WASHINGTON, D.C. — As evangelical voters head to the polls Tuesday, their choice in the presidential election could reveal whether they have continued to look to traditional social issues like sanctity of life and marriage, or have reduced the importance of those issues in favor of poverty and environmental issues, as some of their leaders have asserted.
Polling released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life for the week of Oct. 26 reports 65 percent of white evangelicals supporting Sen. John McCain and 22 percent of white evangelicals supporting Sen. Barack Obama. In 2004, exit polls showed President George W. Bush with between 70 and 75 percent support from white evangelicals, while Sen. John Kerry drew identical support to Sen. Obama.
Additionally, white mainline Christians are evenly split, with Pew reporting 46 percent support for Sen. McCain and 47 percent support for Sen. Obama.
Non-Hispanic white evangelical voters aren’t the only ones who show a gap in their voting preferences. A Gallup poll published Oct. 27 reveals a 46-43 percent preference for Sen. McCain among Hispanic evangelical voters who are in church at least once a week.
Overall, religious voters of all kinds appear poised to mirror their preferences from the 2004 presidential election. The Fifth National Survey of Religion and Politics, conducted by the University of Akron, found that “preferences of the major religious groups in the summer of 2008 closely resembled the patterns at the comparable stage of the 2004 presidential campaign.”
IRD President James Tonkowich commented: “Frequency of church attendance continues to be one of the strongest gaps in support between Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama. The more often voters are in the pews, the more often they are likely to favor Sen. McCain.
“Statements by evangelical leaders such as Jim Wallis or National Association of Evangelicals Vice President Rich Cizik about the competitive nature of the Evangelical vote appear largely unfounded.
“Despite some evangelical leaders’ attempts to shift attention from traditional social issues to what they term a ‘broadening agenda’, we are not seeing a significant difference in evangelical support between polling in the 2004 election and polling for the 2008 election.
“Cizik, especially, seems to be speaking more to his own wishes of how evangelicals would vote rather than any actual polling of evangelicals in the pews.”