Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Obama Maintaining Status Quo With White Evangelicals

By Nathan L. Gonzales

After months of well-publicized outreach to evangelicals, the Democratic Party and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign are struggling to outperform the normal Democratic vote.

A Sept. 4-21 Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (D) survey for Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly showed Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) leading Obama 71 percent to 23 percent among white evangelical voters. In comparison, President Bush won white evangelical/born again voters 78 percent to 21 percent four years ago.

McCain was receiving only tepid support from evangelicals before he added Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to the GOP ticket. This survey provides some evidence that McCain is creeping closer to Bush’s totals with those voters.

The GQRR poll was accompanied by a memo, which highlighted how younger evangelicals were less supportive of McCain than older evangelicals. Subsequent media coverage generally focused on that point, but the results were more complicated.

McCain led Obama 62 percent to 30 percent among white evangelicals ages 18-29, compared with the Arizona Senator’s 73 percent to 22 percent advantage among white evangelicals ages 30 and older.

While Obama is doing better on the ballot test, younger evangelicals held a less favorable view of him compared to the views of evangelicals ages 30 and older. According to GQRR’s favorability “thermometer,” young evangelicals gave the Illinois Senator a 28 percent “warm” and 50 percent “cool” rating. Older evangelicals had a slightly better 36 percent warm and 48 percent cool view of Obama.

Younger evangelicals also viewed McCain, Palin and Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) less favorably than older evangelicals did.

But both Republicans were far more popular than the Democratic ticket. McCain did well with young white evangelicals (54 percent warm/31 percent cool) and older evangelicals (68 percent warm/18 percent cool). Palin also enjoyed favorable ratings among young evangelicals (52 percent warm/25 percent cool) and older evangelicals (60 percent warm/17 percent cool).

Biden received the lowest rating of the foursome. Young white evangelicals gave the Delaware Senator a 13 percent warm/41 percent cool, while older evangelicals gave him a 25 percent warm/40 percent cool.

Even President Bush scored better than Biden, including among young evangelicals who gave him a 39 percent warm/48 percent cool. Evangelicals ages 30 and older might be the last remaining voter bloc to give Bush a net positive rating: 57 percent warm/29 percent cool.

A level of caution should always be administered when evaluating polling data about evangelicals because each polling firm tends to have its own definition. In the case of GQRR, “Evangelical Christians were defined as Protestants or members of another Christian religion, and who identified as fundamentalist, evangelical, charismatic, or Pentecostal or who indicated they were born-again Christians.”

Any conclusions about young evangelicals from the survey should be even more tentative because of the survey’s methodology.

The survey started with a sample of 1,400 adults, including an over-sample of 400 evangelical Christians ages 18-29. But only 127 of the 427 sample of young evangelicals were contacted by telephone. The remaining 300 “were drawn from an opt-in Web panel that is designed to be demographically representative at a national level,” according to the firm.

This methodology means that the young evangelical over-sample is no longer “random,” a fact that GQRR acknowledged at the end of its own memo, and the margin of error listed for the young evangelical sample is statistically irrelevant.

The survey research firm noted that “Internet panels, like this one, use non-probability based sampling methods, by necessity, and these results need to be considered with that limitation in mind.”

Young evangelicals may be more conservative than older evangelicals, but more studies are needed. It is unclear whether young evangelicals will carry their current views throughout their lives or become more conservative or liberal. For the moment, however, Democrats have to be disappointed that after all of their talk and efforts, white evangelicals, as a whole, appear to be as supportive of the McCain-Palin ticket as they were of Bush.

This story first appeared on on October 3, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.