The commentary that made the rounds during and after the Republican National Convention is that Republicans are locked in an internal battle, hopelessly divided over the issues and the party’s presidential candidate. However, a pair of national surveys conducted by the American Culture and Faith Institute – one of them among theologically conservative Protestant pastors and the other among conservative Christians – indicates that these two segments, which are crucial to GOP hopes for a November victory, are generally in synch in terms of their support for the top-of-the-ticket candidate and regarding which issues matter the most this year.
While the mainstream media generates endless controversy around the candidacy of Donald Trump, the reality is that a huge majority of conservative Christian voters and theologically conservative pastors are throwing their support Trump’s way. Among SAGE Cons – the spiritually active, governance engaged conservative individuals surveyed – 76% currently plan to vote for Mr. Trump. Less than 1% expects to support Mrs. Clinton. Among the theologically conservative Protestant pastors interviewed, a similar proportion – 70% – said they would vote for Mr. Trump. Only 2% plan to vote for Mrs. Clinton.
Parallel surveys among the two groups – theologically conservative pastors and SAGE Cons – revealed that the two segments hold very similar views about the most challenging issues facing the nation. Both groups believe that the two most challenging issues are the moral decline and changing values in America (listed by 26% of the pastors and 21% of the voters) and abortion (named by 21% of each segment).
Other issues on which both groups held similar views included the importance of government size and authority (listed by 15% of pastors, 18% of SAGE Cons); government spending and debt (15% of pastors, 17% of SAGE Cons); religious freedom in the US (15% and 14%, respectively); response to Islamic aggression (9% and 10%); and economic growth and stability (9% of each). There was a handful of issues that showed a small gap between the groups. Interestingly, the breakdown of marriage and family was listed nearly twice as often by pastors (19%) as by SAGE Cons (10%).
Similarly, the importance of judicial nominations was named twice as often by conservative pastors as by conservative Christian voters (17% versus 8%). Christian conservatives were twice as likely as the conservative pastors to list immigration and border security as a key issue (14% versus 7%). SAGE Cons (9%) were also nearly twice as likely as theologically conservative pastors (5%) to mention rule of law and constitutional adherence as key issues. The accompanying data table provides specific results.
According to George Barna, the researcher who directed these studies for the American Culture & Faith Institute, the most important insight from this research may be the story behind the story. “The consistency in the identification and rankings of the key issues is an obvious and important outcome,” the author of more than 50 books about cultural and spiritual trends noted. “But what is arguably the most significant finding is less obvious. “SAGE Cons want to change society but they have limited bandwidth. They therefore put their energy into issues that they believe they can actually influence.
A prime example is the sexual preference battle. SAGE Cons have largely surrendered on same-sex marriage and other LGBT-related issues, as evidenced in this and other recent surveys. They believe same-sex marriage is wrong, that it should not be recognized as legal, nor be granted the same rights and benefits as heterosexual marriage. But they also realize that they are not likely to reverse the tide on those issues right now so they are fighting other battles on more promising fronts.
This is important because these are people who are more likely than the norm to gather information about critical issues, to volunteer in campaigns, to donate to campaigns, and to vote. They are people of action. “Pastors, on the other hand, are largely debaters,” Barna continued. “Our recent studies among clergy show that theologically conservative pastors have little intention of getting involved in the 2016 election contest through preaching, direct campaign activity, or any other way. But they are likely to maintain the view that matters like the breakdown of marriage and family are still major issues and are worth fighting for. They just are not willing to do the fighting and they are not willing to prepare people in their churches to go to battle, either.”
About the Research
The research described in this report comes from two studies conducted during June 2016 by the American Culture & Faith Institute, under the direction of George Barna. One of those was part of the RightView™ longitudinal survey, a national online study undertaken among spiritually active, governance engaged conservative registered voters. That survey involved 2,000 qualified adults.
The other study was part of the Conservative Clergy Canvass (C3)™, a national online longitudinal survey among theologically conservative Protestant pastors. That survey included 600 qualified pastors. In the Conservative Clergy Canvass (C3)™ surveys pastors are classified as theologically conservative based on their responses to several ideological questions as well as their self-description.
ACFI estimates that theologically conservative churches constitute about 30% of the nation’s Protestant churches. That means there are between 90,000 and 105,000 such congregations in the United States, spanning dozens of denominations. That estimate is based on research gauging the theological views of the Senior Pastor of the church and the nature of the church’s statement of faith and teaching on key theological matters.
In the RightView™ studies SAGE Cons are identified as adults who are registered voters; conservative on political matters; have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior; are active in pursuing their Christian faith; and are actively engaged in politics and government. They represent about 12% of the national adult population, which constitutes a segment of approximately 30 million individuals.
The American Culture & Faith Institute is a division of United in Purpose, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The mission of United in Purpose is to educate, motivate and activate conservative Christians related to the political process.
The organization does not support or promote individual candidates or political parties. Additional information about this and related research is accessible on the American Culture & Faith Institute website, located at www.culturefaith.com.