Americans with evangelical beliefs are more likely to care politically about healthcare and economic issues than they are about issues typically associated with evangelical political engagement such as religious liberty and abortion, a new survey found.
“Our respondents surprised us by how little they appeared to care about stereotypically evangelical causes,” Georgetown University professor Paul Miller wrote in a white paper analyzing the survey’s findings published by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
LifeWay Research released a new poll this month sponsored by the ERLC exploring the views of American evangelicals on politics, social civility, media consumption and their engagement with those who have opposing political ideas.
The survey was conducted last November and included responses from 1,317 evangelical respondents who were screened to distinguish between respondents with evangelical beliefs (933) and respondents who self-identified as evangelical Christians (1,001).
The respondents were specifically asked to identify three public policy concerns that “are most important to you.”
The top answer for both self-identified evangelicals and respondents with evangelical beliefs was “healthcare” (51 percent). The second-most common answer (49 percent for self-identified and 46 percent of those with evangelical beliefs) was “the economy.”
Forty percent of those with evangelical beliefs identified “national security,” while 43 percent of self-identified evangelicals did the same. Forty-one percent of self-identified evangelicals identified “immigration” as an issue of importance to them, while 39 percent of respondents with evangelical beliefs said the same.
Just 33 percent of both self-identified evangelicals and respondents with evangelical beliefs highlighted “religious liberty” as an issue of importance for them.
Twenty-nine percent of evangelicals by beliefs highlighted “abortion” as an issue of importance to them while 28 percent of self-identified evangelicals said the same.
Only four percent of both sets of respondents identified “LGBT rights” as a political issue that is important to them.
The finding may come as a bit of surprise considering prominent conservative evangelical leaders are regularly discussed in the media for their stances on sexuality and abortion.
The survey indicates that evangelicals take into account several issues thinking about who they vote for.
Less than 10 percent of respondents surveyed said their support for a political candidate “depends primarily on one issue.” Eight out of 10 respondents surveyed said their support depends on “several issues.”
Despite most saying that their support depends on “several issues,” respondents with evangelical beliefs were more likely (52 percent to 48 percent) to “agree” that they “will only support a candidate who wants to make abortion illegal.”
The survey also suggests that evangelicals care less about other causes thought to be issues of importance for followers of Christ who are taught scripturally to feed the hungry and clothe the poor.
Twenty percent of self-identified evangelicals identified “providing for the needy” as an issue of political importance for them while 22 percent of respondents with evangelical beliefs said the same.
Only 18 percent of self-identified evangelicals identified “addressing racial division” as an issue of importance to them while 21 percent of evangelicals by belief said the same.
Miller stressed in his white paper that when broken down by racial and ethnic fault lines, the survey shows that white evangelicals tend to have a different “set of political priorities” than nonwhite evangelicals do.
“White evangelicals are far more likely to list abortion, religious liberty, national security, or immigration as a top concern than African American evangelicals or black Protestants,” Miller added.
“African Americans are more likely to list helping the needy, healthcare, and racial injustice. Evangelicals who attend church most frequently are least likely to say that helping the needy is a top concern. At 11 percent, white evangelicals are the least likely to say racial injustice is a top concern.”
Evangelicals have increasingly been associated in the media with the presidency of Donald Trump and social conservative principles. However, the survey shows that less than half (48 percent) of respondents with evangelical beliefs consider themselves to be Republicans while only 50 percent of self-identified evangelicals considered themselves part of the GOP.
Thirty-one percent of respondents with evangelical beliefs said they were Democrats with 18 percent saying they are Independents. Five percent of respondents with evangelical beliefs said they affiliate with another party or are not sure what party they are affiliated with.
Sixty-two percent of respondents with evangelical beliefs who voted said they voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election. For self-identified evangelicals who voted, there wasn’t much difference as 64 percent said they voted for Trump.
Meanwhile, 31 percent of respondents with evangelical beliefs who voted said they voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 and 27 percent of self-identified evangelicals said the same.
Among white respondents with evangelical beliefs who voted, 80 percent of said they voted for Trump in 2016 while 76 percent of self-identified white evangelicals who voted said the same.
“The results of this polling project were occasionally encouraging, frequently surprising and in some cases very much indicting,” ERLC President Russell Moore said in a statement. “What this polling clearly shows is that there are forces driving the church apart from one another. That shouldn’t surprise us. But it should convict us.”
The survey has a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points for those respondents with evangelical beliefs and 3.2 percentage point error margin for self-identified evangelicals