(Photo: REUTERS/Chris Keane)
CHARLESTON, S.C. – A new poll released by LifeWay Research shows that presidential candidates who share their faith on the campaign trail may not be helping their cause. The results of this study may go against the strategy being implemented by at least two of the GOP candidates this week in South Carolina as they try to woo evangelicals to the polls on Saturday.
The online survey of adult Americans was conducted Sept. 23-26 and asked the question, "When a candidate running for office regularly expresses religious conviction or activity, how does that impact your vote?"
According to the study's findings, only 1 in 6 Americans, or 16 percent, are more likely to vote for a candidate who regularly shares their religious beliefs.
Even more interesting, 30 percent indicated they would be less likely to vote for a candidate expressing religious activity, 28 percent said it would have no impact on their choice of a candidate and 21 percent of Americans said it would depend on the candidate's religion.
"A few Americans value any sign of religious conviction in their choice of candidates, but 1 in 5 Americans indicate the candidate's choice of religion that they espouse matters in their voting decision," said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research.
Despite this study's findings, at least half of the GOP candidates have been touting their personal religious convictions when speaking to groups in Iowa, New Hampshire and now in South Carolina.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a Catholic, refers to his faith and religion in almost every stump speech he gives.
In a campaign stop on Thursday in Mt. Pleasant, just outside of Charleston, Santorum repeatedly referred to his faith, even as he was being protested by a group of homosexual activists.
"I want everyone to understand that without a strong family, without a set of solid values and beliefs and intact families, our nation will not pull itself out of the economic struggles we have seen," Santorum said.
The LifeWay study also found that age distinctions influenced how voters in their 20's and early 30's, also known as "Millennials," viewed religion versus older Americans.
The survey revealed that younger Americans ages 18-29 (24 percent) and ages 30-49 (24 percent) were more likely to select "depends on the religion" when responding to the research group's question.
Those ages 65 and over were the most likely (37 percent) to say that a candidate's expression of religious conviction or activity would have no impact on their choice of candidate.
"Millennials are not known for active involvement in matters and practices of faith," said McConnell. "Yet this survey reveals that young adults do have stronger feelings and that they are more likely to vote differently depending on which religious convictions a candidate expresses."
Americans who consider themselves to be a born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christian, said they are more likely (28 percent vs. 11 percent) to vote for the candidate expressing religious conviction compared to Americans who do not share their religious beliefs.
Similarly, these Christians were more likely to select "depends on the religion" compared to those who do not identify with these beliefs (36 percent vs. 20 percent).
Americans who never attend a place of worship were most likely (67 percent) to say a candidate's expression of religious conviction or activity would make them "less likely to vote for a candidate." Only 3 percent would be more likely to vote for the candidate.
"Different people get a different picture in their mind when a political candidate shares or shows their religious convictions," McConnell said. "While some Americans warm up to this, many don't see it as a positive picture."
African-Americans are most likely to be put off by a candidate's religious expression – just 2 percent said they would be "more likely to vote for the candidate." Many Hispanic Americans (41 percent) and African-Americans (43 percent) indicated they would be less likely to vote for a candidate expressing religious conviction or activity.
"[T]wo-thirds of Americans who never attend a place of worship appear to flee from candidates who repeatedly put their religion in front of them and 4 in 10 Hispanic and African-American adults take it as a cue that the candidate is not for them," McConnell noted.
The September survey was based on a sample of 2,144 respondents called within a three-day period. The margin of error is +2.2 percent.