December 2007 Church & State | People & Events

A new poll indicates that the longstanding ties between evangelical Christians and the Republican Party may be fraying a bit.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reported recently that “white evangelicals may be undergoing some significant political changes.”

The study by Pew Research Associate Dan Cox examined data from the past seven years. Its findings indicate that young evangelicals – which Pew defines as between the ages of 18 and 29 – are dissatisfied with President George W. Bush and the Republican Party generally.

Noted Pew, “Bush’s approval rating has fallen fairly steadily among almost every segment of the American public, but the drop in support has been particularly significant among white evangelicals ages 18-29. This group was among Bush’s strongest supporters in the beginning of his presidency; in 2002, for example, an overwhelming majority (87%) approved of Bush’s job performance. By August 2007, however, Bush’s approval rating among this group had plummeted by 42 percentage points, with most of the drop (25 points) coming since 2005.”

Cox also found that while younger evangelicals remain conservative, they are less partisan than older evangelicals. Many appear to be migrating to the independent camp.

“[S]ince 2005 the group’s Republican affiliation has dropped significantly – by 15 percentage points,” the study found. “However, the shift away from the GOP has not resulted in substantial Democratic gains; instead it has produced a small increase in the number of Democrats (five-point increase) and a ten-point increase in the number of independents and politically unaffiliated Americans. Republicans now have only a two-to-one advantage over Democrats among younger white evangelicals, compared with a nearly four-to-one edge in 2005.”

By contrast, older evangelicals are much more likely to remain Republican. There has been only a 5 percent drop for the GOP among this group.

The study found that on issues like abortion, capital punishment and the war in Iraq, young evangelicals continue to hold views much more conservative than the general population. Thus, Pew theorizes, the drop in support for the Republican Party may be attributed to the Bush presidency.

“This strong allegiance to conservatism and conservative positions suggests that young white evangelicals’ turn away from the president and his party may be the product of dissatisfaction with this particular administration rather than the result of an underlying shift in this group’s political values and policy views,” asserts the report.