Feb 22, 2010

From the Archives

Christian Support for Obama Declines

Barack Obama was swept into office on a wave of hopes and dreams founded on his promises of a better life and a more competent government. With this first year in office now behind him, many Americans are considerably less enthusiastic about his performance than expected. A new survey conducted by The Barna Group shows that Christians, who formed a large segment of his support, are even less enthralled with the president’s handling of the job than are other Americans.

In the 2008 election, 42% of all born again adults voted for Barack Obama. The born again vote represented 40% of his aggregate support in the general election.

Job Satisfaction

Most Americans are not satisfied with the job the president is doing. Currently, just 42% are either completely satisfied (15%) or somewhat satisfied (27%). One-quarter of adults (24%) are divided, saying they are “somewhat satisfied and somewhat dissatisfied.” The remaining 30% are either “mostly dissatisfied (13%) or “somewhat dissatisfied” (17%). Only a few (4%) don’t know how to assess the president’s job performance.

The picture is less rosy when looking at the ratings given to the president by committed Christians. Among evangelicals, only 18% are satisfied (just 6% are “completely satisfied”) while 69% are dissatisfied (including 38% who are “completely dissatisfied”). Among all born again Christians – one-fifth of whom are evangelicals and four-fifths of whom are not – the ratings are not quite as scathing, but are notably worse than those provided by non-Christian adults: 35% are satisfied and 36% are dissatisfied. Among adults who are not born again the president fares much better, with such people twice as likely to be satisfied as dissatisfied (48% satisfied, 24% are not).

When political affiliations and faith commitments are merged, the numbers are also quite diverse. A majority of registered Republicans (55%) are born again. Among them, only 9% are satisfied with President Obama’s performance to date, compared to 67% who are not. That rating is slightly less positive than the 15% satisfaction and 58% dissatisfaction found among Republicans who are not born again.

The picture is decidedly different among Democrats, among whom 47% are born again. Among born again Democrats, President Obama has satisfied 62% and dissatisfied 10%. That is not quite as upbeat a view as held by Democrats who are not born again, 76% of whom are satisfied and 8% of whom are dissatisfied.

Independent voters are notably less pleased with the president, regardless of their faith leanings. Thirty-seven percent are born again, the lowest proportion of born again adults found among the three partisan affiliations. Among the born again Independents, 25% are satisfied and 38% dissatisfied. Among the Independents who are not born again, 44% are satisfied and 21% are dissatisfied.

Ideological Consistency
Two-thirds of all American adults feel that the president has conformed to their ideological expectations of him. Among those who feel he is different than expected, they are twice as likely to say he has been more liberal than expected (21%) than to say he is more conservative than anticipated (10%).

Mr. Obama has been especially surprising to evangelicals (25% said he is more liberal than expected, 4% said more conservative) and born again adults (24% vs. 9%, respectively). Catholics were about equally likely to be surprised by his liberal leanings as by his conservative tendencies (16% more liberal, 14% more conservative) than were Protestants, who were three times more likely to see the president as more liberal than expected than to consider his performance more conservative than they foresaw (23% more liberal, 8% more conservative).

People who are not associated with the Christian faith had varying views on this matter. For instance, people who belong to a non-Christian faith group were about evenly divided as to whether the president is more liberal than expected (14%) or more conservative than expected (12%). Atheists and agnostics, however, were more likely to say he has been more conservative (23%) than more liberal (15%) in relation to their expectations.

Specific Performance Ratings
In filling one of the most demanding and complex jobs on earth, the president addresses numerous areas of governance. The Barna survey explored people’s ratings of Mr. Obama’s performance in seven of those areas.

Most Americans believe the president’s top priority should be the restoration of the national economy. In this area just 42% are satisfied with the president’s efforts to date. Satisfaction was registered among just 26% of evangelicals, 38% of all born again Christians, and 46% of adults who are not born again. Catholics were marginally more satisfied (43%) than were Protestants (39%). Born again Democrats were among the president’s biggest supporters of his economic performance, with 63% satisfied. In contrast, only 15% of born again Republicans and 32% of born again Independents were satisfied.

The standout dimension of the president’s efforts relates to the environment, where a majority of Americans (58%) are satisfied with the president’s work. While evangelicals are among his biggest critics on environmental matters (only 40% were satisfied), a majority of all born again (55%) as well as non-born again adults (60%) are satisfied. The partisan divide was as big as ever in this dimension, with just 31% of born again Republicans, 51% of born again Independents, and 73% of born again Democrats approving of the president’s work in this area.

About half of the nation (52%) believes the chief executive has done a satisfactory job of fighting terrorism. That includes only one-quarter of evangelicals (27%), slightly less than half of all born again Christians (47%) and a slight majority of non-born again adults (55%). Two-thirds of born again Democrats (67%), less than half of born again Independents (44%) and barely one-fourth of born again Republicans gave Mr. Obama the thumbs up in this area.

In each of the other four dimensions of job performance that were measured in the Barna study a minority of the public was satisfied with the president’s efforts.

Forty-seven percent are satisfied with his tax policies and activities. Not surprisingly, he fared best among non-born again adults (51%), less well among all born again individuals (43%), and worst among evangelicals (24%). Seven out of ten born again Democrats approved of his taxation efforts, which was double his approval rating in this area among born again Independents (33%) and nearly five times the approval score awarded by born again Republicans.

  • Forty-six percent are pleased with how the president has handled the war in the Middle East. Born again (44%) and non-born again adults (48%) straddled the national average, while evangelicals were far less satisfied (30%). A majority of both born again Democrats (64%) and born again Independents (51%) were satisfied, but just one-quarter of born again Republicans (25%) joined them.
  • The president’s campaign promises included plans to reform the political system and restore civility and bipartisan cooperation to the process. Most Americans do not believe he has delivered on that promise yet. Only 43% are satisfied with what he has done to improve the political system, which includes 47% of non-born again adults, 38% of all born agains, and 21% of evangelicals. Feelings on this matter run especially strong along party lines, with Democrats his only significant support base. Fifty-eight percent of born again Democrats approved of his job in improving the political system, compared to only 25% among born again Independents and 15% among born again Republicans.
  • The president’s major initiative during his first year in office failed to impress most Americans. Just 40% said they are satisfied with his work related to the health care system. This ranged from 46% of non-born again people who approved his job, to 33% among all born again individuals, and just 12% of evangelicals. While a small majority of born again Democrats (56%) approved his health care efforts, less than half as many born again Independents concurred (26%), and a mere 7% of born again Republicans indicated their satisfaction in this area.

The survey also revealed several consistent patterns. Non-whites were more supportive of the president’s results during his first year than were whites by an average of 21 percentage points. Downscale adults were typically more supportive than were upscale adults, except in the area of dealing with terrorism. Pre-Boomers (i.e. adults under 45) were invariably more supportive than were adults 45 or older. Single adults – those who have never been married as well as those who were presently divorced or widowed – were an average of 22 points more likely to express satisfaction with the president’s performance in these areas.

The study also found that Protestants and Catholics were generally similar in their views on these matters.

Americans Want It Now
The study suggests that many Americans may be losing their patience with President Obama. While most people recognize the complexities of the job, they have high expectations of their leader and have been generally disappointed during the first year of the Obama administration. Historically it is clear that legislative victories or other public relations efforts are capable of shifting people’s perceptions in a short period of time. However, with the mid-term elections on the horizon and the very real possibility of a significant number of Democratic seats being lost in Congress this November, the president’s sagging image or campaign presence may not be the boon for which many Democratic candidates had hoped.

The Barna data point out that at this stage of Mr. Obama’s tenure, party affiliation is a stronger predictor of people’s perceptions of his performance than is their faith commitment. At the same time, it appears that many committed Christians who were supportive of Mr. Obama during the election campaign are substantially less supportive of him today.

About the Research
This Barna Update is based upon a nationwide tracking study, called OmniPollSM, conducted by The Barna Group. The telephone interviews were derived from a random sample of 1,005 adults selected from across the continental United States, age 18 and older, from February 7 – 10, 2010. Interviews were conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Minimal statistical weighting was used to calibrate the aggregate sample to known population percentages in relation to several key demographic variables.

“Born again Christians” are 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 religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that 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.”

“Downscale” individuals are those whose annual household income is less than $20,000 and who have not attended college. “Upscale” people are those whose annual household income is $75,000 or more and who have graduated from a four-year college.


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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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