Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president this year, received the lowest level of support among evangelicals of any Republican presidential candidate since Bob Dole in 1996, according to a report by Barna Group, a Christian polling organization.
Romney received the support of 81 percent of evangelicals, compared to 88 percent for John McCain in 2008, and 83 percent and 85 percent, respectively, for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. Only Dole received a lower level of evangelical support at 74 percent in Barna's polling.
Barna's results differ from other polls showing Romney received a higher proportion of the evangelical vote than McCain. The exit polls for the National Election Pool, for instance, showed Romney getting a share of the white evangelical vote that was four percentage points higher, 78 to 74 percent, than McCain. The differences can be explained, though, in how "evangelical" is defined for the different polls.
In the National Election Pool, an evangelical is simply one who self-identifies as evangelical or "born again." For Barna, an evangelical is defined by a set of theological beliefs.
A "born again Christian," in Barna's categorization, is one who has made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important to them today and who believes that they will go to Heaven when they die because they had confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.
An "evangelical" meets all those criteria plus affirms an additional seven theological beliefs consistent with evangelical doctrine. These include questions about proselytizing, the existence of Satan, salvation through grace, the divinity of Christ, the authority of scripture, and God's omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. "Born again" and "evangelical" are not dependent upon worship attendance or denomination.
Barna's other religious categories include "notional Christians," who identify as Christian but do not meet the born again criteria, "other," who belong to a non-Christian religious group, and "skeptics," which includes atheists, agnostics and those with no religious faith.
Under those categories, Barna's research shows that Romney only won the evangelical vote, 81 to 17 percent, and the non-evangelical born again Christian vote, 56 to 43 percent. Combining those categories, Romney won among all born again Christians, 60 to 39 percent.
President Barack Obama won among notional Christians, 57 to 41 percent, other religious groups, 69 to 30 percent, and skeptics, 68 to 28 percent.
The survey of 1,008 adults, including 771 voters, was conducted Nov. 6-10. The margin of error for the sample of voters is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.