CT, The 81%, and John Hawthorne

CT, The 81%, and John Hawthorne October 23, 2018

I always read John Hawthorne’s posts, this one about the CT article and its graphics:

This week Christianity Today reported on research sponsored by the Billy Graham Center and conducted by LifeWay Research. Titled “Why Evangelicals Voted Trump: Debunking the 81%,” it reported on data from 3,000 respondents.  These respondents were analyzed in three groups: evangelicals by belief (EBB), self-identified evangelicals (SIE), and non-evangelicals. …

One thing that stands out immediately is that 77% of white evangelicals voted for Trump. While it’s true that this is less than 81%, it’s not really a lot to shout about. As Daniel Jose Camacho observed in Sojourners, including all evangelicals by belief regardless of race or ethnicity seems quite problematic….

I don’t mean that as an attack on CT, BGC, or LifeWay. It’s quite likely that the average respondent didn’t mobilize their evangelical beliefs when answering questions about taxes or the vice president.

It’s also difficult to evaluate the chart when respondents were asked to identify “their single most important reason”. That’s not how most people make political decisions, preferring a constellation of more of less consistent views (although we are capable of remarkable cognitive dissonance).

Not knowing the questions also makes it difficult to unpack the right hand side of the graphic. It is true that 13% of white EBBs saw immigration as their most important issue. So did 14% of hispanic EBBs. It’s hard to fathom that both groups meant the same thing.

In summary, there is value in trying to understand what motivates evangelical voters in national elections. But this needs to be done not to explain away a troublesome talking point.

What is needed instead is a careful exploration of whether people of faith are mobilizing their theological commitments, how those methods vary be the measures of evangelicalism, and how people evaluate the real choices between real candidates.

I have colleagues in sociology, political science, and history who are very interested in the exploration of these questions. It would be so valuable if we were all working together with agreed-upon methodology and shared data. That is, if we really want to understand what motivates evangelical voters beyond party, fear, and power.

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