WASHINGTON In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, the Barna Group released a report measuring Republicans and Democrats on Christian commitment.
The new survey, based on interviews with 1,003 adults in January 2007, found that the gap between the two political parties in terms of Christian commitment is not large, as many might assume. The most significant differences were found in the area of beliefs rather than behavior.
According to survey results, 57 percent of Republicans assert that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches compared to 40 percent of Democrats. Republicans are also twice as likely to believe Satan is a real spiritual entity (33 percent versus 17 percent); more likely to reject the idea that good works can earn salvation (35 percent versus 23 percent); more commonly describe themselves as absolutely committed to Christianity (61 percent versus 48 percent); more likely to deem their religious faith to be important in their life (77 percent versus 67 percent); and more likely to believe that God is the all-knowing, perfect Creator and Ruler of the universe (75 percent to 65 percent).
Overall, 51 percent of Republicans qualify as born-again Christians, according to the Barna Group, compared to 38 percent of Democrats.
The report notes, however, that the born-again vote balances out since Democrats outnumber Republicans among registered voters (31 percent to 41 percent). It further found that if the presidential election were held today, 37 percent of born-again voters would vote as a Democrat and 38 percent as a Republican. And born-again voters will cast roughly half of all ballots if the turnout next year resembles the last two presidential election turnouts.
"Born-again Christians should not be underestimated: they represent half of Republican voters, two-fifths of registered Democrats, and one-third of independent voters," David Kinnaman, director of the study, said in the report. "As the presidential primaries gear up and both parties try to attract the broadest group of voters, it will be to their benefit not to alienate the diverse Christian segment."
Republicans still have the favor of evangelical Christians. Evangelicals, based on Barnas 9-point evangelical definition, are committed to the Republican Party over the Democrats 59 percent to 16 percent.
While one out of 14 Republican is aligned with a non-Christian religion, Democrats have a wider spectrum of religious perspectives with one out of every five Democrats aligning with a belief system other than Christianity. And among the non-Christians within the Democratic Party, two-thirds are atheists and agnostics.
Overall, there were smaller gaps when both parties were measured on Christian behavior. Democrats are less likely than Republicans to attend Sunday school classes (17 percent versus 25 percent); participate in church-related small groups (18 percent versus 25 percent); and to feel greater compulsion to share their faith with others (24 percent versus 34 percent). When it came to actually sharing their faith, born-again Democrats and Republicans are equally likely to have done so with someone in the last year. The two parties are also equal in prayer, Bible reading and volunteering.
Church attendance between the two parties showed the most difference in terms of behavior. The study reported that 53 percent of Republicans say they attended church in the last seven days while 41 percent of Democrats said the same. Moreover, only 22 percent of Republicans qualified as unchurched compared to 34 percent of Democrats.
Also, only 10 percent of Democrats go to churches with 500 or more attendants compared to 18 percent of Republicans.
Broken down to denominational affiliation, the survey found that 23 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats are Catholic; 36 percent of Republicans and 31 percent of Democrats are non-mainline Protestants; and 21 percent of Republicans and 13 percent of Democrats are mainline Protestants.
The survey is released as Christian leaders point out a lack in a top tier presidential Republican candidate that social conservatives would want to fully support.
"Committed Christian voters are not at all the monolithic right-wing voting bloc portrayed by media. In fact, tens of millions of born again voters align with the 'blue' party," Kinnaman commented. "Even though Republicans continue to attract born-again Christians in greater numbers, they lose some of their advantage because they are a smaller group of voters than Democrats. In addition, recent elections have galvanized Democrats attention on the faith vote. Republicans are hardly assured of mustering the substantial margins of born again voters they enjoyed in past elections.
"Keep in mind that many Christian voters are increasingly skeptical of being played for political purposes. Appealing to them must go beyond simply saying the right combination of messages or getting them to show up at the polls, but instead should genuinely connect with their perspectives and principles."