’s FaceBook picture. What has been disturbing is the number of Christians who somehow are adopting GOP candidates, their rhetoric, and their pro-big-business stance as somehow “Christian.”

  • Perhaps more and more Christians are realizing that a Republican vote is just as compromised as a Democratic vote?

  • RJS

    I am confused by the statement that evangelicals represent 7% of the adult population. Barna must be using a definition much different than that used in most sociological surveys.

  • Hey! That’s a picture of Kinnaman.

  • Mark Z.

    Steve Sherwood: I don’t trust Barna because they always report results in terms of how people in some religious category (most commonly “evangelical”) responded to a question, but tend not to explain how they’re defining the categories. Are they purely self-identified? Based on church membership? Based on some other set of questions about theology or worship practices? Are the categories mutually exclusive? They don’t say, and to me those are very important questions in interpreting the results.

  • MarkZ, Barna does have a definition of Evangelical that they pretty consistently use. I just happen to believe it is the wrong definition.

    My issues with Barna are not the actual polling (although I am not completely comfortable asserting that they are ok), but his interpretation of the results.

    All polling has interpretation. And Barna seems to always jump to the most alarmist results. Bradley Wright (and several other sociologists) have detailed some issues with the way Barna develops his surveys and his comes up with his results.

    If you want to get a book that talks about how Christians often misuse statistics (with Barna a frequent subject) reading Bradley Wright’s Christians are Hate Filled Hypocrites and other Lies You’ve been Told.

  • Jason Lee

    Social scientists usually place evangelicals at around 30% of the US population. Barna group must be using an unusual measure. This makes it difficult to compare with anything. It would more useful and informative for Barna to always provide results from more respected surveys with better quality samples, so that we can compare. It may be the case that low quality samples or unusual survey items are driving any novel findings from Barna.