About that 44%: Did White Evangelicals Stay Away in Alabama?

There was a lot of conversation yesterday while folks were waiting for the final Alabama Senate returns to come in. In my circles, much of it circled around a pattern in the exit polls: Only 44% of the those polled were White Evangelicals compared to 47% in previous election cycles. Right away, the explainers showed up. There is a very good analysis from Sarah Pulliam Bailey in the Washington Post. Christianity Today reported that Al Mohler told CNN that Roy Moore was “a bridge too far” that caused white evangelicals to stay away. Still, 80% of White Evangelicals (using the Washington Post Exit Poll) voted for Moore, pretty much that same figure as the 2016 presidential election.

Evangelicals Alabama

Determining whether this supposed defection happened or not is challenging for a couple of reasons. First, we have the ongoing problem of self-identified evangelicals. More importantly, the exit poll conflates race and religion. Were there fewer willing to call themselves evangelicals? Fewer whites as a percentage? We are left with the 44% data point without any particular strategy for interpreting it.

The more significant dynamic in the outcome is race. Not only did the exit polls show an extremely lopsided support for Jones among Black voters, but the exit poll also shows interesting variations from past registration patterns.

Race Alabama

According to Alabama state records, Whites make up 71% of active eligible voters while Blacks make up 26%. But the exit poll above shows that Black voters were a larger share of the electorate than their registration would suggest while White voters underperformed (consistent with some late reporting last night).

Because the evangelical percentages are conflated with race, an increase in the percentage of Black vote will simultaneously increase the non-white-evangelical vote. It’s quite possible that the evangelical vote didn’t change from prior elections — they just made up a smaller slice of the electorate because of the increase in the non-white population.

In the methodology section of the Post’s story, they explain that there were 2,387 people interviewed in the exit poll. So I took that number, multiplied it by the respective category percentages, then multiplied that number times the percentage going to each candidate.

Workbook1

For example, 44% of 2387 is 1050 and 80% of those voted for Moore which gives him 840 votes out of the 2387 with Jones getting 189. When you add the columns together, you see that Jones wins with this breakdown by 71 votes or roughly 3%. If the White Evangelical vote had been 47% of the total (which reduces the other row to 53%), Moore wins by 12 votes (right at the half-percent official recount level).

When we look at the racial breakdown, we see a much more plausible explanation of the results (which, as I’ve said, get conflated with the evangelical variable). Using the same logic Moore gets 1071 White votes (66% of 2387 times his 68% share). Because the Black vote for Moore was so small (4%) the vote count drops to zero among Blacks (it’s actually 4% of one vote). Jones, on the other hand, picks up 1137 votes and wins by 66 votes (the 2.8% is pretty close to what I was hearing of the margin by the end of the night last night). If the Black vote had matched the distribution of eligible active voters (chart on the right), Moore would have won by 2%.

It turns out that while we were all focused on Moore’s past problems with teenagers, the Alabama NAACP had been heavily organizing get out the vote campaigns, keeping people aware of the upcoming special election, and making sure that voters could get to the polls. The Alabama Secretary of State had estimated the Black turnout at 25% but the NAACP argued that this was low.

If the Black turnout was higher than normal (matching Obama’s first election), that also drives up the non-white-evangelical vote share.

It may well be that white evangelicals opted to stay home or to cast their vote for Kenny Stabler. And it’s still true that a huge majority of them voted for Moore in spite of everything. These are questions that still need to be explored with good research and not just eyeballing exit polls.

But for now, my money is on an energized Black vote that isn’t likely to sit out future elections.

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Is theology ever really an independent variable?: More on defining evangelicals

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I’ve been wrestling with investigating evangelicals for years. I was going to post some relevant links, but about 40% of the blog feed over the last two years has been dedicated to attempting (to no avail) to disentangle evangelicalism from other variables (although this particular post has proven to be evergreen with a handful of views each week nearly two years after I wrote it).

I invite you to go to the home page of this blog (or follow me) and review what I’ve been up to in order to see the various ways I’ve been attempting to deconstruct the situation. The definitional questions of evangelicalism — historically, theologically, and sociologically — will become the opening chapter of the book I’m starting as I approach my sabbatical semester next fall.

Given this ongoing exploration, I was intrigued when LifeWay research released a survey this week attempting once again to point out the difficulties of relying on evangelical self-identification. To their credit, the wanted to focus on belief. Focusing on four questions, they characterized a group they labeled “evangelicals by belief“:

In this new survey, LifeWay used a set of four questions about the Bible, Jesus, salvation and evangelism. Those questions were developed in partnership with the National Association of Evangelicals. Those who strongly agree with all four are considered to be evangelicals by belief.

PrintThe evangelicals by belief (let’s call them EBB) are roughly half the size of self-identified evangelicals (SIE) and are more likely to be correlated with religious behaviors like church attendance. Where polls have regularly shown that 81% of SIEs are Republicans, LifeWay finds that only 65% of EBBs are (although the former includes only white evangelicals and the EBBS are racially mixed so that actual gap may be less narrow).

I have some quibbles with the wording of the questions that may be overly limiting but they are far less restrictive than an earlier Barna theology list (that required inerrancy and a literal Satan). Still, expecting strong agreement on all four of their items may define a religious population narrower than an actual evangelical list (especially non-Baptists).

LifeWay is assuming that distinguishing EBBs from SIEs allows a finer distinction of who is really an evangelical that might speak to the larger issues of how evangelicals have accommodated culture. Perhaps, SIEs align with the moral shift that PRRI has identified (the dramatic decline in belief in the importance of morality for political figures) but EBBS don’t. But examination of other data suggests this is unlikely to pan out.

Back in September, I used definitions suggested by the late Stephen Monsma (which included both doctrine and religiosity) to see if that changed the linkage between something like EBBs and political stances. It didn’t.

The obvious question: does this change the political orientation of the evangelicals? Could it be that the infamous 81% figure is simply an artifact of the less accurate definitions used in the media?

I’m pretty sure the answer is no (I really wanted it to be otherwise).

This morning, I returned to the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape survey and tried my best to create scales that aligned with the LifeWay questions (I was surprised to find that Pew didn’t ask a Jesus question, presumably because they were looking at varieties of religious groups). I combined questions on Bible as Word of God, Only One Religion, and Engaging in Evangelism at least monthly. I found that just over 12% of the sample (not counting missing cases), not far from the LifeWay data.

Here’s the challenge that remains for both my analysis and I suspect for LifeWay as well The belief variables, while an improvement over SIEs, are still not related to outcome variables. I looked at a few political questions in the Pew survey: government aid to the needy, concerns about immigration, and belief in small government. The belief variable doesn’t make much difference. For example 57% of those would be EBBs support small government while 54% of those who aren’t EBBs agree.

In other words, while theology may be a better screen than a self-identification (which reflect all kinds of cultural correlates) it’s still a pretty poor independent variable. As much as we want evangelicals to support positions and candidates that arise from their theological convictions, it doesn’t seem to happen much.

This raises an important social psychological question: when would theological views ever act as a legitimate predictor of behavior or attitude? I addressed this in this post from nearly three years ago:

But it seems to me that much of what is called “religious beliefs” are more peripheral in nature. They are positions we choose that may be derived in some fashion to a belief in the authority of scripture, but only in a very loose sense. Sometimes those beliefs are so peripheral that there is little attempt to create a cognitive linkage to central belief systems.

As much as we want theology to frame our thinking, I fear that it is largely compartmentalized or at best held in the loose sense I describe above. Social psychological research suggests that a belief must be activated in some manner and then connected to the question at hand through some logical progression. Given the lack of theological depth of many Christians (not to mention biblical illiteracy), it’s not surprising that they find it hard to make coherent arguments.

This is a project that churches and theological educators need to take on. We need far more depth in our theological understandings that move beyond affirming the rightness of our team’s position. We need serious conversation about the religious implications of political positions (as opposed to simple conversations of “what Christians believe” about the politician or position).

So, while the answer to my title question is “no”, it’s a dissatisfying answer. The whole point of Christian formation is that our faith commitments should make a difference in the way we live our lives.

 

 

 

Is There Evidence of Douthat’s Cultural Tribalism Among Evangelicals?

Like many people, I found things to like and dislike in Ross Douthat’s piece over the weekend. Reflecting on issues related to the Alabama Senate race, he suggested that we may be approaching an “evangelical crisis” (which he sees as not altogether bad). It’s possible, he writes, that what we’re seeing is White Christian Tribalism.

When I shared his article on Facebook and raised a number of questions about how little we know about “rank and file” evangelicals, as opposed to national and social media thought leaders, it prompted a wonderful dialogue among my friends. I suggested that perhaps what Douthat was getting at was the tremendous overlap between region of the country, rural culture, Republicanism, and Evangelicalism. I represented that idea through the following Venn Diagram (created very inartfully via PowerPoint).

Ven Diagram

While I don’t swear by the specific location of the circles, it did convey what I was pondering. Baylor’s Elesha Coffman pointed me to county level religious data that was done by the Association of Statisticians of America’s Religious Bodies. Looking closer, I found that the data had been gathered by a friend of mine, Rich Houseal, who serves as lead researcher for the Church of the Nazarene. I further realized that the actual data was available through the Association of Religious Data Archives (a marvelous site).

Naturally, I downloaded the data. Then I found 2010 Census data and matched the Counties so that I could measure the percentage rural within each county. Finally, I located 2008 presidential election results and determined the percentage of each county that voted for John McCain over Barack Obama. Using around 3,000 counties, this would allow a rough analysis of my Venn Diagram. If i was right, there would be correlations between the rate of evangelical membership in the county per 1,000 population, the percent rural, and the percent voting Republican. Furthermore, I expected to find the pattern stronger in the south.

It turns out that the percent rural pretty much washed out in every analysis I did. But the relationship between the evangelicals and voting McCain showed itself to be at least mildly correlated at a rate of .37 (.60 is strong, 1.00 is perfect).

Controlling for region showed some different patterns. Using what the Census department calls East South Central (AL, KY, MS, TN) didn’t change the correlation at all. So I started playing around by looking at the correlations within individual states. The relationship completely disappears in the Mountain region (AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT, WY).

When I did just Alabama, the correlation jumps to .72. That means that counties with high rates of evangelical adherents were more likely to vote for McCain, even in a strong red state. The quarter of Alabama’s 67 counties that had the highest Evangelical rate (over 520 per 1,000) voted Republican at a rate 15% higher than those below 520 (72% compared to 57%).

This is some very preliminary analysis, but it’s yet another instance where i’ve tried to find other rationales for the linkage between evangelicals and being Republican but it’s just really tough to debunk. As Myriam Renaud observed at the time of Trump’s inauguration, this is not new.

The cultural tribalism, at least in some areas seems pretty vibrant. The generational shifts may result in fewer people identifying as evangelicals, as data has regularly shown. But in the short term, that will only increase the homogeneity of the population that continues to identify as evangelical.

 

 

About that 37% of Evangelicals more likely to support Moore…

You’ve no doubt seen the reports that 37% of Alabama evangelicals were more likely to support Judge Roy Moore after the accusations from the four (now five) women who were teenagers when he was in his early 30s. The data in question came from a poll conducted by a firm called JMC Analytics between November 9 (the day the story broke) and Saturday, November 11.

After reading several references to this statistic (and sharing much twitter outrage), I took the time to actually look at the poll results themselves. It’s somewhat helpful in making sense of this and other statistics. Here are some things I learned.

First, the poll seems to reflect a party affiliation. The analysis section on page 3 of the poll results contains an underlined section describing why “Republicans should be concerned.”

Second, the makeup of this poll (compared to the undated previous poll) was skewed more heavily toward evangelicals, up from 53% to 58%. I could write a separate post about whether it really makes sense to suggest that six in ten Alabamians are evangelicals, but I’ll let it go.

Third, the top-line data on the key question on how the scandal changes votes shows that the plurality (38%) are less likely to vote for Moore. And this was before the continued drumbeat of further reports, the comments from McConnell and other senators, and the RNC pulling funding.

Fourth, the subgroup comparisons show that most other subgroups are less likely to vote for Moore than more likely. One exception is that Whites are barely more likely to support Moore (and “other” is much more so). The evangelical subgroup is the only one that stands out — but as I’ve been arguing, the overlap between whites and evangelical self-identification is pretty great (and especially so in Alabama).

Finally, the most important story in the data is the substantial move of voters toward Doug Jones. Males are split, females are +6. Jones wins every age group but the oldest. A third of evangelicals say they would support Jones. The result of these splits is that Jones is up 6 percentage points from the previous poll (whenever that was) moving from a tied race to Jones ahead.

To review, there were 575 people interviewed via landline in four regions of Alabama. About 333 of those claimed to be evangelicals. As the Hill reports, 38% of that 333 (123) claimed they were more supportive of Moore (as of Saturday). But that’s still only about a fifth of those polled.

The PRRI data from last year (that I cited in my last post) on the remarkable shift in how important morality is in determining political leaders is still nothing short of striking. But every poll doesn’t necessarily represent that same trend.

Why Harvey Weinstein Broke the Patriarchy

Okay, that’s a little strong. Patriarchy is still present in our society and makes itself explicitly and implicitly known on a regular basis. It shows up in every sphere of modern society.

And yet it feels like something fundamental has shifted in our sociological structures and processes in the five weeks since the first Weinstein story broke in The New York Times. Sociological time moves faster than geologic time but five weeks is but a moment in most understandings of social change.

WeinsteinMaybe it’s better to to think of Weinstein putting a fracture in Patriarchy and that the raft of follow-on revelations — Bill O’Reilly’s remarkable settlement,  Kevin Spacey’s exploitations, the NPR’s news editor’s ouster, Louis C.K.’s exposures, and Judge Roy Moore’s bizarre past (he admits to dating teenagers even if he disputes the molestation) — have splintered that fracture with each additional revelation.

For all those who like the “what about-ism” game, the issue isn’t why past actors, politicians, presidents, and businessmen got away with such oppressive behavior. Such games of looking for hypocrisy and trying to divine moral equivalence only leads to a race to the bottom where folks are motivated to find the worst excesses of the group they dislike, while trying to protect their own from “events of long ago”.

What’s different in the wake of Weinstein is that these oppressive and reprehensible behaviors are being met with broadly shared outrage and institutional consequences. Removing Weinstein from the Academy is largely a symbolic step, but is still important. Having Spacey replaced with Christopher Plummer in a movie that had already wrapped is remarkable. Seeing Louis C.K. go from media darling to pariah overnight is new.

So what’s different? Why did Weinstein’s story become an institution-shaping story rather than a Charlie Sheen meltdown? I suspect there are many factors at play but I’ll try to isolate a few.

The presence of authentic narrators — In an era where personal story is paramount, having a figure like Ashley Judd (and others) come forward and describe her experiences with Weinstein rings with authenticity. All of the victims that have come forward did so at risk of personal loss. There is no evidence of looking for book deals or advancing careers. These are people with hard stories to tell and they demand attention. That’s why the #metoo hashtag developed, allowing other women (and men) to tell their own stories that ring of legitimacy.

The attempt at revisionist history — Weinstein’s first “apology” was to argue that “he grew up in a time when people accepted” this type of exploitive behavior. Harvey Weinstein is 64, one year older than me. We never argued that exploiting women within your company or school or church was what one did. Maybe in the Mad Men world of Manhattan advertising in the 1960s (and likely not even then). But Harvey and I were barely in first grade at the time the show begins. Maybe those who live in the world of politics or entertainment or broadcasting found that gender roles changed more slowly but I doubt it. It’s just that people in power didn’t feel the need to change because they could get away with it.

The rejection of “locker room talk” — The 2016 presidential campaign had gender at its very center. It was a question of whether a woman could be president, especially when that woman would be held responsible for her husband’s past misbehavior. It was a question of whether misogynistic statements from a candidate who demeaned women’s appearance, weight, and character could be trusted to lead the county, whether the accusations of past physical invasions were true or not. The most telling moment in the Access Hollywood video was not the “grabbing” comment but the one where he said “if you’re a star, they let you do it.” Those statements were seen as wrong by most people. The fact that their states voted for him anyway left people unwilling to tolerate such attitudes and behavior going forward.

The social media world — As we strive to understand exactly all the ways that Facebook’s and Twitter’s algorithms were manipulated during the 2016 election cycle, the ability of social media to rapidly disseminate information cannot be overstated. In fact, that’s why the disruptions from Russia and the alt-Right were so successful. But when the Weinstein story broke in the Times and then ricocheted across social media, the story not only grew in importance and legitimacy but it demanded responses from other institutional entities that would lead to specific action. The NPR case was particularly interesting in this regard as the story jumped from the Washington Post to NPR to Twitter and back. The story broke, was covered by NPR (including a fabulous interview on what the head of NPR knew and when), all the time mediated on my twitter feed.

“Ain’t got time for this..” — One interesting dynamic is that we seem to gotten to the end of our hypocrisy reservoir. Sure, some will still try to defend their favorite guy (the stuff on how “electing pedophiles is better than electing Democrats” is especially galling), but it’s recognized as hypocrisy and craven partisanship right away. One of my sociologist friends, Gerardo Marti, reposted this data from PRRI:

PRRI Morals

I’d seen this data when it first released and focused on the big shifts among religious folks on key issues of morality, especially among White Protestants. But I hadn’t noticed the shift among the Unaffiliated (who we know tend to be disproportionately younger). They are LESS wiling to ignore moral issues in 2016 that they were in 2011. This is consistent with what I see in my students. The week after the Weinstein story broke, I used it as an example in my night class to explore the morality of market decisions. Why couldn’t we argue, I suggested in true socratic form, that Weinstein and Judd had achieved some kind of free market exchange that was mutually beneficial (even if disgusting to imagine). My students argued that exchanges that resulted in the dehumanizing of another were morally flawed. I was very proud.

What make anyone think this behavior was normal? — It was interesting to hear people reflect on the sexual harassment training conducted by human relations departments. Companies adopt policies and make employees watch videos, which prove generally ineffective. The company requires the video to provide legal liability so that management doesn’t get sued when bad behavior occurs (“He watched the video!”). But a compliance approach is woefully inadequate when you’re trying to develop a healthy culture where people can flourish and do their best work. After the NPR firing, there was an interview on Morning Edition with an HR specialist. At the end of her interview, she said (paraphrasing), “We don’t need to train people not to try to kiss their employees and force their tongues in their mouths.”

Sexism is real. Power is on display on a daily basis and is written into the DNA of many institutions that allows male privilege to be sustained. And yet if I listen carefully, I can hear structures creaking under their weight as their foundations are crumbling.

Engaging the Evangelical Mind

Just under thirty years ago, sociologist Robert Wuthnow wrote a prescient little book titled The Struggle for America’s Soul. The book documented the separation between the religious right concerned about massive social change and the educated elite who championed it. I remember that he ended the book with an optimistic hope: that scholars at faith-based institutions might play a unique role in bridging that chasm because they understood both groups. They could play something like the role of translator explaining each group to the other side. This would be done, he suggested, by conducting and reporting research in their role as evangelical scholars.

I found myself thinking of Wuthnow’s book last week when attending a gathering on “The State of the Evangelical Mind” in Indianapolis. The gathering focused on a book written five years after Wuthnow’s: Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

Scandal

In part a retrospective on Noll’s book and in part a recognition of the service John Wilson performed as editor of the journal Books and Culture, it involved a series of papers reflecting on issues both deeply related to the conference question and some slightly more tangential (yet still interesting).

The evening began with a paper from Noll himself (at the last minute he wasn’t able to attend so his paper was read but he did participate via speakerphone in the q&a session). Noll reflected on the book and highlighted four successes that demonstrated an advancement in the evangelical mind: The Reformed Journal, the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicalism, the Pew Scholars Network, and Books and Culture.

I was struck that, like in Wuthnow’s book, the evangelical minds being developed were those of academics. There is real value in seeing the evangelical perspective engaging broader scholarship, but unfortunately too much of it happens in isolation from everyday evangelicals.

John Fea offered a wonderful reflection on the challenges of the evangelical mind within the context of a Christian college (Messiah). His two history colleagues shared somewhat more optimistic visions than John’s but his perspective stuck with me through the whole meeting.

Friday opened up with former Wesleyan General Superintendent Joanne Lyon reflecting on her role in seeing the development of the evangelical infrastructure. Part of her personal story involved being in the vanguard of a complex evangelical group that was engaging the larger world. She saw evangelical leadership move away from those options toward the goals of the Moral Majority and similar groups in the late 1970s. And yet Joanne remained hopeful, arguing that “love, mercy, and justice set evangelicalism apart from civil religion.”

My colleagues Jack Baker and Jeff Bilbro shared insights from their recent book, pointing out that much of evangelical subculture has generated a parallel structure to secular society (illustrating with stories about Christian bookstores and the market-orientation of Christian liberal arts institutions). They offered insights from Wendell Berry as an important alternative.

The keynote address (which sort of wrapped up the meeting) was given by Jamie Smith from Calvin College. He returned to the problem of the gap between academics and the evangelical subculture. His evidence: compare attendance at Bible Prophecy conferences with the attendance at academic-filled conferences. The way forward, he argued, was for academics and their institutions to embrace the role of evangelical public intellectual. For all of us bloggers, it was an encouraging challenge.

I came away recognizing three primary challenges in pursuing an engagement with the evangelical mind. First, I was stuck on John Fea’s earlier point about our Christian colleges. Even though I’m a tenured full professor with 36 years of experience and have served as a senior administrator, I wonder how the culture of Christian higher education can advance the call to address the evangelical mind. If I expand my public advocacy in addressing the complexity of contemporary issues that evangelicals need to engage, how will my students, their parents, my administration, and the trustees respond? Would they prefer that I keep these thoughts to my narrow blog audience? Would they see engagement as a legitimate role? Is there ever a possibility that such activity would take the place of one of my classes?

The second challenge I notice even in how I have written this reflection. I want the evangelical church to think more deeply about sociological and political issues. But I can’t simply show up to explain where they’ve been wrong on a host of issues. As Jamie challenged us, we have to use our role as educators to illumine where we’ve all fallen short. Hubris will kill any attempt at engagement.

The third challenge was present in Jack and Jeff’s analysis. It strikes me that the evangelical communication infrastructure is so balkanized that I don’t know how academic voices can even gain access. There are so many websites, magazines, blogs, videos, and celebrity books serving up a particularized version of the evangelical mind. This is what feeds the feeling among evangelicals that they are being actively discriminated against in modern society. Given the evangelical  infrastructure’s rhetoric about liberal bias and faith challenge endemic to higher education (even Christian higher education), we need real strategies to “seed the clouds” so that our message is receptive.

And yet I return to Joanne Lyon’s optimistic perspective. She pointed out our special role as academics to address the key issues in society. Advocacy, she challenged us, is part of discipleship.

I don’t have a clear path on how to better engage the evangelical mind. But I recognize that I have a responsibility to stay with it anyway.

Defining Evangelicals: Take Three

I spent the end of last week in Indianapolis participating in a gathering exploring “The State of the Evangelical Mind”. (Go ahead and get your jokes out of the way now.) It was a very interesting meeting and great to connect with some social media friends in real life as well as to reconnect with others. I’ll share my own reflections on the gathering soon (and I have some).

Early in the meeting, I was in a conversation about the survey definitions of evangelicalism related to the work I’ve been reporting on this blog since the spring. I was reminded that the late Stephen Monsma wrote a piece in Christian Scholars Review published this summer that provided an excellent summary of scholarship on defining evangelicals in survey data.

After reviewing all the shortcomings of self-report and the RELTRAD variable (that measures religious “families” at the denominational level) he offers a pretty solid definitional schema.

 

Thus to be considered an evangelical one would have to be (1) be Protestant, (2) believe the Bible to be the authoritative word of God and Jesus to be the only way of salvation, and (3) engage in at least two of the three religious practices [weekly church attendance, daily prayer, and bi-monthly small group participation]. (p. 339)

Upon returning from the conference on Saturday, I went back into my 2014 Pew Religious Landscape data and tried to estimate Monsma’s definition. First, I selected only protestants. Next, I looked at two doctrinal questions: 1) the Bible is the authoritative word of God (not the inerrant item that follows it in the survey) and 2) a belief that only Christian religion can lead to eternal life. Finally, I calculated a variable that measured if people managed at least two of his three activity measures of weekly church attendance, daily prayer, and bi-monthly small group participation. Here is how the data turned out.

Monsma

So using Monsma’s definition, just over 15% of the population would be evangelical. This is instructive when compared to the other measures available. As I’ve pointed out before, over a third of respondents claimed to be “born again” (just under half of the Christian population). When we look at RELTRAD, 25% of respondents fall in the evangelical family.

So Monsma’s definition seems to be much closer to what we’d consider to be an orthodox or traditional evangelical who combines doctrinal commitment with actual religious practice.  This seems like a better conceptual measure of what insiders think of as evangelicals even if it’s a little more complex that opinion pollsters normally like.

The obvious question: does this change the political orientation of the evangelicals? Could it be that the infamous 81% figure is simply an artifact of the less accurate definitions used in the media?

I’m pretty sure the answer is no (I really wanted it to be otherwise).

I followed the same patterns I have before, using certain social attitudes as proxies for political orientation (I can’t actually get at Trump support with 2014 data!). My go-to question is one where respondents are asked if government aid creates dependency or meets people’s real needs.

Among White Evangelicals (the basis of the 81%) about 65% of the “Born-again” population select the dependency option. The figure for Whites in the Evangelical religious tradition (RELTRAD) goes up to 67%. If we use the Monsma definition on White Evangelicals, just under 72% agree that government aid creates dependency.

While it’s beyond the scope of available data, much more research is needed on how evangelicals construct their social policy views. There was some interesting reporting recently on the connections between the need for redemption and beliefs about the “deserving poor” (Sorry, I couldn’t track down the reference.)

The state of the evangelical mind is still one in which too many easy talking points have been offered to too many people. The challenge going forward is figuring out how to engage evangelicals in compassionate, non-condescending conversations about the nature of our complex social processes.