Barna Poll: Religious Beliefs Are the Greatest Influence on Voters

Barna Poll: Religious Beliefs Are the Greatest Influence on Voters


Religious Beliefs Are the Greatest Influence in a Voter’s Decisions

Fewer Americans are going to church these days, but a new national survey reveals that the most likely influence on who people vote for in this year’s presidential contest is their religious beliefs.

The survey conducted by Barna asked a nationwide sample of voters to rate the relative personal impact of ten different sources of influence. Yet, the picture is not uniformly rosy for the religious world. While religious beliefs rank on top of the list of influences, pastors rank at the bottom.

People Resist Admitting to Influence

Opinion research has long shown that Americans resist admitting that their views or behavior are influenced by external sources, and particularly those that overtly seek such influence, such as advertising. The same pattern is common when asking people to estimate the perceived impact of certain influences on their political choices.

Barna’s survey finds that none of the ten sources of influence are considered to have “a lot of influence” on who people will support for President by even as few as one out of every five respondents. The top-rated sources of influence are a person’s religious beliefs (18% say that had “a lot of influence”) and family members (10%). The other eight sources examined fall within the five to eight percent range.

When combining those who say a source exerted either “a lot” or “some” influence upon their choice of a presidential candidate, the rankings change only slightly. The top influence is still religious beliefs, listed by one-third of adults (33%). That was followed by family members and news media, each listed by 28 percent, then friends and television political commentators, each chosen by one-quarter (26%). About one out of every five respondents say that each of four other sources had at least “some influence” on their choice: political commentators on websites and social media, political commentators on radio, political commentators in publications, and advertising by the candidates’ campaigns.

Other findings were released:

Three-quarters of all evangelicals (75%) assign “a lot of influence” to their religious beliefs. One out of five of them also attribute a lot of influence to the pastor of their church (22%) and to family members (21%). No other source tested is mentioned as having a lot of influence by even one out of ten evangelicals. The survey reveals that there are no evangelicals interviewed who say that either campaign advertising or political commentators in publications had “a lot of influence” on their voting choices.

Like evangelicals, non-evangelical born again Christians also place religious beliefs at the top of the list of major influences on their voting choices. Altogether, three in 10 (30%) assigned “a lot of influence” to their religious beliefs. No other entity is listed by at least 10 percent of this group.

Notional Christians – i.e., those adults who describe themselves as Christian but are not born again, a segment that represents nearly half of America’s churchgoing people – assign equal weight to the influence of six different information sources. About one out of every ten notional Christians assign either a lot or some influence to family members (12%), friends (11%), campaign advertising (11%), news media (10%), religious beliefs (10%), and their pastor (9%). Not far behind are political commentators on television and in publications (each at 7%) and political commentators on radio and on websites and social media (6% each). Statistically speaking there is no meaningful difference in the perceived influence of any of the ten sources evaluated.

A deeper dive into the data for all born again Christians – both evangelicals and the non-evangelical born again adults combined – reveals differences in influence according to age.

Nearly half of those under 50 say their religious beliefs have “a lot” of influence on their political choices compared to just one-third of the born again adults 50 or older concurring.

Looking more closely at the youngest segment, born again adults under 30 are more than two times as likely as older born agains to claim that each of five sources have “a lot of influence” on their political decisions. Those sources are friends, campaign advertising, and all manner of political commentators in the media.

The research also indicates that born again men and women have slightly different influence patterns. Men were twice as likely to assert that they are influenced a lot by their pastor, by family members, and by the news media. Born again women, on the other hand, are considerably more likely than men to admit to be greatly influenced by their religious beliefs and by campaign advertising.

The survey results underscore the importance of faith in helping Christians figure out how to vote, continues George Barna. “There is great potential for churches and pastors to impact voting decisions. In fact, one out of every four Americans say they trust their church or pastor to exert a lot of influence on their political choices. What a tremendous opportunity for churches to position themselves as relevant to people’s life choices while taking advantage of an available opportunity to influence people’s lives.

The research reveals that most pastors have chosen to not speak to their congregants about the issues or the candidates involved in this year’s election, which might explain the low-ranked influence of pastors in this study. But if more pastors were willing to teach their congregants how to think biblically about political issues, matters of governance, and candidate selection, the election campaign might have been dramatically altered.”

Barna, who began the firm in 1984 and sold it in 2009, also pointed out the willingness of young voters to be influenced by many sources of political information.

George Barna pointed out that the research also supports the widely-held belief about the political influence of churches and religious beliefs on evangelicals. “Pastors and people’s religious beliefs had the most prolific levels of influence on the political choices of evangelicals,” Barna added. “The influence of the two religious inputs examined was four times greater on evangelicals than it was on all other people associated with the Christian faith. Evangelicals take a lot of criticism for their blending of faith and politics, but they believe that their faith is meant to be integrated into every dimension of their life. The research shows that they are following through on that belief.”

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