Decreasing Evangelical Support for Bush
- WPO Poll Analysis:
American Evangelicals are Divided on International Policy
November 02, 2006
Decreasing Support for Bush Administration Positions Mirrors that of
Evangelical Christians are far from united on foreign policy, an
analysis of recent polls by WorldPublicOpinion.org shows, and their
support for the war in Iraq has fallen dramatically.
President Bush addresses a conference on faith-based initiatives March
9, 2006, in Washington, D.C. (White House Photo/Kimberlee Hewitt)
Republicans have come to rely on the support of "value voters" who can
be counted on to choose candidates based on their opposition to
abortion or gay marriage. But this year, with Democratic candidates
focusing on international issues in an attempt to turn the election
into a referendum on the Iraq war, the unhappiness of many evangelical
or "born-again" Christians with the Bush administration's handling of
foreign affairs could prove crucial.
Many evangelicals who profess no party affiliationa potentially
decisive swing voteagree with Democrats on key issues. Most
disapprove of how Congress is handling its job (67%) and half (53%)
say they want a candidate who will pursue a "new approach" to foreign
policy. Half of these independent evangelicals are also dissatisfied
with the U.S. position in the world today (52%) and a majority says
Bush administration policies have increased the likelihood of
terrorist attacks (64%).
Evang_Nov06_graph1.jpgMost evangelicals oppose keeping U.S. troops in
Iraq indefinitely. A March 2006 WPO poll found that sixty percent
believed U.S. troops should either be decreased (40%) or withdrawn
completely (20%). In October 2004, only 28 percent of evangelicals
overall wanted U.S. forces in Iraq to be decreased (14%) or withdrawn
(14%). Among Americans who do not say they are evangelicals, 70
percent wanted to bring troops home from Iraq, including 28 percent
who thought all should leave, according to the March 2006 poll.
This analysis is based on three surveys of American adults conducted
by WPO and the Program on International Policy Attitudes. The most
recent poll covered American views on foreign policy and took place
Oct. 6-15, 2006 (1,058 respondents). U.S. attitudes on the Iraq war
were examined in a survey fielded March 1-6, 2006 (851 respondents),
and a more general poll of voter attitudes was conducted before the
last national election on Oct. 12-18, 2004 (968 respondents).
The percentage of all evangelical voters who say they plan to vote for
Democratic lawmakers this year is significantly greater than it was in
the 2004 elections, though the number planning to vote Republican is
roughly the same. Forty-one percent of evangelicals say they intend to
vote for Democratic congressional candidates while 56 percent plan to
choose Republicans. Two years ago, only 29 percent of evangelical
Christians said they would vote for Democratic candidates while 59
percent favored Republicans.
Evang_Nov06_graph2.jpgThis year there are fewer undecided evangelical
voters. Only 4 percent say they do not know which party's candidate
they will vote for, compared to 12 percent in 2004. Thus it appears
that Republicans have less hope in this election of winning support
among undecided evangelical Christians.
Although a plurality of evangelicals (44%) identify themselves as
Republican, the remainder are divided evenly between Democrats (29%)
and independents (27%). But on the eve of the 2006 midterm, those
evangelicals who do not profess a party affiliation seem to be leaning
away from many administration positions.
Another recent poll, conducted by New York Times/CBS News found that
self-described evangelicals are evenly divided between those who plan
to vote for Democrats (42%) and Republicans (41%). This poll,
conducted Oct. 27-31 nationwide, found that 17 percent of evangelical
Christians were undecided.
Divisions on Key International Issues
On foreign policy questions, evangelicals tend to be evenly divided.
Among the most contentious issues in the 2006 election is whether Bush
administration policies are increasing or decreasing the likelihood of
a terrorist attack on the United States. An overwhelming majority of
Democrats (80%) say the administration's policies have increased the
danger of such an attack, while most Republicans (69%) say the
likelihood has gone down.
Evangelicals are roughly divided on this question: 53 percent say the
danger of attack has decreased; 45 percent say it has increased. Those
who identify themselves as Republicans, however, are even more likely
than Republicans as a whole to say Bush administration policies have
decreased the danger of terrorism (83%). Evangelicals who say they are
independents lean with the Democrats on this issue: 64 percent say a
terrorist attack has become more likely.
On the question of whether the United States needs to change its
approach to international relations, evangelicals are again divided.
Fifty percent of evangelical Christians say they prefer candidates who
will pursue a "new approach" to foreign policy, while 48 percent
support the current approach. Overall seven in ten Americans (71%)
favor changing course, including 91 percent of Democrats and 43
percent of Republicans.
Evangelicals are also evenly divided on the question of whether the
U.S. government "plays on people's fears too much" when it justifies
its foreign policies to the American people. Forty-nine percent of
evangelicals agreeand 49 percent disagreewith this statement.
Democrats are nearly unanimous in their agreement with the statement
(87%) while a majority of Republicans (61%) disagree. Most independent
evangelical Christians favor the Democratic position, with 70 percent
saying the administration is playing too much on Americans' fears.
Support for Military Methods but also for the U.N.
Evangelical Christians tend to believe a strong military is important
in the fight against terrorism. Asked whether the Bush administration
should put more emphasis on military or diplomatic and economic
methods, about half of evangelicals (51%) say military methods,
slightly more than Republicans overall (44%) and much more than
Democrats (19%). But nearly as many evangelicals (44%) say the
administration should put greater emphasis on diplomacy, compared to
52 percent of Republicans and 77 percent of Democrats. Americans
overall favor greater emphasis on diplomatic and economic methods
rather than military means, 67 percent to 28 percent.
In contrast to Republicans, who tend to oppose more U.S. cooperation
with the United Nations, evangelicals are divided on the issue.
Forty-eight percent say the United States should be willing to make
decisions within the United Nations "even if this means that the
United States will sometimes have to go along with a policy that is
not its first choice," while 46 percent disagree. A majority of
Republicans (56%) disagree with such an approach, while three in five
Americans overall support it (61%).
A majority of evangelicals think that the United States should
strengthen the United Nations' ability to deal with international
conflicts so that the United States can "move away from its role as
world policeman and reduce the burden of its large defense budget."
Fifty-seven percent of evangelicals agree with this statement, while
38 percent disagree. That's considerably less than the percentage of
Democrats who agree (84%), but more than the proportion of Republicans
(53% agree, 44% disagree).
Pessimism about Chances of Success in Iraq
Evangelical Christians have become less confident that the U.S.
operation in Iraq will succeed, although they still tend to be more
optimistic about the ultimate success of the effort than
non-evangelicals. In October 2004, about half of evangelicals (54%)
said they were confident the U.S. effort in Iraq would succeed (28%
not confident), while only a third (34%) of non-evangelicals were (49%
not confident). By March 2006, confidence about the war among
evangelicals had dropped 11 points to 43 percent, roughly the same
proportion as those who said they were not confident (42%). Among
non-evangelicals confidence of success in Iraq fell to 24% (63% not
There is growing awareness among evangelical Christians that most arms
experts have concluded Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction
before the United States' 2003 invasion. Two years ago, seven out of
ten evangelicals (68%) said either that most experts thought Iraq had
WMD (49%) or that expert opinion was "evenly divided" (19%). Less than
one in three (28%) said, correctly, that experts largely agreed Iraq
did not have such weapons. By March 2006, 52 percent said experts
mostly agreed there were no WMD in Iraq while those saying experts
thought Iraq had WMD (28%) or were divided on the issue (18%) had
dropped to 46 percent.
Evangelical support for a full or partial withdrawal of U.S. forces
from Iraq has also grown significantly over the past two years. In
2004, most evangelicals (68%) said the United States' military
presence in Iraq should be maintained (36%) or increased (32%). Less
than a third (28%) said U.S. forces should be decreased (14%) or
withdrawn completely (14%). By March 2006, the proportion favoring a
reduction (40%) or total withdrawal (20%) had grown to 60 percent
while those wanting to maintain (28%) or increase (11%) troops had
shrunk to 39 percent.
Evangelicals who stated no party affiliation showed the most change on
this issue: those wanting troops reduced or withdrawn rose 38 points
(24% to 62%). Many evangelicals who identified themselves as
Republicans also shifted position on this issue. Whereas 12 percent of
this group favored a full or partial withdrawal in 2004, 47 percent
supported such action in 2006.
METHODOLOGICAL NOTE: For the purposes of this analysis, respondents
who said they were independents were counted as independents, even if
in later questions they indicated that they leaned Republican or
Democrat. In most political polling it is standard practice to count
independents who say they lean toward Republicans or Democrats as
affiliated with that party. This is done in order to analyze the views
of those who feel some affinitystrong or weakwith one of the two
major parties. For this article, however, all those who said initially
they were independents were counted as independent in order to better
understand the attitudes of people without a strong sense of party
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