2012 Election Day Preview


Research Releasesin Culture & Media•December 21, 2012

Compared to the days leading up to 2008, when Barack Obama was a frontrunner and poised to make inroads among Christian voters, the 2012 presidential race remains without a clear leader. Yet most voters place a high urgency on tomorrow’s outcome: Two-thirds of all likely voters (67%) perceive the 2012 election to be one of the most important races in the past 50 years. From the early primaries through the debates, Barna Group has been tracking the public perceptions of the candidates and the key issues. Here is a look at some of the factors that will affect people’s votes.

The Loneliness Epidemic

Top Candidate Influencers

Of all the factors likely voters will consider when choosing our next president, each candidate’s positions on specific policy issues will be the single most important component for their choice, according to a Barna survey of likely voters. More than four out of five (83%) said that positions on the issues are the most important factor in their decision of which candidate to support on Election Day. The issues that are of greatest significance are health care and tax policy.

The second most common factor that voters will examine when making their candidate selection is the character of the men running. Half of all likely voters (51%) listed this as a key matter for them.

Less common factors that will influence people’s choice of candidate include the party affiliation of the candidates (listed by 17% of likely voters); the political experience of the candidates (16%); the candidates’ religious faith (14%); their educational background (6%); their speaking ability (3%); personality (2%); endorsements received (1%); their age (1%); and their physical appearance (less than 1%). Of course, survey respondents may not be fully aware of the factors that influence their presidential selections; however, the research helps to illuminate how they think about their electoral mindset.

Though evangelicals’ top candidate influencers are generally in line with the rest of the population they are much more likely than other voters to consider a candidate’s religious faith to be a motivating factor. Half of evangelicals (50%) listed that as a critical insight compared to just one-quarter of non-evangelical born again voters (23%), and by less than one out of every twenty other voters.

The Key Issues

If a candidate’s stand on key issues is the single most important factor for voters, what are these key issues people care about? The answer to that question depends in part on the person’s spiritual leanings. A nationwide survey by Barna Group, conducted among people likely to vote in November’s election, indicates that the worldview of different religious segments of the population significantly impacts the issues they care about the most.

Among all likely voters, regardless of their faith inclinations, the most influential issues are health care (said to influence their candidate selection “a lot” by 74% of likely voters), tax policy (62%), employment policies and strategies (54%), and plans regarding the nation’s dependence upon foreign oil (52%).

Throughout the campaign season, much has been made of the significance of the candidates’ attention to and positions on traditionally “conservative social issues” such as abortion and gay marriage. The common thinking is that these are issues of primary concern to conservative Christians—especially evangelicals. While that appears to be a generally accurate assessment, it is important to note that among the 12 issues evaluated by respondents, evangelicals rated positions on abortion as third most influential in their candidate selection, and views on gay marriage to be fifth most important. And an analysis of reactions to the dozen issues posed to all survey respondents (regardless of their faith) shows that the areas least likely to impact people’s choice of a president are candidate positions on gay marriage (31%), environmental policy (30%), and abortion (29%).

Division Among Faith Segments

While health care and the economy are top issues for all voters, religious views do affect how voters rank other issues. Among the five belief-based faith segments analyzed in the study—evangelicals, non-evangelical born again adults, notional Christians, adults of other faiths, and religious skeptics (i.e., atheists and agnostics)—evangelicals were notably distinct from other groups in regard to what many considered their “signature issues.”

Among all likely voters, abortion ranked last on the list of influential issues. Among evangelicals, though, it ranked as the third most influential issue. Only taxes and health care were deemed more important in their candidate selection. Similarly, gay marriage was ranked tenth among likely voters, but was fifth on the list among evangelicals who are likely to cast a ballot in November.

Surprisingly, educational policies were deemed the sixth most significant issue to all likely voters but ranked just tenth among evangelicals. Past studies have indicated that evangelicals are generally much less supportive of government involvement in the schooling of their children.

Environmentalism has traditionally been of very limited interest to evangelicals. That continues to be the case in this election, as a candidate’s views on environmental matters placed last among the issues studied. Barely one out of five evangelicals (22%) said it was an issue of top concern to them, compared to 31% of all other likely voters surveyed. Religious engagement also has an affect on voters’ election priorities. People who read the Bible, attended a church service, and prayed during the past week were substantially more likely than voters who are less active in pursuing their faith to rate candidate positions on abortion, gay marriage, and America’s dependence on foreign oil as significant in their candidate selection process. Voters who are less active spiritually were significantly more likely to list environmental policies as especially meaningful in their selection process.

Where Do We Go From Here

Christian Women Voters

Of all voting segments, Christian women are among the most likely to vote—Barna Group projects churchgoing Christian women will comprise the largest share of voters on November 6—in all, 30% of ballots are likely to be cast by churchgoing women. Representing such a high percentage of the population and with such a strong likelihood to vote, Christian women are a particularly important group for politicians and pundits to pay attention to.

When it comes to the political issues Christian women care about, they are not necessarily what one might expect. Wide-held stereotypes suggest Christian women care most about matters of family (i.e., gay marriage, abortion, education), but these are actually quite low on their list of priorities. Instead, as with other likely voters, fiscal matters are at the top of women’s list—healthcare, taxes and employment policies are the top three.

When it comes to the “horse race,” Christian women edge toward the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney (53%), over the incumbent, Barack Obama, but they are more likely to consider voting for President Obama than are Christian men. Among Christian women, 53% support Romney, with 30% definitely planning to vote for the conservative.

Interestingly, Christian women are slightly less likely than other voters to say the candidate’s position on specific policy issues was a critical factor. (It is still perceived by these women as their most important decision point, but less so than for other voters.) What is notable is that Christian women are most likely to mention the candidate’s character and faith, even more so than Christian men.

The Hispanic Vote

Much has been made of the growing Hispanic vote and how will it affect the 2012 election. In an August-September 2012 survey of 2,046 U.S. adults who are of Latino or Hispanic background, Barna examined the factors affecting this important voting bloc.

Like other Americans, a candidate’s stand on key issues is the most important factor for Hispanic voters—however, it’s less important (60%) for Hispanics than for all adults (78%). Hispanics name a candidate’s character (32%) and their political experience (28%) as additional factors that significantly affect their vote.

Overall, Hispanic likely voters prefer the Democratic incumbent Barack Obama to the Republican challenger Mitt Romney (55% to 20%, with 19% undecided as of September). Catholics support President Obama by a three-to-one margin (58% to 18%), while Protestants slightly prefer the Republican (38% to 33%). Non-Christian Hispanics are likely to support Obama by roughly a two-to-one gap (53% to 23%).

Still, despite President Obama’s lead on Governor Romney, his level of support seems to have waned among Hispanics by comparison to 2008. At the same time four years ago, 58% said they would vote for Obama (rather than 53%), and just 15% of the Hispanic electorate was favoring the Republican candidate John McCain. In other words, Romney’s gap among all Hispanic voters is 30 points compared to 43 points for McCain four years ago—and the Mormon candidate has significantly closed the gap among Hispanic Protestants and now leads among this segment of voters.

Hispanics overwhelmingly say President Obama is the candidate most committed to improving the Hispanic quality of life—64% compared to 10% who say Romney is more committed to improving Hispanic quality of life.

Finally, one-fifth (21%) of likely Hispanic voters and one-third (37%) of Protestant Hispanic voters said they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate. Thus, even though Obama is likely to “win” a majority of Hispanics, the question of what margin he will carry hangs in the balance between the decreased enthusiasm for the incumbent and reservations about Romney’s faith.

Millennial Voters

In 2008, Barack Obama made significant inroads with younger digital-friendly voters, helping to boost the candidate to the highest elected office. This year is no different, with 61% of 18-29-year olds saying they prefer the Democrat, compared to 52% of voters ages 30-plus. Among born again Christian Millennials, 54% say they prefer Mitt Romney, which is lower than older Christians. Still, this finding shows that support for Obama has decreased sharply among younger born again Christians; in 2008, seven out of ten younger born again Christians were planning to vote for the Democrat.

This year, Millennial Christians are quite focused on economic issues, even more so than are other Millennials. They are most concerned about healthcare (65%), education (51%), taxes (48%), and employment (41%). These economic motivations are more important to born again Millennials than are abortion (36%) or gay marriage (35%).

Interestingly, despite their generation’s increasing skepticism about faith in the public square, nearly half of Millennial born again Christians (41%) said the faith of the candidate is something they would consider when voting, which compares to just 1% of non-Christian Millennial voters.

Spiritual Conversations

Elective Urgency

One of the intriguing findings of the research was the urgency most voters are placing on November’s outcome. Evangelicals and non-evangelical born again Christians are especially likely to express this perspective (73% and 76%, respectively). Skeptics—the segment comprised of atheists and agnostics—are the least likely (56%) to see November’s election as unusually important. Protestants were much more likely than Catholics to perceive this year’s election to be more important than usual (74% compared to 61%).

One of the reasons for such perceived importance is that more than three—quarters of all likely voters (76%) are discouraged by the direction of the nation’s political environment. Only 11% say they are encouraged by the course the nation’s political environment is taking, with the remaining 13% saying they are on the fence. Likely voters who are evangelicals are the religious segment most discouraged (85%) while people aligned with non-Christian faith groups are the least discouraged (69%).

About the Research

Each of the studies referenced in this report are based upon representative, random and nationwide public opinion polls conducted by Barna Group. Methodological details are available for each study in the hyperlink referenced, with the following exception:

Hispanics – A total of 2,046 interviews were conducted among Hispanics living in the United States; 1,044 online and 1,002 by phone in August and September 2012. The sampling error for 2,046 interviews is +/-2.2 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level. Oversampling of Protestants was conducted to help represent this important part of the emerging profile of Hispanic faith. The overall findings were weighted to the natural, national distribution of Catholics and Protestants. Other slight statistical weighting was used to calibrate the sample to known population percentages in relation to demographic variables. In this study, 40% of the total interviews in the study were conducted with respondents on their cell, mobile, or smart phones. This was done to ensure households that only use a cell or mobile were included. Additional research findings from this study are scheduled to be released the week after the 2012 election.

Disclosure: Barna Group is not under contract with any of the presidential candidates, nor has it endorsed any candidates.

Research Definitions

Definitions used in this report are based on various survey questions. For instance, the category described as “born again Christians” is defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”

“Evangelicals” meet the born again criteria (described above) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing Satan exists; believing eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.”

“Non-evangelical born again Christians” represent adults who meet the born again criteria but not the additional evangelical criteria.

“Churchgoing” refers to those who have attended a religious service in the last six months at a Christian church.

About Barna Group

Barna Group (which includes its research division, the Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. It conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to moral and spiritual development, and works with a variety of organizations to facilitate the healthy moral and spiritual growth of leaders, children, families, individuals, and Christian ministries.

Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each update on the latest research findings from Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Other research-based resources are also available through this website.

 

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