Poll: Evangelical Democrats Matter in '08 Election

WASHINGTON – Evangelical Democrats not only exist in this year's presidential election, but are turning out in larger numbers than the youngest and oldest primary voters in some states, according to a new poll.

One in three white evangelical voters during the Missouri and Tennessee primaries on Feb. 5 voted for a Democratic candidate, according to the poll conducted for Faith in Public Life and the Center for American Progress Action Fund by Zogby International.

This number of white evangelicals voting for a Democratic candidate has increased since the 2004 general election, when only one in four white evangelical voters in Missouri and Tennessee supported Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

In Missouri, some 160,000 white evangelical Democratic voters showed up to vote at the Democratic primary. This group of voters is greater than all voters under 30, equal to all voters over age 65, and equal to all voters who said the Iraq war is the most important issue facing the country, according to the Missouri exit polls.

In Tennessee, there were 182,000 white evangelical Democratic voters – a figure equal to all African-American voters, greater than all voters over 60, and greater than all voters who said the Iraq war is the most important issue facing the country, according to the Tennessee Democratic exit polls.

Overall, 19 percent of all Democratic voters in Missouri and 29 percent of all Democratic voters in Tennessee were white evangelical.

Faith in Public Life and the Center for American Progress Action Fund had commissioned the exit polls during the Super Tuesday contests out of frustration that exit polls sponsored by the major networks have only asked the Republican primary voters whether they considered themselves "born-again or evangelical Christian."

"In failing to ask both Republicans and Democrats if they are evangelicals, the media pollsters reinforce the false and outdated stereotype that evangelicals are only concerned with one set of issues and ignore the increasing ideological diversity of the evangelical movement," Faith in Public Life explained.

"It's time for the media to update their script and provide balanced coverage of the role of religion in public life," the group urged.

The poll also found that the majority of both Democratic and Republican evangelical voters want a broader agenda that goes beyond abortion and same-sex "marriage" to include ending poverty, protecting the environment, and tackling HIV/AIDS.

Sixty-two percent of white evangelical voters in Missouri want a broader agenda (75 percent of Democratic voters and 56 percent of Republican voters). In Tennessee, 56 percent of white evangelical voters support a broader agenda (60 percent of Democratic voters and 54 percent of Republican voters).

Notably, in both states polled, more white evangelicals listed jobs and the economy as the most important issues in deciding their votes than abortion and same-sex "marriage."

In Missouri, 30 percent of all white evangelicals ranked jobs and economy the most important issue, while 14 percent considered abortion and same-sex "marriage" the most important. Also, 12 percent chose Iraq; 11 percent, health care; 7 percent, immigration; 6 percent, terrorism; 4 percent, taxes; and 4 percent, education).

Meanwhile in Tennessee, 34 percent of all white evangelicals ranked jobs and economy the most important issue, while 19 percent considered abortion and same-sex "marriage" the most important. There, 8 percent chose Iraq; 8 percent, health care; 6 percent, education; 6 percent, immigration; 5 percent, terrorism; and 4 percent, taxes).

The new Zogby poll corresponds with a Barna survey released earlier this month which found a growing number of born again Christian voters were shifting towards the Democratic Party.

Forty percent of all born again adults who would likely vote in November, would choose the Democratic candidate, and only 29 percent would choose the Republican candidate if the general election was held the day the survey was conducted. The remaining 28 percent were unsure who they would support.

"Evangelicals are clearly sending a message to Republican leaders this time around," commented George Barna, whose firm conducted the national survey. "There is tremendous frustration among evangelical voters, in particular … given the stands of some of the leading Republican contenders, evangelicals are registering their discomfort with the choices they have at hand."

Barna added, "As in recent elections, a key to victory in November will be the faith vote. Unlike the past couple of presidential races…the born again and evangelical vote is up for grabs."

Both the Zogby poll and the Barna study showed that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) was more popular among white evangelicals than Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) among white born again Christians.

Clinton had greater support from white evangelicals compared to Obama in Missouri, 54 to 37 percent, and in Tennessee, 78 to 12 percent, according to Zogby.

The Zogby poll considered voters evangelicals if they self-identified themselves as either "born-again or evangelical Christian" in the exit poll.

The Barna group was more specific and gave separate definitions for Born-again Christians and evangelicals. Born again Christians are people who responded that they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and have indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Evangelicals are a subgroup under Born-again Christians and meet seven other conditions, according to Barna.