Beliefnet
Steven Waldman

Stunning. Shocking. Impossible?
Barna, the premier pollster of the evangelical world, just released a new survey finding it’s a dead heat among “born again” Christians:
McCain 45%
Obama 43%
Undecided 10%
Points of reference: Bush won 62% of Born Agains, according to Barna.
Keep in mind that Barna defines “Born Again” differently than most pollsters. They base it on a series of theological questions, while most pollsters just ask people if they’re “evangelical or born again.” Under their methodology, “born agains” account for 48% of the electorate; most pollsters say evangelicals represent between 25%-40%
Barna also polled “evangelicals,” which they define as a smaller, more religiously orthodox group, representing about 10% of the population. Among evangelicals:
McCain 63%
Obama 23%
Undecided 12%
Bush in 2004: 85%
Support among Barna’s evangeliclas grew from 9% in May to 17% in July to 23% now.
Barna also found a meaningful differences by age:

“Born again Christians in their forties and fifties prefer Sen. McCain by a five-point margin (48% versus 43%), while born again adults in their sixties and older favor the Arizona Republican by ten points (47% versus 37%). On the other hand, among the youngest born again voters – those in their twenties and thirties – Sen. Obama is a 13-point front-runner (51% to 39%).”

Most political polls show McCain retaining a bigger lead among self-identified evangelicals. Pew’s recent poll, for instance, had McCain with 67% and Obama with 24% among “white evangelicals.” Because Barna’s methodology is so different from other pollsters it’s hard to explain why they’re coming up with different numbers. Most polls still show McCain winning handily among evangelicals.
One theory I’ve heard is that the “evangelical brand” has gotten worse so fewer people self-identify that way, and those who do are more conservative. That might explain McCain’s continued strength with that group in traditional polls. The Barna approach, based on theological questions rather than self-identification, might skirt that problem.

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