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Young Evangelicals and the Candidates

BOB ABERNETHY: White evangelicals have been a key part of the Republicans winning coalition for the past 20 years. But RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY has released a new survey showing that younger evangelicals are less supportive of John McCain than their parents are. Our managing editor Kim Lawton is here.

KIM LAWTON (Managing Editor, RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY): Evangelicals are the single largest voting bloc of religious voters. They make up more than a quarter of the American electorate. So they’re very important to Republicans and the Republicans in the last few elections have needed every evangelical vote that they could get. Our survey found solid support for John McCain among white evangelicals. About 71 percent say they are going to vote for John McCain, compared to only about 23 percent who say they are going to vote for Barack Obama. But when you look at younger evangelicals, those under 30, that margin closes. So about 62 percent of young evangelicals say they’re going to vote for John McCain and 30 percent say they’re going to vote for Barack Obama. So they’re still Republican, but not as Republican, and in a close election that could make a difference.

ABERNETHY: What do the younger evangelicals think of Sarah Palin?

Kim Lawton

Ms. LAWTON: Well, our survey was conducted the first several weeks of September, and there was a lot of energy in the evangelical world around Sarah Palin. They liked her very much. Our survey found overall older white evangelicals very favorable toward her, younger evangelicals less favorable toward her, and we found a really surprising gender difference as well. Younger female evangelicals were dramatically less favorable towards Sarah Palin than older evangelical women. Less than half of white evangelical women under 30 felt warmly toward Sarah Palin, and well over 60 percent of the older women like her.

ABERNETHY: And what about on the social issues, particularly abortion? Any differences there?

Ms. LAWTON: Well certainly evangelicals, many evangelicals, have traditionally based their vote on two key issues — abortion and opposition to gay marriage. But we found that younger, white evangelicals aren’t quite so tied to those issues. They’re solidly pro-life on abortion, about the same as their parents. But when it comes to gay issues, we found that younger evangelicals were more tolerant. More than half of the younger white evangelicals we talked with support some form of a legal recognition of civil unions for same sex couples, or even gay marriage. That’s a big difference with older evangelicals.

Bob Abernethy

ABERNETHY: And what do we take away from this? What are the implications?

Ms. LAWTON: Well, this has been a key part of the political landscape, that evangelicals were solidly Republican. If in the future that changes, that could have really big political implications. Now what we don’t know is whether these numbers are tied to this particular election, to John McCain, Barack Obama. And we also don’t know whether these younger evangelicals may become more conservative as they get older, maybe get married, have kids. Maybe their views will change. But certainly if the future of the evangelical movement is more moderate, less conservative, that could have a big impact.

ABERNETHY: Kim Lawton, many thanks.