Explaining Evangelicals’ Apathy Thus Far
George Barna has been serving as special analyst for the 2016 election polling, providing commentary and analysis on the race right up to election day in November. He recently joined Glenn Beck to discuss Barna’s latest political research which found that evangelicals are the least likely group to pay attention to the 2016 campaign. Below is a summary of George Barna’s conversation with Glenn Beck:
Some people have struggled to understand why Barna’s latest survey showed that evangelicals are paying less attention to the race than are voters from other faith groups. Here are some of the key reasons for that mild disinterest.
First, evangelicals realize that the information they are getting from the media about the 2016 race is not a fair and balanced picture of reality. The survey pointed out that only 5% of evangelicals believe what they are getting from media sources. That, by itself, dampens the potential for paying very close attention to the race.
Evangelicals are seeking something in a candidate that very few other voters are searching for: strong moral character. The survey points out that identifying a candidate who has laudable character is the chief attribute evangelicals desire in a presidential candidate this year. Given all the moral issues raised about the behavior of various candidates, the difficulty identifying a candidate of high character has limited evangelicals’ interest in the field.
Their attention levels would undoubtedly be higher if their church leaders were directing them to be involved. But it appears that relatively few churches have been active during the primary season. Hopefully that will change before the General Election in November, but thus far evangelicals have received little or no encouragement from their church to pay attention, become well-informed, and get involved in the campaign.
Another barrier to interest has been the muted discussion thus far about several of the issues that the survey showed to be of great significance to evangelicals. Those include abortion and marriage which, along with religious liberty, represent three of their four highest-rated issues of importance in this campaign. The absence of emphasis upon those seminal issues has certainly reduced their attentiveness.
Add some lesser but still meaningful barriers to attentiveness – such as the lack of substance addressed in the numerous debates, and the failure of the GOP to nominate an appealing candidate in the last two elections – and it becomes clear why evangelicals have paid some attention to the race but are not as invested in it as some other faith segments have been.
Keep in mind that the survey did not indicate that evangelicals are oblivious to the race. When adding those who were either very or somewhat attentive together, evangelicals were near the top of the attentiveness scale (84%) along with people from non-Christian faith groups (86%).
In fact, evangelicals believe this election is of paramount importance for the nation’s future and believe that they have an obligation to vote and participate in the process in other ways. But in a year when at least eight evangelical candidates fought for the GOP nomination, it is certainly surprising to find that evangelicals have been less attentive than usual up to this point in the race – until you consider the reasons listed above. Then it makes some sense.
If nothing else, it should shake up the leaders of the Republican Party to recognize that the conduct of the race thus far has diminished the energy and enthusiasm among one of its critical constituencies. That is likely to translate into less money donated, fewer hours volunteered, and less frequent and enthusiastic word-of-mouth on behalf of the GOP candidate. For a party with a razor-thin margin for error in November, that is a dangerous reality to ignore.