Study Finds that Younger Evangelicals Less Conservative than Elders

October 10, 2008 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

A large study of religious Americans suggests that white evangelicals’
views on gay rights may be shifting, rapidly, to the left.

The survey, which includes one of the largest samples of younger
voters’ political and religious views ever taken, indicates gay rights
are quickly gaining ground among even the most religious of Americans
— and especially among the youngest voters.

It also suggests
that contentious issues such as abortion and homosexuality will not be
nearly as important in voting decisions this year as they were in the
last presidential election. And it concludes that the Democratic
presidential nominee, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, has made little
headway in wooing white evangelical voters compared to his predecessor
from 2004, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

“Younger Americans,
including younger Americans of faith, are not the culture-war
generation,” Robert Jones, head of the firm that conducted the poll,
said in an Oct. 8 conference call with reporters. “On issues from gay
and lesbian rights to the role of government at home and around the
world, young Catholics, mainline Protestants and evangelicals are
bridging the divides that entrenched their elders and [are] ushering in
an era of consensus in which the common good trumps the clash of

Jones is president of Public Religion Research,
which was commissioned by the left-leaning policy group Faith in Public
Life to conduct the study. It included a sample of 2,000 voting-age
Americans, with an oversample of 974 respondents age 18-34.

the results from a similar, but smaller, poll released the week before,
the survey found that younger white evangelicals oppose abortion rights
in numbers comparable to their elders.

However, they also are far
more supportive of legal recognition for same-sex relationships —
whether through marriage rights or “civil unions” with rights and
responsibilities virtually identical to marriage.

A slight
majority — 52 percent — of white evangelical respondents aged 34 and
under favor same-sex marriage or civil unions, compared to only 37
percent of all white evangelicals. Both figures are significantly
higher than in 2004.

The generation gap is particularly striking
on the issue of full same-sex marriage rights. Younger evangelicals are
nearly 2 1/2 times more likely (24 percent to 10 percent) than the
overall white evangelical population to support legalizing gay marriage.

may be due, in part, to higher exposure among younger evangelicals to
openly gay people. While just 16 percent of older evangelicals say they
have a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian, 37 percent
of their younger counterparts do. That figure is very similar to the 38
percent of all 18-to-34-year-old respondents who say they have a close
relationship with an open homosexual.

Younger white evangelicals
are also far less likely than their elders to consider themselves
“conservative.” Just under half identify themselves that way, compared
to nearly two-thirds of older evangelicals. 

Nonetheless, support
for Arizona Sen. John McCain, the GOP nominee, seems to be only
slightly lower among younger white evangelicals than their elders. The
survey showed that 68 percent of older white evangelicals support
McCain to Obama’s 25 percent. For younger evangelicals, the figures
were 65 percent for McCain and 29 percent for Obama.

Both figures are similar to the support that President Bush garnered among white evangelicals as the GOP nominee in 2004.

also enjoys a significant advantage over Obama among all voters who
attend worship services weekly or more often. That lead is similar to
the one that Bush held over Kerry in 2004.

But a significant
shift has occurred in religious voters who attend religious services
once or twice a month. Those voters narrowly preferred Bush over Kerry
in 2004, but now 60 percent of them favor Obama.

evangelicals also show far more openness to religious pluralism than
their older counterparts. While only 30 percent of evangelicals over 34
say a person can be moral without believing in God, 44 percent of
younger evangelicals agree with that statement. 

issues that were at the top of many conservative voters’ agendas in
2004 also take a back seat in the latest survey.

issues far outrank concerns over abortion and same-sex marriage as
chief concerns in the election. That holds true even for white
evangelicals, who did not rank abortion or gay marriage among the top
five most important issues.

The survey also shows that younger
voters across religious groups are far more supportive of diplomatic
efforts over military efforts than their elders. Younger voters — and
especially younger Catholics — are also more open to government
solutions to social problems.

“Younger believers — including
Catholics and white evangelicals — are significantly more supportive
of bigger government and expanding diplomatic efforts abroad,” said
Rice University sociology professor Michael Lindsay, a Baptist. “It’s
not surprising, therefore, that they are supporting some of the ideas
put forward by the Democrats in 2008. It may very well be that in this
election, the conventional wisdom about the ‘values voters’ — who they
are and what they want — gets turned on its head.”

The survey
was conducted between Aug. 28 and Sept. 19. It had a margin of error of
plus or minus 2.5 percent for the overall sample, and 3 percent for the
oversample of younger voters.

The poll’s sponsors said it may
be more accurate than many other surveys because it included
mobile-phone numbers, which younger voters rely on as their main
residential number in numbers disproportionate to their elders.

Source: Associated Baptist Press


Entry filed under: Christian, Culture, National. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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