Jump directly to the content

How the Evangelical Exit Poll Question Misleads

Conrad Hackett, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, has a helpful if wonkish (and expensive) article in the last Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion on measuring evangelicals.

Michael Lindsay, he of Faith in the Halls of Power, cowrote the article and has an executive summary on his website.

But today on The Immanent Frame blog, Hackett summarizes the article with an eye to tonight's exit poll data:

The question used to identify evangelicals in today's exit polls is "Would you describe yourself as a born-again or evangelical Christian?" Unfortunately, this is not a great survey question.

One problem with this measure is that it produces estimates of the evangelical population considerably larger and different from estimates based on measures more commonly used by scholars. The measure originates with the Gallup Organization, which has been using it since 1986 to track the size of America's evangelical population. It was introduced into presidential election exit polls in 2004.

Despite Gallup's reputation, the measure has several flaws. It is a double-barreled question that implies that "born-again" and "evangelical" are interchangeable labels, which may not be true for all respondents. It does not offer respondents alternate ways of expressing religious identity, which no doubt inflates estimates of the evangelical population. In this respect, a better question would be "Would you describe yourself as an evangelical Christian, another type of Christian, or a non-Christian?"

More helpful analysis follows, including a nod to the problem of asking only white Protestants whether they're evangelicals or born-again Christians.

Related Topics:Politics
Posted:November 5, 2008 at 12:29AM
Gleanings aggregates what others are reporting. Learn more.
Recent Posts
Houston Drops Sermons from Subpoenas
Opponents still question relevance of pastor info to their case.
Asia Bibi's Death Sentence Upheld by Lahore High Court
Supreme Court appeal likely to delay outcome for 3 more years
Patrick Henry College President Resigns Amid Board Disagreement
Walker: "The Board and I have simply decided that sometimes it is best to agree to disagree."
CCCU Settles Lawsuit with Fired Former President
'Philosophical differences over leadership approach' cited as why Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and Edward O. Blews Jr. 'parted ways.'
Christianity Today
How the Evangelical Exit Poll Question Misleads