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Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Born Again Vote

Recently, conservative Christian leaders gathered to discuss getting behind John McCain for president. Time magazine reported on this gathering that occurred July 1 in Denver. The Christian vote is an important bloc for conservative republicans (or any candidate). For decades now, born again Christians have been one of the largest and most likely to vote groups in the country.

According to researcher George Barna (barna.org), born again Christians constituted about 48% of the vote in the 2000 presidential election and 53% of the vote in the 2004 presidential election. Interestingly, Barna also points out that the 53% total in 2004 occurred while born again Christians made up only 38% of the U.S. population. Barna research in January of this year revealed 68 million U.S.voters who were born again Christians.

In the 2000 campaign, four out of five born again adults were registered to vote, compared to only two out of three non-born again adults. Also, Barna reported that in the 2000 election, born again Christians were much more likely actually to vote than those who were not born again, by a 59% to 46% margin. Furthermore, recent Barna research shows that born again Americans were more likely to follow an election closely and more likely to say that it is “very important” to vote.

Barna also reported that George Bush handily won the born again vote in both of his elections: by a 57% to 42% margin in 2000 and 62% to 38% in 2004. This compares to a closer 49% to 43% edge for Bob Dole over Bill Clinton in 1996 and an even tighter 39% to 35% for George H.W. Bush over Clinton in 1992. Given these numbers, it would appear that for John McCain to do well in 2008 against BarakObama, he should aim for at least 55% of the born again vote.

The power of the born again bloc was particularly evident in the republican primaries, with the significant wins achieved by Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee across the “Bible Belt.” It was most certainly the born again Christian vote that propelled Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, to victory in five key states on “Super Tuesday,” to go along with his other primary victories. For many of these voters, issues like abortion and gay marriage are more important than illegal immigration, the economy, and so on. It’s not that the other issues don’t matter, but the issues that carry more moral weight are going to be significant with born again Christians.

This begs the question, what drives born again Christians to the polls? Barna’s research showed that for George W. Bush, “The positions on issues that attracted the greatest number of born again voters to Bush were those related to abortion and taxes.” Also, the issue of gay marriage has been a big motivator for born again Christians in recent elections, especially in 2004. Thirteen states passed constitutional amendments banning same sex marriage in 2004. This almost certainly brought many born again Christians to the polls. Three states, including the swing state of Florida, have marriage amendments on the ballot in 2008.

Of course, issues change over time, and given the current state of the economy, it will almost certainly be the number one issue with every voting bloc in this election. The war and illegal immigration will also almost certainly be big issues for all voters in November. However, the Barna research from January of this year revealed that for born again Christians the top five issues were: personal indebtedness (mentioned by 79% of respondents), poverty (mentioned by 78%), HIV/AIDS (77%), illegal immigration (68%), and abortion (67%).

The top five issues for the 15 million registered evangelical Christians (22% of born again Christians) differed a bit from the born again list. (For purposes of his research, Barna regards evangelicals as a subset of born again Christians.) They were: abortion (94%), personal debt (81%), the content of television and movies (79%), homosexual activists (75%), and gay and lesbian lifestyles (75%). Interestingly, of all the voter groups identified by Barna, evangelicals were the most likely to be concerned about illegal immigration; however, as shown above, it did not make the top five in their list.

It will be interesting to watch the exit polling data following the November elections to see what was important to all voters and to see what groups supported whom. To see how Christians and other groups voted, be sure to check out www.barna.org.

Copyright 2008, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com

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