Do Evangelicals Really Prefer Hillary to Obama? No One Knows For Sure
The competition in the Democratic nomination is so close among evangelicals that some researchers and pundits are being driven to prayer.
Recent polls suggest more evangelicals are voting for Sen. Hillary Clinton than Sen. Barack Obama, but most of the polls are still inconclusive.
Pundits still don't know if evangelicals have voted or plan to vote for Clinton or Obama because exit polls do not ask Democrats whether they self-identify as evangelical.
"I keep praying so far my prayers have not been answered that the exit polls would ask the born-again question because then we could resolve this question," said John Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The Gallup Poll conducted the most recent poll and found a correlation between religiosity and support for Clinton among Democrats. The organization did not distinguish evangelicals from other highly religious voters, but more white religious Democrats defined as those who attend church weekly supported Clinton (46 percent) to Obama (43 percent).
"It's a bit counterintuitive," Green said. "It's interesting because conventional wisdom says they would be for Barack Obama, who speaks so comfortably about his faith."
Scott Keeter at the Pew Research Center said the center's general political polling shows that Clinton is doing a little better among those who attend church at least a few times a year.
CNN exit polls showed that Obama gained more votes from those who have highest church attendance. However, Obama has also led polls among African American voters, who tend to be highly religious, so Green believes the data does not show whether Obama is winning the religious vote.
Zogby International conducted a survey for Faith in Public Life, a left-leaning interfaith organization, on how evangelicals voted in Missouri and Tennessee. The survey found white evangelicals preferring Clinton to Obama in both states. Clinton's support was significantly higher among evangelicals than among white Protestants overall.
However, Nathan Gonzales at the Rothenberg Political Report said that the study's high margin of error made it inconclusive.
"The sub-samples were so small that any conclusions are not statistically reliable," Gonzales said.
Earlier Zogby polls, conducted before Democratic primaries in California, Georgia, and New Jersey, also had evangelicals preferring Clinton to Obama, according to Religon & Ethics Newsweekly.
The Barna Group conducted a telephone survey right before the February 5 "Super Tuesday" elections and found that 40 percent would support the Democratic candidate in November, compared to 29 percent who would back the Republican. Those polls said that 20 percent of born-again voters said they would likely vote for Clinton, and 18 percent would vote for Obama, but the difference was smaller than the poll's margin of error. The only Republican candidate to reach support in the double digits was Mike Huckabee, with 12 percent.
"It does indicate something unexpected might be going on," Green said. "If you put all of these together, you can get a sense that there may be a larger number of evangelicals in Democratic primaries than in the past, and they do seem to be gravitating toward Clinton."
Although both Clinton and Obama have made efforts to reach out to evangelical leaders like Rick Warren, it's still not clear which one appeals more, said Eric Sapp, cofounder of Common Good Strategies, a consulting firm that helps Democrats seek religious voters.