With the 2008 presidential season in full swing, evangelicals remain overwhelmingly conservative but consider the economy, cleaning up government, and other non-hot button issues more important than stopping abortion or gay marriage, according to a new poll by Beliefnet. The poll also finds that evangelicals view John McCain almost as favorably as they do Mike Huckabee and prefer Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton by a more than two-to-one margin.

For full poll results, click here.

The online poll, completed by 980 self-identified “evangelical/born again” respondents from January 17 to January 23, showed that 85-percent of evangelicals ranked the economy and “cleaning up government” as the most important or very important issues, compared to 61-percent who said the same about ending abortion and 49-percent who identified “stopping gay marriage” as a top issue.

In some ways, the survey reveals evangelicals to be quite conservative: 41-percent said they were Republican compared to 30-percent who were Democrats; 47-percent said they were conservative versus 14-percent who said they were liberal. Almost 80-percent said they attended church weekly or more than weekly and 84% said the Bible is the "inerrant word of God."

Generally speaking, however, evangelicals ranked traditionally progressive or Democratic causes as more important than traditionally conservative or Republican ones. Twenty three percent said their views had become less positive about Republicans, twice the number who said they’d soured on Democrats, though half of respondents said they had become less positive about both parties. Almost 60-percent said they favored a more progressive evangelical agenda focused more on protecting the environment, tackling HIV/AIDs, and alleviating poverty and less on abortion and homosexuality.

Combining those who labeled an issue "most important" or “very important,” the results were:

The economy (85%)
Cleaning up government (85%)
Reducing poverty (80%)
Improving public education/access to health care (78%)
Protecting the environment (70%)
Ending torture (68%)
Ending Iraq war (67%)
Ending abortion (61%)
Combating sex and violence in the media and entertainment (59%)
Illegal immigration (59%)
Stopping gay marriage (49%)
Helping Africa (48%)
Winning Iraq war (46%)
Fighting Islamic radicalism (58%)

At the same time, 65-percent of evangelicals said that Christian Right leaders sometimes or almost always represent their views. Of those respondents, an overwhelming number—80-percent—said Christian Right leaders represent their views on defending religion in public life, compared to 63-percent who said those leaders represent their represent their views on “opposing gay marriage/gay rights.”

On traditionally conservative issues, evangelicals seemed to care more about abortion than gay marriage, expressing more a more nuanced view on how best to reduce the number of abortions than just curbing abortion rights. Sixty-nine percent of those who said reducing the number of abortions is important said the best way to do it is through "changing the culture through education and other means" compared to 26% who said the best way is limiting abortion rights.

In the presidential campaign, 28-percent of evangelicals prefer Mike Huckabee, more than any other Republican candidate. Still, John McCain garnered 21-percent support, even though McCain has been shunned by evangelical leaders over the years. Fifty three percent of evangelicals viewed him favorably, compared to 27-percent who didn’t, not too far off from Huckabee, who was viewed favorably by 55-percent of respondents and unfavorably by 23-percent.

Just 7-percent of evangelicals said they prefer Mitt Romney, fewer than said they back Ron Paul, and the former Massachusetts Governor had a 25-percent favorability rating. Romney's Mormonism seems to be a stumbling block to winning evangelical votes; asked if the religious beliefs of the candidates would make it less likely to vote for them, 32% said it made them less likely. No other candidate drew a negative reviews based on his or her religion.

Almost a quarter of evangelicals said they were still undecided about which Republican to support.

Among Democrats, evangelicals preferred Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton, 31% to 12%, with 18% preferring John Edwards and 33% undecided. Interestingly, 27% of evangelicals said Barack Obama's religious views would make them less likely to vote for him, -which may reflect a mistaken view that Obama is Muslim (he is Christian). Twenty two percent said Hillary Clinton’s faith made them less likely to support her.

In a White House race that has focused on religion more than any other in memory, only a third of evangelicals said that religion was playing too big a role in the presidential election. Two thirds said that it was not.
The poll was promoted on Beliefnet’s web site and through its newsletters. Respondents weren’t told that this was a poll of evangelicals, but Beliefnet culled these responses from those who said they were “evangelical or born again.”

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