Monday, October 09, 2006

Even Among Evangelicals, Candidates' Religion Matters Less Than Supposed

The October 8 Columbus Dispatch reports the surprising results of two polls it jointly conducted with the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics:

The surveys of more than 2,200 people show that Ohioans are deeply conflicted over several flash points: candidates talking publicly about their religious beliefs, public officials’ closeness to religious leaders, clergy members talking politics from the pulpit, and whether matters such as poverty and health care are just as much religious issues as abortion and same-sex marriage.

The twin polls also reveal sharp disagreements between the public and clergy members over the proper roles of religion and politics.

One of the more striking findings of the surveys was the differences between the clergy members and their flocks, especially among conservative Christians, defined here as white Protestants who consider themselves evangelical or born-again. For example:

• 83 percent of those pastors say they plan to vote for Republican J. Kenneth Blackwell for governor, while just 44 percent of white Protestant evangelical voters are backing Blackwell, now secretary of state.

• 42 percent of the pastors have been involved in some type of political activity in the past year, more than 2½ times the rate of their parishioners. (Some of that difference might be explained by the fact that most pastors are better educated and thus more likely to play an active role in the political process, Green said.)

• 53 percent of the pastors say they encourage their members to vote one way or the other, double the rate of parishioners who say their pastors provide such guidance.

The wide disconnect between pulpit and pew has not turned up in other studies, [John] Green [of the Bliss Institute] said.

"We tend to think of these religious communities as very monolithic. We presume the flock is following in lock step.

"There’s no question that the ministers have influence on their followers, but not as much as we may have thought," he said.

Full story

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