Beliefnet
Steven Waldman

Nationally, 25% of white evangelicals voted for Obama. In certain key states, the numbers were higher. He saw a 14% increase in support from white evangelicals in Colorado, 8% in Indiana, 8% in North Carolina and 4% in Ohio.
Most important, he won 32% of young evangelicals (up from 16% for McCain).
Who are these Obamagelicals – and how do they compare with the larger group of evangelicals who voted for John McCain?
Beliefnet recently surveyed its readership about who they voted for and why. 1,135 people who described themselves as “evangelical or Born Again” filled out the survey. (Full survey here)
Let’s start with the similarities between Obama’s evangelicals and McCain’s.
They’re both comparably religiously active.

  • 87.7% of Obama evangelicals pray every day vs. 92.7 % for McCain’s.
  • 72% of Obama evangelicals attend church weekly or more vs.75.7% % among McCain evangelicals.
  • Not surprisingly, almost no evangelicals–either McCain or Obama supporters—agreed with the statement that the bible is “Not God’s word, nor is it divinely inspired.”

But there are some stark differences:
They Emphasize Completely Different Values Issues. Obama’s evangelicals ranked their priorities like this:

  • The economy
  • Iraq war
  • Reducing poverty
  • Character
  • The environment
  • Cleaning up government
  • Access to health care
  • The Vice presidential selection
  • Gay marriage
  • Abortion
  • Fighting Islamic radicalism
  • Illegal immigration
  • The candidate’s experience

McCain Evangelicals listed priorities in a very different order:

  • Abortion
  • Character
  • Cleaning up government
  • Fighting Islamic radicalism
  • Gay marriage
  • The economy
  • Experience
  • Iraq war
  • Illegal immigration
  • Access to health care
  • Running mates
  • Reducing poverty
  • The environment


Obamagelicals are moderate (not liberal). McCain evangelicals are conservative (not moderate). Only 24.6% of Obamagelicals described themselves as liberals – half the amount that Obama voters on the Beliefnet survey — 67% said they were moderate. 8.4% said they were conservative. Less surprisingly, 79% of McCain’s evangelicals describe themselves as conservative, 19.% as moderate and only 1% as liberal.
They Interpret the Bible Differently. One of the most striking differences relates to their reading of Scriptures. 58.7% Obamagelicals say “the Bible is divinely inspired but not everything in it is the literal word of God,” compared to 40% who said “The Bible is the literal word of God.” For McCain evangelicals, the percentages were reversed: 74.7% said it was the Bible is the word of God and only 24.6% said the Bible was divinely inspired. (More here)
Many Obamagelicals are new to the Democratic side. While 71% of McCain’s evangelicals said they were Republican, 54.3% of Obama evangelicals said they were Democrats. What’s more, a quarter of Obama’s evangelicals voted for George W. Bush last election and 10.3% didn’t vote; only 61% had voted for Kerry. By contrast, 87.9% of McCain evangelicals had voted for Bush.
Obamagelicals didn’t believe Obama is or was Muslim, McCain evangelicals did. 87% of Obamagelicals believe Obama “was never a Muslim and is a practicing Christian.” Only 19.7% of McCain evangelicals agreed with that statement.
Sarah Palin. McCain evangelicals loved Sarah Palin. 71.4% said her faith and practices made it more inclined to vote for McCain (compared to 56.6% among McCain voters in general). Only 5.2% of Obamagelicals said her faith attracted them, and 48.5% said it outright made them less inclined to support the ticket.
Stark Differences on Abortion. Almost all McCain and Obama evangelicals believe that reducing the number of abortions is important. But they different dramatically on the right way to achieve that goal. 61% of McCain evangelicals believed that the best approach is through legal restrictions while only 8% of Obamagelicals believed that. Instead, 86.3% of Obama’s supporters said the best way is “by preventing unintended pregnancy (through education and birth control), or providing financial assistance to pregnant mothers.”
As a result of these different perspectives on how to reduce abortion, they also differed sharply in their expectations about the impact of the President. Among Obama’s evangelicals, 50.4% believe the abortion rate is unlikely to be affected by an Obama or McCain presidency, while 27.2% believe it will likely fall more under Obama and only 4.2% that it would fall more under McCain. This seems to indicate that the argument of progressive pro-lifers – that abortion rates could go down more under Obama – has only been half persuasive. Obama evangelicals don’t believe a McCain presidency would actually reduce abortion, but they’re not that convinced that Obama would be much better.
McCain voters, of course, disagree. 57.6% believe abortion would be lower under McCain. (That actually struck me as quite low. Stated another way, 42.4% of evangelical or Born Again Christians who voted for McCain have no confidence that abortion would have actually declined under a McCain presidency). (More on evangelicals and abortion here).
Obamagelicals support gay civil unions, McCain evangelicals don’t. Obamagelicals are far more supportive of gay marriage than McCain evangelicals, but on balance they don’t support gay marriage either. Only 28.7% said they supported gay marriage. The big difference is that most McCain voters want neither marriage nor civil unions (66.4% of McCain voters wanted neither), whereas a substantial number of Obamagelicals support civil unions or domestic partnerships (53.4%).
Obamagelicals Believe McCain’s Campaign Was “Unchristian”. 59.7% of Obama evangelicals said “John McCain has run amore unchristian campaign than Barack Obama.” Intriguingly, only 37.6% of McCain evangelicals said that about Obama. Of all of John McCain’s possible “character issues” the one that bother Obamagelicals most was the “tone of his campaign,” far more important than the Keating Five scandal, his cheating on his first wife or his gambling. McCain evangelicals thought Obama’s biggest character problem was his relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, though they were also deeply bothered by his association with Bill Ayers.
Praying About the Election. Most evangelicals surveyed did pray about the election but in subtly different ways. 75% of McCain evangelicals prayed for “God’s will to be done” and 36.7% prayed for “wisdom to make the right decision in casting my vote.” Only 57.9% of Obamagelicals prayed for “God’s will to be done” while more of them (42%) prayed for wisdom.
The clergy role. Obama evangelicals seem more likely to attend churches where the pastors are either apolitical or politically moderate. 19% of Obamagelicals said their pastors preached against abortion or gay rights prior to the election, while 41.5% of McCain evangelicals said so.
Note, too, that in the Beliefnet sample, African Americans and Latinos sometimes self declared as born again or evangelical. Together, made up 20% of the Obamagelicals.
For more on the full Beliefnet survey click here.

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