I didn’t watch the Rick Warren thing last night; I have too much respect for Christianity to watch it debased like that. But I think meeting the white evangelical crowd was something Obama needed to do, if only so they can see he’s just a guy and not the Antichrist.
My entirely subjective opinion is that Obama is the more genuinely religious of the two candidates. McCain is just going through the motions. This may be why most religious voters prefer Obama.
A study released this week by the Barna Group, a Christian research and consulting firm based in Ventura, Calif., finds that Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, currently enjoys the support of more faith-driven voters, including Christians, than his Republican rival.
The poll, which shows Obama ahead of McCain 43 percent to 34 percent among likely voters, also finds Obama leading in 18 of 19 different religious faith communities defined by the survey’s strict standards. McCain leads in only oneâ€”evangelicals. In that category, however, the Republican has a huge lead, 61 to 17.
The problem is that in the U.S., and in particular U.S. news media, evangelicals (especially white ones) are the only religious people who count.
The Barna poll uses unusual methodology. Many pollsters take voters at their word when they say they are evangelical Christians, but the Barna survey is unusually specific about its categorizations. It asks voters a battery of nine questions about their religious beliefsâ€”whether, for example, they think the Bible is accurate in everything it teaches, and whether they feel a personal responsibility to share their beliefs about Christ with non-Christians. Only when all nine questions are answered affirmatively are voters categorized as “evangelical.”
That might be a bit strict. However, I still haven’t recovered from the 2003 Pew poll that determined how “religious” someone is by whether they believe in a literal Judgment Day.
The Barna pollsters err in thinking that “evangelical Christianity” is primarily religious. It is not; it is tribal. It is identity. A large part of those who fervently believe themselves to be evangelical Christians don’t know Jesus’ teachings from eggplant.
This significantly reduces the survey’s estimate of the total number of evangelical voters. By Barna’s estimate, only 8 percent of U.S. voters are truly evangelical. “That is a much smaller group than you might think,” says George Barna, the poll’s director.
Ah, but the tribe is much bigger.
The survey shows that the much debated “God gap” between Republicans and Democrats among Christian voters as a whole may not be nearly as dramatic as it appeared in 2004. Indeed, among those who self-identify as “evangelical” but who don’t fit the Barna group’s criteria, McCain holds only a 39 to 37 lead over Obama, with nearly 1 in 4 voters saying they are still undecided.
Among most other Christian groups, the Democratic candidate continues to enjoy a comfortable lead. Obama has a huge advantage among non-Christians, atheists, and agnostics, but he also leads among nonevangelical, born-again Christians (43 to 31), Christians who are neither born-again nor evangelical (44 to 28), Catholics (39 to 29), and Protestants (43 to 34). “If the current preferences stand pat,” says Barna, “this would mark the first time in more than two decades that the born-again vote has swung toward the Democratic candidate.”
I’m a little confused by “nonevangelical, born-again Christians.” Historically, the “born-again” experience was the sine qua non of evangelicalism and what set it apart from older denominations of Protestantism. If anyone out there understands this and can explain it to me, I would be grateful.
Anyway, what we know is that religious people, including most Christians, tend to favor Obama. The one group that does not is evangelical Christians. In most universes, the evangelical Christian vote would be considered an anomaly. However, in this universe, the evangelical movement is the “norm” and everyone else is the anomaly. Go figure.