Faith voters voting more on economic issues as religiosity in state declines
As Ben Felder with the Oklahoman noted, Oklahoma is still a state with a majority of voters who identify as an Evangelical Christian, and they play a significant role in our elections. But, changes in how evangelicals and high church goers vote is effecting the outcome of elections and state questions in ways not expected or anticipated.
The greatest change and surprise may be that evangelicals and high church goers are not necessarily voting social issues but rather economic issues as their most important issue. When Evangelicals were asked which issues were more important to them, 49.8 percent said economic issues like lower taxes, government spending and job creation. Only 23.3 percent said social issues like abortion and traditional marriage protection, and 24.7 percent said education issues like teacher pay, state standards, and increased funding to schools.
[box]Do you consider yourself to be an Evangelical Christian?
1. Yes55.62. No40.93. Don't know [DNR]3.5
[box]How often do you attend religious services?
1. Several times a week16.52. Weekly30.23. Less than weekly/infrequently throughout the year24.94. Never25.05. Don't know/Refused [DNR]3.3
Among those who reported attending religious services several times a week, 35.5 percent said social issues, but a near equal amount, 31.4 percent, said economic issues and 27.7 percent said education issues. Among those who reported attending religious services only once a week, 51.6 percent told us economic issues were the most important and only 21.1 percent said social issues.
Regarding State Question 792, where it might be expected that evangelicals or high church goers would be united in opposition to the expansion of wine and strong beer in the state, support for the measure is getting 54.3 percent among evangelicals and 60.4 percent among weekly attenders.
"These voters are more than likely viewing SQ792 through an economic lens rather than a social issue lens," said Bill Shapard, CEO of SoonerPoll.com.
Another state question, SQ790, which appeals the prohibition on public expenditures to faith-based institutions, is another example where evangelicals and high church goers are not united in their support, which would be expected if social issues were their top concern. Only 33.5 percent of high church goers supported the measure, while only 43.4 percent of evangelicals voiced support.
"The emphasis on economic issues among evangelicals and high church goers may also be tied to an overall decrease that's been observed in both demographical subsets over the last six years," said Shapard.
A decrease can also be observed among likely voters who attend religious services several times a week.
"This is significant in that high church attendance typically correlates with increased civic engagement which includes the act of voting," said Shapard, who went on to note that a recently released analysis of political engagement ranked Oklahoma last among all fifty states.
It is important to note that Oklahoma likely voters overall reported greater emphasis on economic issues following the 2008 recession, which has stayed rather consistent through the recent declines in oil and gas prices that affect the state's economy.
"It is difficult at this time to determine any cause and effect relationships from the data, but one thing is certain: Oklahoma is experiencing a decrease in overall religiosity among likely voters, along with a overall decrease in political engagement while at the same time putting greater importance on economic issues," Shapard said.
About the Poll
SoonerPoll.com, Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, asked these questions of Oklahoma likely voters as part of the SoonerPoll Quarterly Poll and was commissioned by the Oklahoman.
The scientific study was conducted from October 18-20, 2016 with 530 likely Oklahoma voters selected at random statewide from a tri-frame of both landline telephone and cell phones, plus a online panel from Research Now. The sample was weighted by age, political party, and congressional district in order to reflect the Oklahoma likely voter population for a general election. The weighting was conducted using a 'layered technique.'
The sample reflects the traditional demographical profile of the Oklahoma likely voter with roughly half of respondents identifying as conservative and attending religious services once or more per week. The study has a Margin of Error (MoE) of ± 4.26 percent.
This poll not only conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls but exceeds the standard disclosure with a Call Disposition and Rate Calculation Report. A complete description of the methodology can be found here.
The poll's Call Disposition and Rate Calculation Report can be viewed here. A beta version of the Weighting Table Report can be viewed here.