The Largest Voting Bloc
Using four categories to distinguish the nation’s electorate, the Barna study looks at voter preferences, political perspectives and candidate choices. The four voter segments include: (1) Christian, churchgoing women; (2) Christian, churchgoing men; (3) non-churchgoing women and (4) non-churchgoing men. In other words, these four segments represent the full scope of the electorate in four buckets of voters, comparing men and women across religiously active and inactive lines.
The findings from these four categories reveal the importance of Christian, churchgoing women to the outcome of this fall’s contest. Christian women are among the most likely to intend to vote. Overall, 79% of Christian women say they definitely plan to vote, compared to 76% of churchgoing men. It’s worth noting that the motivation gap between Christian men and other men (60%) is actually smaller than that between Christian women and other women (52%).
Of the four voter segments analyzed, Barna Group projects that 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, 22% by other women, 20% by churchgoing men and 28% by other men. 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 this fall.
The Issues They Care About
Just because Christian women are likely to vote, doesn’t mean they are particularly pleased with the political process these days. In fact, three quarters of Christian women (74%) report a strong sense of discontentment with the political environment. Typically this sentiment signals how engaged a group of people are in the political process and often translates into above-average voter turnout.
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. In fact, abortion and gay marriage are second and third to last (respectively), with only environmental policy being lower.
Instead, fiscal matters are at the top of women’s list—healthcare, taxes and employment policies are the top three. Then come matters of safety: terrorism, dependence on oil and wars in the Middle East.
On the issues, Christian women compare to other groups in the following ways:
• They are the segment of voters most likely to point to education, healthcare and employment policies as having “a lot” of influence on how they plan to vote.
• Compared to other women they are particularly unmotivated by environmental policies.
• Christian men are comparatively more motivated than Christian women by the issue of dependence on foreign oil.
• Christian men and Christian women are more likely than other non-churchgoing segments to focus on abortion and gay marriage. However, these issues are rated equally important by both Christian men and Christian women—near the bottom of the list of hot-button issues for both sexes.
• Christian women and other non-churchgoing women are equally likely to find motivation this fall around domestic violence issues.
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, puts these patterns in perspective. “During harder economic times, moral issues are less of a priority than the pressure of finances, jobs and survival. Though it has never been accurate that Christian voters only care about two issues—abortion and gay marriage—the influence of issues typically associated with the ‘Christian right’ may be more diffused than in previous contests.”
Who Will They Vote For?
When it comes to the “horse race,” Christian women edge toward the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, 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. For their part, Christian men are much more likely to be in the Republican column (58% total and 34% definite).
Conventional political wisdom holds that party affiliations win the day, but women say that’s not the most important thing to them. A candidate’s stand on political issues is by far the most important (72%), followed by the candidate’s character (52%) and the candidate’s religious faith (27%). After that, other voting factors drop substantially in importance: party affiliation (13%), the candidate’s education (6%), speaking ability (4%), personality (3%), age (1%), endorsements (1%), and physical appearance (0.5%).
Interestingly, Christian women are slightly less likely than other voters to say the candidate’s position on 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.
About the Research
The study on which this report is based included online surveys with 1,005 adults who were randomly chosen from the 48 continental states. Those individuals were screened for their likelihood of voting in the 2012 General Election in November based on four factors. The filtering process, based on a series of questions related to voter registration, interest in the election, perceived importance of this year’s race, past voting history, and voting intent in 2012, produced a base of 647 likely voters. The maximum margin of sampling error for a sample of that size is estimated to be within +/-4.0 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. There are other forms of survey error that cannot be statistically estimated. The study was conducted between March 14 and 21, 2012.
In this research, Christian women and Christian men include those who self-identify as Christian and who have attended a church worship service at least once in the last six months. The study included 234 Christian women who are likely voters (+/-6.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level).
The “non-churchgoing segments” included inactive Christians, other faith groups and skeptics, but the common characteristic is that they are not actively attending a faith community of any type or they are not affiliated with Christianity.
“Skeptics” are individuals who identify themselves as atheists or agnostics.
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.
© Barna Group 2012.