Barna Group Suggested Obama's Share of 2012 Evangelical Vote Could Double
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 01:59:04 PM EST
Amidst digging into the Democratic Party's faith outreach effort for another piece, I came across a striking pre-2012 election voter preference survey from the Barna Group that forecast Barack Obama's support from evangelical voters could double in the 2012 election as compared to support Obama got from evangelicals in 2008, 11%. What happened ? Well, Obama's support from Catholic and minority evangelicals rose slightly, but his support from white Protestant evangelical and born-again Christians plummeted, from 26% in '08 to 20% in '012. Whoops: especially for the DNC's faith outreach effort.  
It's especially intriguing because the Barna Group's forecast for all voters was so accurate - the Group predicted a 52% to 48% split with the slim majority going for Obama in 2012: a striking level of accuracy.

But when it came to forecasting the evangelical vote split, the Barna Group's forecast could hardly have been more off. According to the Barna survey,

"In the 2008 election, a Barna Group election study found that evangelicals gave Mr. Obama just 11% of their votes, even though Republican challenger John McCain was generally not appreciated much by the group. One of the most striking changes emerging from the new study is that if evangelicals wind up supporting the eventual candidates in November in numbers consistent with their current preferences, Mr. Obama will receive double the support from the evangelical community he garnered four years ago (22%)."

I came across the Barna Group survey in an article on the John C. Danforth Center For Religion and Politics website, Meet Derrick Harkins, the Pastor Behind the Democratic Party's Faith Outreach, which noted, of Harkins,

"He has one goal until election day: to get America's faithful as fired up--and more--for Democrats and Obama as they were in 2008. The party made great strides four years ago in conveying themselves as values voters. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Obama picked up 26 percent of the white evangelical vote, up from John Kerry's 21 percent in 2004. He made even stronger gains among religious voters under age 40: he received 33 percent of their vote versus Kerry's 12 percent."

It didn't work out the way Harkins had hoped.

According to the results of a Pew Research Center survey, as covered by the Huffington Post, Obama's "share of the vote increased among four religious groups identified in exit polling data: Hispanic Catholics (from 72 percent to 75 percent), black Protestants (from 94 percent to 95 percent), non-Protestant black Christians (from 94 percent to 95 percent), and those affiliated with Islam and "other faiths" (from 73 percent to 74 percent)."

But Obama did distinctly worse among white Protestant born-again Christians and evangelicals, with his support dropping, from 26 percent in 2008, to 20 percent in 2012.

Maybe Harkins' efforts helped prevent an even worse rout. But it probably didn't help that since at least as far back as 2009, Rev. Derrick Harkins has been listed as being on the advisory board of the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez' National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, an organization spearheading a long-term voter registration push to build up the conservative evangelical Hispanic voter base for the Christian right and the GOP.

Writes Talk To Action co-founder Frederick Clarkson, for Political Research Associates,

"the Christian Right does want the Latino vote, and its targeted approach to mobilize a specific subset of religiously informed Latino voters is aimed for the long run. An expanding conservative evangelical electorate, including a growing Latino demographic, could be decisive in some parts of the country. Rodriguez and the NHCLC are at the center of that outreach through a partnership with the conservative Champion the Vote which aims to build the Christian Right's capacity to win a theocratic power bloc in the American electorate."

But as journalist Bill Berkowitz caustically put it, referring to the less than fully competent efforts of George W. Bush's FEMA director Michael D. Brown in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Rodriguez' efforts were none too successful:

"As one of the Republican Party's go-to guys in the Hispanic community, Rodriguez did a one-heck-of-a-Brownie-like job bringing home the Hispanic vote."

Indeed, when Rev. Rodriguez gave a blessing at the opening night of the 2012 Republican National Convention, it might as well have been a curse.  

In 2008, Obama pulled in 67% of the Hispanic vote. But in 2012, that percentage rose to 71%, with dramatically increased Hispanic voter turnout as well. It might not be a stretch to say that Hispanic voters put Obama back in the White House for another four years. But as Berkowitz observes, in the short run this is only likely to increase Republican reliance on Samuel Rodriguez.

Back to George Barna - in a January 2012 story, I traced Barna's rather extensive connections to C. Peter Wagner's New Apostolic Reformation (in which Samuel Rodriguez himself has served as an apostle, in Wagner's International Coalition of Apostles). As I remarked in a comment attached to the story,

"the NAR is a movement not always known for its honesty, and Barna's ties to the movement raise troubling questions, given that Wagner's NAR seeks to dominate all significant sectors of society. What role does Barna's polling research play in that project, if any? I'm quite curious. "

Around the time I wrote that story, I had an email exchange with one progressive political writer who seem incensed about my pointing out Barna's NAR ties - that's irrelevant, went the claim, because Barna does great research.

He certainly does write a lot of books, that's certain, and the books have snappy, eye-catching covers. Until I buy some (and I will, though not at full retail price), I can't speak to Barna's research overall. My guess is that the Barna Group generally strives for accuracy, for the simple reason that effective movements need accurate data. For the same reason, I tend to trust the research in the epic World Christian Trends, AD 30-AD 2200.

But one thing seems clear - if Democratic strategists had banked on the Barna Group's pre-election voter preference survey, Mitt Romney might now be cashing in and on the way to the White House.

I missed that survey, don't spend as much time with Barna's trends as I used to when I was active in ministry -- if I were to guess, I would think that people in the Evangelical community are becoming more concerned about the environment - about the distribution of wealth - and our increasing tendency to become involved in wars around the world. But even though we describe ourselves as "people of faith" we live in fear. Always afraid that some enemy will destroy what we hold dear. In theory that means we answer some question - "I'm leaning toward support for Obama" but fear takes hold in the ballot box, and we give into the pressure of the voting block and vote GOP. The irony is that even if we take the "right wing propaganda" out of the church in its writings and preaching -- the "Christian/right wing alliance" is so strong that most will follow blindly along. Should anyone actually support the agendas of the progressive movement they find themselves on the outside looking in.

by chaplain on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 12:14:48 PM EST

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