Nov 9, 2004

From the Archives

Born Again Christians Were a Significant Factor in President Bush’s Re-Election

Most of President Bush’s supporters did at least two things during the first week of November: they voted to re-elect the President and they went to church. The acclaimed “values voters” turned out in huge numbers on Election Day to support the incumbent and thereby prevent a replay of the 2000 cliffhanger outcome. Had it not been for the unusually high turnout among voters driven by religious convictions, the results might have been different, according to a new nationwide survey by The Barna Group.

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Christians Push Bush Over the Top

Overall, born again Christians supported President George W. Bush by a 62% to 38% margin. In contrast, non-born again voters supported Senator John Kerry by an almost identical 59% to 39% division. The difference was in the rates of turnout of each segment. Although the born again population constitutes just 38% of the national population, it represented 53% of the vote cast in the election. If the born again public had shown up proportional to its population size, Senator Kerry would have won the election by the same three-point margin of victory enjoyed by Mr. Bush.

Evangelicals not only turned out in large numbers; they also gave Mr. Bush an overwhelming endorsement. Although they are just 7% of the voting-aged population, evangelicals constituted 11% of the voters and chose President Bush by an 85% to 15% margin. Non-evangelical born again Christians, who cast a substantial 42% of all votes, sided with the incumbent by a 56% to 44% outcome. The combination of those two Christian voting blocs produced a 62% majority among all born again voters.

Protestants and Catholics Shift Allegiance

In the 2000 election, Catholics were more likely to side with Al Gore than with George W. Bush, with 49% voting for the Democrat Gore and 44% selecting the Republican Bush as their favored candidate. In this year’s race, however, the Catholic vote was evenly split. This indicates that President Bush did not hold on to all of the Catholic support he generated during the campaign, but he was able to increase his Catholic constituency enough to ensure the win this time around.

Protestant voters, on the other hand, increased their support for the President from a slim 51% to 47% tally in 2000 to a more comfortable 57% to 42% landslide in 2004. Turnout among Protestants was significant, rising from 56% of the vote total in 2000 to 62% of the turnout in 2004. In comparison, the percentage of the total votes that were cast by Catholics remained unchanged (24%).

Ethnic Believers Move Toward Bush

One of the most significant shifts since the 2000 election related to the preferences of ethnic voters. Traditionally aligned with Democratic presidential candidates, African Americans remained firmly associated with that party, supplying the challenger a whopping 87% to 13% mandate. However, a key comparison is the shift over the past four years among born again blacks. In 2000, this segment rallied behind Mr. Gore by a 92% to 7% margin. In the current election, the margin of preference was reduced to 85% to 15%. That reflects a doubling of the percentage of the black born again vote delivered to Mr. Bush.

Similarly, tastes have changed among Hispanic voters. Although Hispanics gave Al Gore a 2-to-1 margin of preference in 2000, they were less enthusiastic about Senator Kerry’s candidacy in 2004, giving him a 53% to 45% vote of confidence this year. However, when born again Hispanics are examined, President Bush was the favored candidate by a 56% to 44% differential. Among all Hispanic voters who made it to the polls, those who were born again constituted 5% of the total vote and 48% of the Hispanic voters. That is an unexpectedly high turnout among the born again segment since only four out of ten Hispanics are born again.

White born again voters, however, were the ethnic group that gave the President the biggest lift. In total, 72% of this segment backed the Republican candidate while only 27% supported the Democratic challenger. Nearly four out of every ten votes counted (39%) came from a white born again adult.

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Bush Wins Born Agains of All Ages

As expected, young adults voted heavily for Senator Kerry. Voters under 30 awarded him 60% of their votes. However, when the entire Baby Bust generation is studied – that is, people of ages from 21 to 39 – President Bush received a slight majority (51%, compared to Senator Kerry’s 48%). The Texan also won among Baby Boomers (55% to 44%) and among Elders (i.e., people 59 or older, 51% versus 48%).

Faith was a factor even across generations. Among born again Busters, Mr. Bush defeated Mr. Kerry 62% to 38%. The difference was even more robust among born again Boomers (Bush 68% to Kerry 32%), and slightly larger than the 59% to 40% margin won among born again Elders.

Religious Convictions Emerge

Other indicators of religious conviction demonstrated President Bush’s appeal to the Christian community. For instance, 61% of the people who regularly attend religious services voted for him, compared to just 30% of the vote among unchurched adults. Similarly, those who described themselves as “committed Christians” chose the incumbent by a 60% to 39% margin; those who said they were “deeply spiritual” preferred the President by a 58% to 41% gap; and voters who said they were “concerned about the moral condition of the nation” registered a 55% Bush vote.

Adults who have an “active faith” – that is, in the past week they had attended a church service, prayed to God, and read the Bible outside of church – also provided the President with a 2-to-1 margin of preference (67% to 33%).

Other Election Insights

The Barna survey also discovered other intriguing insights into the re-election of President Bush.

» Seven out of ten people who voted for Mr. Bush (69%) had decided to support him at the time he announced he was running for re-election. In contrast, less than half of Mr. Kerry’s supporters (48%) said they were supporters upon his announcement.

» Mr. Kerry fared much better than Mr. Bush did in televised public events. Whereas Mr. Bush picked up 16% of his eventual supporters thanks to the Republican convention or the debates, Mr. Kerry won over 33% of his enthusiasts in response to the Democratic convention or the presidential debates.

» The final two weeks of the campaign were Bush friendly. During the final 14 days, Mr. Bush won 52% of the undecided voters while Mr. Kerry gleaned 47%.

» During the past year, nearly one out of every four voters switched from one candidate to the other – and those realignments were evenly divided. People who switched from Bush to Kerry were largely Protestant (67%), born again (65%), regular church-goers (77%) and non-white (48%). Those who jumped ship to side with the Bush candidacy were typically married (66%), born again (55%), weekly church-goers (71%), and self-described”committed Christian” adults (76%). Only 23% of those moving from Kerry to Bush were non-white.

» The constituencies in which switching candidates was most likely included Catholics (15% realigned during the campaign), Baby Busters (16%), Hispanics (19%), and Independent voters (21%). The voter segments least likely to switch horses included unchurched adults (only 7% moved) and Republicans (6%, just half as many as among Democrats).

» The dominant reasons given by voters for their candidate selection differed greatly. Bush backers were most likely to identify the President’s character (33%) or his views on national security as their impetus for support. Mr. Kerry’s enthusiasts were most likely to cite the fact that he was not George Bush (24%), with others mentioning the Senator’s stand on Iraq (17%) or the fact that he was a Democrat (12%).

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Historical Perspective

The election reflects the most cohesive outpouring of support from the born again community in quite some time, according to researcher George Barna. “In 1996, born again adults gave Mr. Dole a slim 49% to 42% margin of preference against Mr. Clinton. In 2000, they awarded Mr. Bush a 15-point margin. They upped the ante this time, giving Mr. Bush a 24-point margin. Upon examining their reasons for doing so, it is clear that they were more interested in the character of the candidate and the worldview that forms the basis of his decision-making than they were in specific issues. In fact, relatively few voters seemed to be driven by issues, regardless of which candidate they embraced. This election was more of a statement about people’s feelings toward George W. Bush as a leader and as a person than it was about a particular issue.”

Research Methods

The data described in this report are based on a nationwide telephone survey conducted from November 3-6, 2004 by The Barna Group. In total, 1004 adults were interviewed, providing a maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample of adults is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

People in the 48 continental states were eligible to be interviewed and the distribution of those individuals coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. population. The data were subjected to minimal statistical weighting to calibrate the survey base to national demographic proportions. Households selected for inclusion in the telephone sample received multiple callbacks to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of qualified individuals.

“Born again Christians” were defined in these surveys 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 were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.” Being classified as “born again” is not dependent upon church or denominational affiliation or involvement.

“Evangelicals” are a subset of born again Christians in Barna surveys. In addition to meeting the born again criteria, evangelicals also meet seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; contending that they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; stating that Satan exists; maintaining that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; asserting that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; saying that the Bible is totally accurate in all it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Further, respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.” Being classified as “evangelical” is not dependent upon any church or denominational affiliation or involvement.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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