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Younger religious voters have different, more liberal values

by Brad A. Greenberg

October 8, 2008 | 4:00 pm

I missed the conference call with reporters 30 minutes ago, but I’ve still got the summarized findings from a new poll by Faith in Public Life. The survey focused on the politics of youngish—18 to 34—religious folks.

“Younger believers—including Catholics and white evangelicals—are significantly more supportive of bigger government and expanding diplomatic efforts abroad.  It’s not surprising, therefore, that they are supporting some of the ideas put forward by the Democrats in 2008. It may very well be that in this election, the conventional wisdom about the ‘values voters’—who they are and what they want—gets turned on its head,” D. Michael Lindsay, author of “Faith In The Halls of Power,” who provided analysis on the call, said.

You’ll recognize a lot of common themes in these bullet points:

Monthly worship attenders swing to Obama in 2008. The greatest shift in candidate preference between 2004 and 2008 has occurred among all voters who attend religious services once or twice a month, moving from 49% support for Kerry in 2004 to 60% support for Obama in 2008.

More Americans think Obama is friendly to religion than McCain. Forty-nine percent of Americans say Obama is friendly to religion, while 45% say McCain is friendly to religion. More than seven-in-ten (71%) say it is important for public officials to be comfortable talking about religious values.

Younger white evangelicals strongly oppose abortion rights but are less conservative and more supportive of same-sex marriage than older evangelicals.  Young white evangelicals are strongly opposed to abortion rights, with two-thirds saying abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Yet, less than a majority (49%) of younger evangelicals identify as conservative, compared to nearly two-thirds (65%) of older evangelicals.  Among young evangelicals, a majority favor either same-sex marriage (24%) or civil unions   (28%), compared to a majority (61%) of older evangelicals who favor no legal recognition of gay couples’ relationships.

Younger white evangelicals are more pluralistic and more supportive of active government at home and of diplomacy abroad. While less than one-third (30%) of older evangelicals say a person can be moral without believing in God, 44% of younger evangelicals affirm this idea, a 14-point gap. A majority (56%) of younger evangelicals believe diplomacy rather than military strength is the best way to ensure peace, compared to only 44% of older white evangelicals. Younger white evangelicals are also more likely than older white evangelicals to favor a bigger government offering more services, by a margin of 21 points (44% and 23% respectively).

Americans say economy, energy and gas prices, and health care are the most important issues in 2008. Americans rank the economy (83%) and energy/gas prices (76%), and health care (71%) as the most important issues in the 2008 election. Economic issues topped the list of most important issues among all religious groups.

Americans rank abortion and same-sex marriage as the least important issues in 2008. Only 43% and 28% respectively say these issues are very important issues to their vote in 2008. White evangelicals do not rank abortion or same-sex marriage in their top five most important voting issues.

Generation gap on same-sex marriage is large and increasing. Nearly half (46%) of young adults say gay couples should be allowed to marry, compared to only 29% of Americans overall. Over the last two years, support for same-sex marriage among young adults has jumped 9 points (from 37% to 46%), and the generation gap has nearly doubled.

Support for same-sex marriage is significant among young religious Americans. Among young white mainline Protestants and Catholics, close to half (48% and 44% respectively) support same-sex marriage. Young white evangelicals are 2.5 times as likely as older evangelicals to say that gay couples should be allowed to marry (25% to 9%).

You can scan the entire report here.

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