Our Present Political Moment, in Numbers


Articles in Culture & Media • November 6, 2018

Americans head to the polls today for the 2018 midterm elections. All 435 congressional seats, 35 of the 100 Senate seats and 39 governorships will be contested. These midterms also mark the halfway point of President Trump’s first four-year term. Throughout this unprecedented and contentious season, Barna has been tracking key issues and trends related to the United States’ political climate. In light of this pivotal mid-term election, we’ve compiled highlights from Barna’s recent studies that may help provide context—or prompt more questions—about our present political moment.

Most Americans Comfortable with Equal Numbers of Women and Men in Congress
There are a record number of women running for election in this year’s midterms, particularly women of color. This year could see some significant changes when it comes to the amount of women in political office. Barna’s recent research on the public perception of women in places of influence or power in American society shows almost all American adults are comfortable with equal amounts of women and men in Congress (95%). However, two-thirds of American adults (67%) still believe it is easier for a man than a woman to get elected to high political offices. Despite a widespread level of comfort with female leadership among the general population, many still feel there are significant obstacles impeding women’s path to the top. And within the Church—among evangelicals, especially—support for women in leadership and acknowledgment of the challenges women may face lags significantly.

In One Year, the Percentage of Those Who Think Too Many Immigrants Come to the U.S. Dropped 7 Points
Immigration has been a front-and-center issue for the midterms, particularly surrounding President Trump’s recent intention to use an executive order to end birthright citizenship. But attitudes about immigration also shaped much of his campaign and the start of his term in 2017. First, Trump’s comments about immigrants from Mexico had a significant impact on 2016 voters, more so than other election stories. Then, in addition to ongoing coverage of the refugee crisis, headlines and social media discussion swirled around Trump’s plans to build a southern border wall, halt travel from Muslim-majority nations and repeal DACA. Barna was curious if these policies and continued emphasis on the plight of refugees might have affected Americans’ opinions on this oft-debated topic. Data from 2017, some of which follows up on questions asked in 2016, revealed that the public sentiment toward immigrants and refugees was generally warm—and, on several points, had shifted radically toward a softer view over the course of the year. It remains to be seen whether this trend has continued, and how a Republican hardline on immigration will impact voters’ decisions for local and state representation.

Barna Trends 2018

Notional Christians Delivered 58 Million Votes in the 2016 Election
The complex role of Christian faith in today’s political climate is a subject that has been hotly debated, especially since Trump’s victory—often credited to the turnout of white evangelical voters—shocked millions of Americans in 2016. Political activities and statements of national Christian leaders and the centrality of faith-related issues in both the 2016 and now 2018 elections have provided a growing number of religion reporters with plenty of material. Even in the last week, the New York Times ran a story on young evangelicals and the increasing conflict they feel between their faith and their politics. While the conversation about evangelicals takes center stage, Barna’s last post-election study underscored the sizeable influence of notional Christians, who delivered 58 million votes in 2016. Meanwhile, George Barna, who served as a special analyst for the 2016 election, noted that, “The size of the skeptic population continues to grow while the born again community continues to shrink. That is a trend that will be a major challenge for conservative and Republican candidates in the future.”

Most Americans Believe “Fake News” Is More User Error Than Factual Mistake
Despite the current conflict between the White House and journalists, the press still has a decisive influence over the average American’s personal choice to support a certain candidate, though it is increasingly difficult for credible voices to cut through the noise in the new democratic, fast-paced digital age. Dwindling public confidence in institutions, an echo-chamber effect in media consumption and a shift toward the self as the final arbiter of truth are all factors Barna has identified as foundations of a new “post-truth” era, where fact, fiction and feeling are indiscernible from one another. Yet, despite high levels of distrust, people still turn to traditional media outlets for new information. And when it comes to the phenomenon of fake news, most people attribute it to user error, not a problem of made-up stories or of factual mistakes in reporting itself.

Four in 10 Americans Pray For Trump Even Though They Struggle to Trust Him
Apparently a Trump endorsement can decide a race, and there is no shortage of candidates vying for his backing in this year’s midterms. But public influence doesn’t necessarily equate to public favor: For instance, more than half of Americans do not hold much trust in Trump, according to a Barna poll conducted when he assumed the presidency. Meanwhile, more than two in five were willing to trust him either somewhat (23%) or definitely (21%), percentages that double among his voters (51% “definitely” and 43% “somewhat”). Whether because of or in spite of this lack of public confidence in the president, plenty of Americans told Barna that Trump was the subject of their prayers. Overall, as of early 2017, 37 percent of all American adults reported praying for Trump. Evangelicals were the group most active in their prayer, along with majorities of groups with an active Christian faith. These prayers were just as common among black Americans as among white Americans, but less common among those who profess a non-Christian faith or fall into the category of notional Christians.

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About the Research
The statistics and data in this article have been drawn from a series of national public opinion surveys conducted by Barna Group. Minimal statistical weighting was used to calibrate the sample to known population percentages in relation to demographic variables.

Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels

About Barna
Barna research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. 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.

© Barna Group, 2018

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