Open talk about their personal faith by leading presidential hopefuls is prompted by their awareness of the crucial part Christians will play in the upcoming election, according to a survey that reveals some surprising truths about believers and the ballot box. Though "born-again" voters would send George W. Bush to the White House in a 51 percent to 31 percent margin over Al Gore if the election were held today, they do not fit the profile typically sketched of Christians by the mainstream media as overwhelmingly Republican. The "Faith Factor" study by the California-based Barna Research Group (BRG) reports that "born-again" adults who are registered are split evenly between the Republican and Democratic parties--35 percent each. But they are more likely to be registered to vote than non-Christians, making them a key constituency. The Barna researchers found that without the vote of those considering themselves "born again," Bush would probably fall short of the numbers needed to win the election. He draws 55 percent of his support from the group, while Gore finds only 37 percent of them backing him. But Bush's greater support was "lukewarm and susceptible to change," said BRG president George Barna. "The candidates are well aware of the high level of interest in spiritual matters and personal faith...Currently the born-again group looks like it might cast about 45 percent of the votes. That's a market share that no candidate can afford to ignore or lose," he
said. The survey of 1,002 adults found that around 57 million of the country's 80 million "born- again" adults were registered to vote--making them one of the largest proportions among all demographic groups. Almost a fifth of those registered--12 million--were evangelicals. One-in-8 born-again voters was Catholic, and the number of "born-again" voters was double the total number of black and Hispanic voters combined. "The portrait often painted by the media of born-again Christians is inaccurate," Barna said. "That group is not overwhelmingly conservative or Republican, or unified in its views...The born- again segment is more demographically diverse than many realize...There are millions of born-again adults who have yet to make up their minds about whom to vote for, and many who will switch from their current choice to an alternative before election day rolls round." Voters who are not born again would prefer Gore for president, according to the BRG study, by a 43 percent to 34 percent margin. Limited to registered voters only, Gore's lead among those who are not born again remains about the same, at 44 percent to 36 percent, while Bush's lead in the born-again group stretches to 56 percent over 30 percent. The survey also pointed to John McCain's surging candidacy as "a substantial challenge" to Bush. Among Republican born-again voters, Bush's lead over the Arizona senator had fallen from 48 points almost a year ago to 37 points this week. Meanwhile, former Republican candidate Gary Bauer--who dropped out of the race earlier this month--has been criticized by two top Christian leaders for his endorsement of McCain on Wednesday. The ex-leader of the Family Research Council came under fire from Focus on the Family's James Dobson and preacher Jerry Falwell. Dobson said that McCain had made no assurances about selecting a pro-life running mate, the Associated Press reported. Falwell said McCain had "sold out" to the liberal element of the Republican Party and that he "simply cannot understand" Bauer's endorsement.
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