Christian conservatives take a beating in the media. But you cannot fault them for their consistency of opinion on current issues and perspectives. A new national survey from the American Culture and Faith Institute highlights some of their widely shared views on a range of concerns related to the 2016 election.
Widespread Government Corruption
In the survey, an overwhelming 82% of the SAGE Cons – the 1,300 Spiritually Active, Governance Engaged Conservatives who were interviewed – strongly agreed that “corruption is widespread throughout the federal government of the United States.” Most of the remaining respondents – another 15% – moderately agreed with that statement, resulting in a whopping 97% who agreed that things are rotten in Washington, D.C.
This overarching concern helps to explain why SAGE Cons have gone from a mere 11% supporting Donald Trump early in the primary season to 84% currently supporting his candidacy. With a huge majority believing that the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, is a prime example of a corrupt politician, the GOP nominee has a solid base of supporters among SAGE Cons – a group that considers the character of a candidate to be the most important attribute to assess.
The significance of this year’s election is underscored by the fact that 98% of the SAGE Cons interviewed agreed that “the stakes in this presidential election are higher than in previous years.” More than four out of five (84%) strongly agreed with that statement.
Further, most SAGE Cons believe that the impact of the election outcome will be substantial. Almost three-quarters of them (72%) said the outcome will make “a big difference” in their life, and most of the remaining respondents (24%) said the outcome will make “some difference.” Just 4% said it will make only a little difference or no difference at all.
At the same time, people are running scared of what will happen, no matter who wins the race. The survey found that 93% are fearful of the impact of Hillary Clinton winning the election, yet one-third (33%) are frightened by the thought of Donald Trump becoming the next president. What makes the latter statistic so significant is the fact that most of those people said they are scared about the impact of a Trump presidency also said they plan to vote for him in November. That is not a contradiction in their thinking; it reflects their utter disdain for the other candidates on the ballot.
Notably, female SAGE Cons were more concerned about what will happen to America if Mr. Trump wins the election (41%) than were men (30%).
That level of fear about a Trump presidency may change before November, though, since more than four out of five SAGE Cons (84%) said that as time goes by they are becoming more comfortable with the idea of Donald Trump being president. Men and women were equally likely to hold that view.
The fact that more than four out of five SAGE Cons say they are likely to vote for Mr. Trump in November does not mean they have high expectations for him – or for Mrs. Clinton, should she be elected.
Overall, just 20% of SAGE Cons believe Mr. Trump would do an “excellent” job in the White House, and another 41% believe he would do a “good” job. One-quarter (26%) predicted he’d do a “fair” job, with the remaining 13% split between saying he would do either a “not too good” or a “poor” job. The expectations of men and women were identical.
As lukewarm as those expectations are, they are substantially lower for Mrs. Clinton. Less than one-half of one percent of the Christian conservatives said she would do an “excellent” job and only 1% expected her to do a “good” job. A mere 2% said she would do a “fair” job and one out of ten would expect her to do a “not too good” job (11%). Nearly nine out of ten Christian conservatives (86%) would anticipate a President Clinton to do a “poor” job.
At War with ISIS
Although the media reaction was overwhelmingly negative in response to Donald Trump’s statement that the United States is at war with ISIS, the nation’s Christian conservatives see it as a statement of fact rather than political posturing. Nearly all of the SAGE Cons interviewed (96%) agreed with the statement, including two-thirds who strongly affirmed it.
The survey was completed before Donald Trump made his controversial comments accusing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton of creating ISIS.
Given that the survey respondents are among the adults most engaged in the life of the nation’s churches, their views about the role of the local church in elections are meaningful. And they made no bones about stating that they want Christian churches to be more heavily immersed in this election.
Overall, 92% of the SAGE Cons indicated that they “would like to see Christian churches play a more important role in this election than they have in the last few elections.” Nearly three-quarters of the Christian conservatives – 72% – strongly agreed with that idea.
The Silent Minority
The survey also revealed that SAGE Cons are typically reluctant to discuss political matters with friends who are liberal on political matters. Although 84% said they have friends who are politically liberal, only 6% said they often discuss political matters with them and another 32% said they enter into such discussions occasionally. The remaining 47% admitted that they “rarely” or “never” discuss political matters with their liberal friends.
For context, SAGE Cons are slightly less likely to have friends who are theologically liberal: 78% can identify such friends. However, they are slightly more likely to discuss spiritual matters with their theologically liberal friends. The survey found that 8% do so often, 37% do so occasionally, and 34% have theological exchanges with them rarely or never.
An Election about Character
The outcome of the November election is likely to hinge on how much emphasis Americans place on the character of their chief political leader, according to researcher George Barna. “Mr. Trump is not running a very effective campaign, but he has one major benefit to his advantage: the perceived range and nature of the character flaws of his opponent. In considering the challenges that both candidates pose, many voters are being forced to ponder how much a leader’s character matters, which character traits matter most, and how to balance character against performance.”
Barna, who directed the survey for the American Culture and Faith Institute, pointed to survey data identifying the internal struggle for millions of voters. “On the one hand, the public perception is that Mrs. Clinton is dishonest and unethical. On the other hand they view Mr. Trump as rude and arrogant. Which character traits matter most? And which ones are serious enough to disqualify a person from being an effective, trustworthy leader?
“Then, upon examining how the candidates handle public issues that are based on moral and ethical standards,” the bestselling author continued, “voters are confronted with another set of challenges. They discover that Mrs. Clinton is pro-choice, pro-homosexual rights, wants to aggressively advance government control of peoples’ lives, increase taxes and tariffs, place stricter limits on religious freedoms, and stunt the rule of law. Then they perceive Mr. Trump as taking the opposite position on those matters. How much do those perspectives matter to voters? On what basis should a voter make those choices? It’s an interesting study in what really matters to the public.”
After discussing the role of the media in filtering and distorting the information that people receive regarding the candidates and critical election issues, Barna indicated that most Christian conservatives have already made their decision. “The survey shows that although SAGE Cons are not enthusiastic about Mr. Trump, they are downright frightened by the prospect of Mrs. Clinton winning the election because she is against almost everything they stand for. However, a small segment of SAGE Cons – roughly 15% – say that while they could never support Mrs. Clinton, they also cannot in good conscience support a candidate with as many character deficiencies as Mr. Trump.
“The question,” Barna concluded, “is whether their refusal to support Mr. Trump will enable Mrs. Clinton to win the election. Would the conscientious objection of that one out of six SAGE Cons justify facilitating a victory by a candidate they believe to be even worse? That’s the moral conundrum that a few million Christian conservatives have to solve between now and November 8.”
About the Research
The research described in this report is part of the RightView™ longitudinal survey, a national online study undertaken among spiritually active, governance engaged conservatives who are registered voters – a segment known as SAGE Cons. The survey involved 1,300 qualified adults, conducted by the American Culture & Faith Institute under the direction of George Barna. The survey was fielded online in late July and early August of 2016.
In RightView™ studies SAGE Cons are identified as adults who are registered voters; conservative on political matters; have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior; are active in pursuing their Christian faith; and are actively engaged in politics and government. They represent about 12% of the national adult population, which constitutes a segment of approximately 30 million individuals.
The American Culture & Faith Institute is a division of United in Purpose, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The mission of United in Purpose is to educate, motivate and activate conservative Christians related to the political process. The organization does not support or promote individual candidates or political parties.
Additional information about this and related research is accessible on the American Culture & Faith Institute website, located at www.culturefaith.com.