Top Five Voting Issues: Barna

From David Kinnaman at Barna:

The faith leanings of likely voters are related to the perceived importance of these factors. For instance:
• Evangelicals are much more likely than other voters to consider a candidate’s religious faith to be an important clue. Half of evangelicals (50%) listed that as a critical insight compared to just one-quarter of non-evangelical born again voters (23%), and by less than one out of every twenty other voters.
• Evangelicals were less likely than other religious segments to rate political experience as a key factor in their decision. Only one out of every 25 evangelicals (4%) named experience as a key. On average, one out of every six other likely voters considered experience to be an important indicator.
• The religious group that was most distinct in its decision-making process was people associated with non-Christian faiths (e.g., Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.) That small portion of the likely voter population was the most likely of all to rate issue positions as the most significant factor (92%) and they were also much more likely to list party affiliation as a key indicator (32% – double the proportion of all other likely voters). They were also the group least likely to consider character (32%) to be important.

• Catholics and Protestants were generally similar in their outlook on these factors. However, Protestants were slightly less likely to consider issue positions of great importance and were three times more likely to characterize the religious faith of the candidates as important (24% vs. 7%).
• Knowing about the religious faith of candidates was important to more than one out of ten members of a segment among just three segments: evangelicals (50%), non-evangelical born again Christians (23%), and people who attend non-mainline Protestant churches (33%).
• There were notable distinctions within the Protestant community between likely voters attending mainline churches and those attached to non-mainline churches. Mainline adults were more likely to deem candidates’ issue positions as important (91% versus 74%, respectively) and twice as likely to consider political experience to be critical (19% vs. 10%). Those attending non-mainline congregations were three times more likely to label the religious faith of candidates as important information.

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  • Loren Haas

    With Evangelicals giving the highest significance of any group to a candidates religious faith Romney, as a Mormon is in deep trouble. Or is there some cognitive dissonance involved?

  • Rick

    Loren #1-

    Recent polls don’t show Romney is in “deep trouble”. In fact, he is leading.

    It is interesting evangelicals had the lowest “political party” %.

  • Joe Canner

    “Candidates political party” and “Position on issues” are measuring more or less the same thing, so I wouldn’t read too much into the results for those. People like to believe that they are voting about issues (and not just mindlessly following a party) but the parties are so polarized these days that they might as well be choosing a candidate based on party.

  • Rick


    The difference is that they are not loyal to a party, rather to the issues. If a party changes its positions on issues (more so, specific issues), evangelicals largely will not stay with it.

  • Joe Canner

    Rick, I’m sure that’s true for some people, but I have a have a hard time believing that the average evangelical would vote Democratic (Obama in particular) if the GOP changed its position on one or two issues. (Of course, maybe it’s because I can’t imagine the GOP changing its position(s) in such a way that would alienate evangelicals.)

  • A comment by someone over at Christianity Today solved their cognitive dissonance by saying that Romney was much more of an orthodox Christian than Obama because Obama was for abortion and gay marriage.

    My guess is that more than a few Evangelicals when it comes to actually voting will think in similar ways.

  • Robin


    All you have to do to understand the difference between party/issue is think about the Tea Party, which is disproportionately evangelical. They have had no problem at all removing entrenched, incumbent Republicans because of their perceived moderation on issues. DIck Lugar is the most recent example of someone ousted despite 36 years holding his seat because he had waffled on his positions.

    That doesn’t mean that Evangelicals would support a Democrat over a Republican, but given two Republicans they have definitely shown a willingness to oppose the “party candidate” in favor of the “ideological candidate.” The Rand Paul vs. Trey Grayson race in KY is another example of the candidate who was hand-picked by the party getting trounced by the candidate with greater ideological purity.

  • Rick


    I think you are right, and I think it is telling: the Republican Party won’t change many positions because it is relying more on evangelicals than evangelicals are relying on the party.

  • Joe Canner

    Robin, good point, one which raises the question: why are evangelicals so supportive of the Tea Party? The Tea Party is (or was originally) all about taxes, small government, and lowering the deficit. These are not traditionally Christian hot button issues. Have evangelicals, having been seduced by the GOP, suddenly become interested in these issues? Or is there a Biblical basis?

  • Joe, many in the Tea Party broke away from the GOP which means that many in the tea party are also conservative when it comes to traditional Christian hot button issues like abortion and gay marraige.

  • Robin

    My gut feeling is that the TEA party is just more reliably conservative than the rest of the Republicans…they can be counted on, whereas moderate Republicans are less reliable. Sure Dick Lugar and Arlen Specter will vote with you 80% of the time, but that 20% when they defect and vote with “the other guys” might be times that you get really ticked off.

    More importantly…they vote with the base, not just with party leadership. Mitch McConnell would sell his soul for some extra construction money in his state, and so will Romney, if you are ardently conservative on social issues, it is disconcerting to think that the Republicans leaders are people who you know will use the issues you care about as bargaining chips to get what they want.

  • Robin

    Also, it helps if people have principles. I’m from Kentucky, I got to choose between Trey Grayson and Rand Paul. Paul had a clear, consistent set of beliefs and I knew exactly where he stood on every issue. He might change some at the edges, but he has an identifiable set of core beliefs.

    Grayson is a chameleon. He will do whatever McConnell tells him to. If the Repubs are out of power it will be a general oppositional strategy, if they get power he will vote for higher spending and more pork for Kentucky. While Obama is still in power they will be generally anti-war, but if they win the Presidency he would uncritically vote for anything the leadership asked.

    There are lots of politicians I loathe on both sides of the aisle, but the ones I have always respected have been the ones that had a core set of principles and followed them to the bitter end…men like Feingold, Santorum, Rubio, Paul, and that socialist from the Northeast. I have no tolerance for politicians who see which way the wind is blowing before they evolve on positions.