Saturday, November 11, 2006

Poll: More evangelicals sour toward Republicans

Poll: More evangelicals sour toward Republicans
By Ed Stoddard

DALLAS (Reuters) - U.S. evangelicals have lost some of their enthusiasm for the Republican Party, a factor contributing to the party's drubbing in Tuesday's congressional elections, a new survey found.

In a Beliefnet poll of 771 evangelical Christians from Tuesday to Thursday, 30 percent said they voted for fewer Republicans than in previous elections. Evangelicals have been a core base of Republican support.

About 15 percent of respondents said they voted for more Republican candidates, while 55 percent said they voted for the same number of Republicans as before.

The findings were in line with exit poll estimates such as CNN's, which found about 70 percent of white evangelicals voted Republican in Tuesday's elections in which Democrats regained control of the U.S. Congress from President George W. Bush's Republicans.

While still strong, that level of support was below the 74 to 78 percent range that different surveys found in the 2004 election.

Significantly, about 60 percent of those polled in the Beliefnet survey said their views of the Republican Party had become less positive in recent years.

"It's not that they are soured with the Republican approach to culture war issues like abortion, it's that they are angry with them on issues such as Iraq and corruption," said Steven Waldman, editor in chief of, a Web site on issues of faith.

As with other Americans, the Iraq war topped evangelicals' list of electoral concerns, with 22.5 percent citing it as the issue that most affected their votes.

Respondents were not asked to specify if Iraq was a negative or positive factor, so some who cited it may have voted in support of Bush's Iraq policies. Other surveys have found white evangelical support for the unpopular war to be higher than among other Americans.

Abortion and gay marriage/homosexuality were second and third among evangelicals' electoral concerns, cited by 16 percent and 10.7 percent respectively.

The survey found a general disenchantment with politics among devout evangelicals, with 51.5 percent also saying their views of Democrats had soured in recent years.

"There has been some movement away from the Republicans but it is by no means a stampede of evangelicals toward the Democrats," Waldman said.

Over 52 percent still felt Bush was a better Christian than former Democratic President Bill Clinton, while 13 percent felt the reverse was true. About a third rated them evenly.

Among Christian leaders, evangelist Billy Graham -- a household name in America who has long distanced himself from overt political activity -- was viewed favorably by 86 percent of the evangelicals polled by Beliefnet.

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, a prominent conservative Christian, was viewed in a favorable light by only 17 percent.