A common question from over the last few years has been for proof that the movement I describe has a real and measurable constituency. "Give us a sign," they say. The headline from the latest Barna Group report is another such sign: "Born Again Voters No Longer Favor Republican Candidates." (Barna defines "born again Christians" this way: "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.") In the report's words:
One of the most reliable constituencies of the Republican Party in recent years has been born again Christians. A new national survey of likely voters conducted by The Barna Group, however, shows that the Republicans have lost the allegiance of many born again voters. The November election is truly up for grabs - and if the election were held today, most born again voters would select the Democratic Party nominee for president, whoever that might be. ... The new Barna study shows that if the election were to be held today, 40 percent of all born again adults who are likely to vote in November would choose the Democratic candidate and just 29 percent would choose the Republican candidate. The remaining 28 percent are currently not sure whom they would choose ...
Barna also polls what they call "A subset of the born again population - evangelicals ...," (defined by Barna as the most theologically conservative), who they say "remained firmly committed to conservative ideals and, to a lesser extent, to the Republican Party." Yet here, too, is an amazing shift:
If the election were held today, only 45 percent of evangelicals say they would support the Republican nominee for president, and 11 percent would support the Democratic representative. Most significant is that a whopping 40 percent of evangelicals are undecided. This is extraordinary, given that 62 percent of evangelicals voted for the Republican candidate in 1992, 67 percent did so in 1996, along with 67 percent in 2000 and 85 percent in 2004.
Now, let me be clear that this shift does not by itself necessarily equal a movement for social justice - such a movement must never be the property of any political party. But this poll does demonstrate seismic shifts in the issues most important to this critical constituency. The old litmus tests no longer apply, and a broader set of issues now compel their votes. Who the candidates are and their position on a broad range of issues will matter. As Barna concludes (emphasis added):
Today we have a greater proportion of faith-driven voters who are concerned about issues that are often thought of as 'liberal' social policy concerns, such as poverty and health care. Abortion and family protection remain significant issues to the faith constituency, but they are not the only issues that matter to the group - or even the driving issues. Relying upon traditional stereotypes of born again or evangelical voters will not serve candidates well this year.