youngevangelicals.jpgOne of the big takeaways from today’s new poll on religious voters is that white evangelicals under 35 are a lot more progressive than their parents, by a number of different measures. It’s worth noting that abortion is not one of them:

More than six-in-ten (62%) say abortion is very important to their vote, compared to 55% of older evangelicals. Young white evangelicals are also strongly opposed to abortion rights, with approximately one-third saying abortion should be legal all or most of the time–almost identical to the percentage of older evangelicals.

But gay rights and diplomacy and other issues are are a much different story:

On the issue of same-sex marriage, by contrast, the influence of their generational peers is clear. Nearly four-in-ten young evangelicals say they have a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian–a rate approximately the same as all young adults and more than double the rate of older evangelicals. Among older evangelicals, nearly half (49%) say same-sex marriage is an important voting issue, and a strong majority (61%) say there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship. Among younger white evangelicals, however, less than a majority see same-sex marriage as a very important voting issue, and a majority (52%) favor either same-sex marriage or civil unions. The generation gap is largest on the issue of marriage, where younger white evangelicals are more than 2.5 times as likely to support same-sex marriage than older white evangelicals.

Despite their conservative views on abortion and stereotypes as single-issue voters, like older white evangelicals, young white evangelicals have a voting agenda that is much broader than abortion and same-sex marriage. Fully two-thirds of younger evangelicals say they would still vote for a candidate even if the candidate disagreed with them on the issue of abortion. Younger evangelicals rank a number of other issues, such as economic issues, terrorism, and Iraq higher than abortion, and roughly equal numbers say that health care is a very important voting issue as say abortion.

….A majority (56%) of younger evangelicals believe that diplomacy rather than military strength is the best way to ensure peace, compared to only 44% of older white evangelicals. Finally, younger white evangelicals are more likely than older white evangelicals to favor a bigger government offering more services by a margin of 20 points (44% and 24% respectively).

And yet that leftward lurch on issues doesn’t translate into as dramatic a shift on the candidates:

Like older evangelicals, younger evangelicals strongly identify with the Republican Party and support John McCain, but levels of support among younger evangelicals were modestly lower for McCain (65% vs. 69%) and higher for Barack Obama (29% vs. 25%). Like their generational peers, younger evangelicals are also significantly less likely to identify as conservative than older evangelicals.

So what gives? A few analysts on this morning’s Faith in Public Life call pinned Obama’s failure to peel off more young evangelical voters from John McCain on a lackluster effort to reach those voters by the Obama team.

That doesn’t wash with God-o-Meter. Obama’s religious outreach director is himself a 26-year-old Pentecostal. The Obama camp’s current faith tour is built largely around sending evangelical author Donald Miller to evangelical campuses like Calvin College and to campuses in evangelical strongholds, such as Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

An Obama aide says the campaign’s religious outreach team had no illusions about being able to make major inroads into the evangelical world: “Our outreach is concentrated in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. We’re talking to moderate faith voters broadly, often more to Mainline Protestants than evangelicals. Bush won Mainliners in 2004 so that’s been a focus. We’re winning Catholics and Mainliners and Latino evangelicals, and we’ve increased over 2004 among evangelicals while McCain has dropped a few points.”

But it’s undeniable that evangelical outreach has been a major focus of Obama’s effort. So what’s the real reason his evangelical outreach has paid such patry dividends?


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