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Do Americans take their faith with them to the ballot box -- or do they leave it at home or behind church doors? A recent study by the Barna Group reveals a lot about the motivation of voters when it comes to their Christian values.
With President Barack Obama's self-proclaimed "evolution" to fully support homosexual behavior and same-sex "marriage" since his 2008 presidential election victory -- along with his emboldened support of other unbiblical policies regarding abortion and religious freedom -- many anticipated a flood of unprecedented opposition to the incumbent. But was this the case on Election Day 2012?
After what ended up as the most expensive presidential election in U.S. history -- not to mention the most negative campaigning to date -- Barna conducted a nationwide survey to see if voters' faith substantially affected the choices made on November 6.
With a 62- to 38-percent Electoral College landslide victory for a president considered by many as championing the most anti-biblical agenda America has ever seen, are Christian values no longer an important factor for Americans when choosing their next president? Not for those who consider their faith to be an integral part of their lives, according to the Barna survey.
And when the popular vote is taken into consideration, Obama defeated his challenger, Mitt Romney, by a narrower margin (50 to 48 percent) than most realize. But how does this all stack up when measuring America's spiritual climate?
The faith factor
This time around, many evangelical Christians apparently took note of the president's advocacy for leftist ideologies, as seen through his refusal to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and his declaration to fully endorse same-sex marriage. That bloc overwhelmingly voted for Obama's opponent, who received 81 percent of their vote -- as opposed 17 percent for the president. Correspondingly, 71 percent of evangelicals proclaim themselves to be "mostly conservative on political and social issues."
But does this showing indicate that Christian Americans are getting more fed-up with presidents and policies that contradict the nation's biblical roots? Not exactly.
As high as the 81-percent figure might seem, it represents the lowest showing of evangelical support for a Republican presidential candidate since 1996, when only 74 percent of this group voted for Bob Dole when he lost to Bill Clinton in 1996.
And how about this year's showing when compared to 2008 -- a time when Obama's supposed platform on social issues was much more moderate? That year, Republican presidential candidate John McCain took the evangelical vote 88 percent to 11 percent -- seven points higher than this year.
Self-proclaimed non-evangelical born-again Christians also showed definitive support of the candidate who defended biblical principles instead of challenging them, but by a narrower margin. Last November, this Christian sector supported Romney by 13 more percentage points (56 to 43). But even though this margin is smaller than with evangelicals, this statistic represents the greatest showing of support from this group for a Republican candidate than in the previous four presidential elections (tying George W. Bush's support in 2004). Just last year, this Christian sector (non-evangelical born-again) supported the GOP candidate McCain by a much smaller margin (51 to 48 percent). In 1996, the Democratic candidate Bill Clinton actually won this segment (48 to 44 percent) against Bob Dole.
Out of all born-again Christians, Romney garnered the support of 60 percent, next to 39 percent for Obama. This 21-point margin surpassed McCain's 15-point margin in the prior election. Sixteen years ago, Dole only tallied up a six-percent margin of victory over his Democratic competitor, Clinton.
The Protestant vote was not that much different, with 57 percent weighing in for Romney, next to a 42-percent showing for Obama and his more leftist ideals. This was the fourth consecutive election where a majority of Protestants voted for the Republican candidate.
And do Catholics reflect this consistent support for the candidate with the most conservative and biblical ideals, especially with the Catholic Church's staunch backing of pro-life policies? Not by a long shot. In fact, Catholics have supported the liberal candidate in presidential elections at the last five presidential elections, overwhelmingly supporting Obama 57 to 42 percent this year against Romney, and 56 to 43 percent versus McCain in 2008. Even though George W. Bush only came up short in the Catholic vote by two and four percent in 2004 and 2000, respectively, this group championed Clinton in 1996 by a 21-percent margin.
What about those considering themselves to be Christians who are not born-again? This group, described by Barna as "Notional Christians," closely reflected the Catholic vote for Obama, voting for the president over Romney 57 percent to 41 percent over Romney. This segment comprises 43 percent of the American electorate, as does the born-again group, with Notional Christians consistently showing overwhelming support for the Democratic candidate over the past five years, including handing Clinton a 32-percent margin of victory 16 years ago.
Some other faith-related voting groups were also analyzed in the survey, including mainline Protestant church attenders, who chalked up Obama support by a slim margin of 48 to 45 percent, whereas non-mainline attenders sided with Romney 56 percent to 35 percent. The "unchurched" backed Obama over Romney 58 to 32 percent, and those with an inactive faith (69 percent of the public) cast their ballots for Obama 52 to 39 percent. Voters with an active faith (comprising 31 percent of the voting public) checked the box next to Romney by a margin of 56 to 35 percent.
The who and why
Just what kind of a player was faith in 2012? Nearly half, or 45 percent of voters, said their faith was a factor in their choices at the ballot box. And those indicating that their faith affected their vote "a lot" checked Romney's box over Obama's 2 to 1. Conversely, voters saying that faith had nothing to do with their choices on November 6 voted for Obama 3 to 2.
Breaking it down by groups, 72 percent of evangelicals, 34 percent of non-evangelical born-again Christians, 19 percent of Catholics, and 16 percent of Notional Christians told Barna that their choice for a presidential candidate was affected by their faith "a lot."
The survey also revealed that 30 percent of voters said they picked their presidential candidate more because of his character and personality than on his stance on issues. Not surprisingly, the faith group least likely to vote accordingly was the evangelicals at 26 percent. Conversely, Catholics were most likely to vote on character traits, at 37 percent.
Approximately 25 percent of Protestant voters -- the largest percentage of any other group -- said that their vote for a presidential candidate was more strongly motivated by their dislike for the other candidate than their approval of the one they checked.
Honing in on voting trends, the Barna study revealed that 24 percent of all voters "always vote for the presidential candidate that represents my party." Of the faith groupings that most consistently vote this way were Notional Christians at 28 percent, whereas evangelicals were least likely to always vote according to party lines, at 17 percent.
When asked why they voted for Obama, the number-one reason given by non-evangelical born-again Christians (18 percent) was their distaste for Romney. Notional Christians said their main reason for choosing Obama had to do with his plans for the future (12 percent), whereas this was the top reason given by the largest proportion of the president's Protestant supporters (15 percent), as well. Seventeen percent of Catholics said Obama's "character" was the reason they voted for him (a higher percentage than any other reason).
A matter of faith?
Does religion play too large of a role in presidential elections? Forty-eight percent said no, while 46 percent said yes in the Barna survey. Fifty-three percent of Notional Christians believe this to be true, while only 21 percent of evangelicals agree. Twenty-seven percent of voters strongly believe that a candidate's faith receives too much attention.
Concentrating on Romney's faith, only nine percent of voters say his Mormonism strongly discouraged their support of him, and five percent indicated that it somewhat affected their vote. On the same note, 10 percent of evangelicals said Romney's Mormon faith discouraged their vote for him -- a view shared by 14 percent of other Christian groups.
Of little surprise, 71 percent of evangelicals self-proclaim themselves as politically conservative, with just one percent considering themselves politically liberal. They were the only religious group where a majority didn't declare themselves politically moderate. Thirty-eight percent of non-evangelical born-again voters say they are politically conservative, while 27 percent of Notional Christian view themselves as such. Only 10 percent of the former group consider themselves politically liberal -- a view shared by 14 percent of the latter.
When confronted with the statement, "Most people do not know enough about the major issues to be well-informed voters," 82 percent of all voters agreed, with evangelicals being the most likely to agree with this (90 percent). Evangelicals were also the faith group most frustrated with the Electoral College, with 73 percent saying that the popular vote should be instituted in its place.
Media Obamania and 2016
When it comes to giving an objective view of the presidential campaign, the media received failing marks from voters, as 65 percent of evangelicals strongly reject the notion that it covered the race in a "balanced and unbiased" way. This same sentiment was reflected by 64 percent of registered Republicans, 63 percent of Romney voters and 62 percent of conservatives. Overall, only 16 percent of voters strongly believed that the media offered "balanced and unbiased coverage of the presidential campaign."
When asked if the media was "too intrusive into the personal lives of the presidential candidates," 54 percent answered yes, with each Christian group surveyed producing a similar proportion of sentiments.
Looking into the future, Barna asked voters if "the United States will be better off four years from now than it is today" -- and only 14 percent of evangelicals had an optimistic outlook. However, 54 percent of Notional Christians and 53 percent of Catholics saw better days in 2016 -- higher than the 48 percent average of all voters.
With the data collected, one thing deems certain -- the more biblically based the voter, the less likely he or she is to vote for the candidate representing a leftist agenda.
A conservative watchdog group predicts that Hillary Clinton could be forced to give up her presidential bid.