Evangelicals are not shifting to presidential candidate Barack Obama, according to a new survey from a prominent political scientist who shared his results last week at the annual convention of the Religion Newswriters Association. The findings counter the repeated claims of left-leaning Christian activists, Democratic Party advocates and liberal reporters who have contended that white evangelicals are undergoing a major shift away from the Republican Party.
These poll results confirm an EthicsDaily.com editorial a week earlier which said, “If there is an evangelical shift from the GOP, one has a hard time seeing it in the Bible Belt with its tens of thousands of churches.”
The editorial critiqued those who advance the cultural narrative of a new evangelical center: “Praying for a miracle is not the same as declaring that the miraculous has happened.”
The survey findings were presented by University of Akron professor John Green, who is in the polling business, not the business of determining whether prayer is answered.
Green’s survey “found that the party preferences of white evangelical voters are almost exactly the same in 2008 as they were at the same point in the Bush-Kerry race in 2004,” wrote two Washington Post reporters.
“According to the poll, white evangelical Protestants favored McCain over Obama 57 to 20 percent, with 22 percent undecided. At the same point in the 2004 campaign, white evangelicals preferred Bush over Kerry 60 to 20, with 20 percent undecided,” they reported about Green’s survey taken between June and August 2008.
They wrote, “Green, a veteran analyst, said the results about white evangelicals were surprising, given the intense appeals the Obama campaign and other national Democrats have been making to white evangelicals, compared with what some saw as Democratic aloofness toward this group in the past.”
Green’s data was gathered before McCain added Gov. Sarah Palin to his ticket, a move that caused conservative evangelical leaders to holler with joy at the sight of sinners saved.
The most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, after the Republican Party convention, found that “white evangelical Protestants split 72 percent for McCain and Palin, 22 percent for Obama and Biden,” said the reporters who pointed out that a Pew Research Center survey had almost identical findings.
“The divisions based on religious affiliation are very deep-seated in the United States, and they are very difficult to change,” said Green, according to the Boston Globe. “It may well be that, if these patterns were to persist, the results would look very similar to 2004, with the high degree of religious polarization.”
Polls suggest the claims that white evangelicals are running from the Republican Party and its prayer partner, the Christian Right, are a rhetorically manufactured narrative, not one rooted in empirical truth.
Facts are facts ”facts are not determinative for what is morally right. What is morally right is to speak truth about the facts, however.
For 30 years, white centrist Baptists and mainline Protestants have consistently underestimated the power of conservative evangelicals and devalued their intelligence. One result of this sad state is that conservative evangelicals have substantially increased their market share in the public square, while others of faith have floundered and engaged in denial.
If centrist Baptists and mainline Protestants really want to advance their moral vision of the common good, they need a long-run resiliency to build institutions and networks ”not a tendency to engage in wishful thinking about the demise of the Christian Right.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.