Evangelicals more concerned with gas prices, inflation than abortion, religious freedom ahead of midterms

By Ryan Foley, Christian Post Reporter

A couple walks into a polling center to vote in the midterm elections on November 6, 2018, in Provo, Utah. | Getty Images/George Frey

A new survey overseen by prominent Evangelical pollster George Barna suggests economic issues like gas prices and inflation will have more impact on Evangelical voters in the upcoming midterm elections than cultural issues like abortion and religious freedom.

The Barna-led Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University released a report Thursday examining the concerns of 2,275 adults living in the United States ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

While the survey was conducted in July, its release comes less than three weeks before voters determine which party controls the U.S. Congress for the next two years and who will win the 36 governorships being contested this year.

“Even among the most deeply religious Americans, regardless of their faith of choice, a greater emphasis was placed upon the personal impact of governance choices and public policies,” Barna, the director of the Cultural Research Center who also serves as a senior research fellow for the Center for Biblical Worldview at the Christian conservative organization Family Research Council, said.

“That focus on self, to the exclusion of the community, is a reflection of the syncretistic worldview and the decline of spiritual commitment in America.”

The survey presented respondents with a list of issues facing the country, asking them to “indicate how much influence each of those issues will have on whom you vote for in the upcoming election.” Participants could select “a lot, some, not much, or none.”

Sixty-one percent of those surveyed said that “inflation and rising cost of living” will have “a lot” of influence on their votes in the midterm elections. By contrast, just 13% maintained that “inflation and rising cost of living” concerns will have “not much” or no influence on their vote in the Nov. 8 election.

Majorities of adults queried in the survey reported that two additional economic issues would have “a lot” of influence on their vote in the midterms: “food prices and shortages” (60%) as well as “oil and gasoline policies, prices” (58%).

The share of respondents who cite “food prices and shortages” as having “a lot” of influence on their preferences in the midterms outnumbers those who view it as a matter with little to no impact on their vote by 45 points.

Similarly, just 16% of adults surveyed identified oil and gasoline-related issues as matters that will have little to no influence on their vote.

Besides the aforementioned economic issues, “crime, policing, [and] personal safety” constituted the only other issue that at least half of respondents classified as a significant factor in their vote. Fifty percent of the sample pointed to public safety as a major influence on their vote, while 17% said the opposite.

Less than half of those surveyed listed issues that generally resonate with voters of faith as influential determinants of their vote in the midterms, such as “abortion and the right to life” (46%), “quality of public-school education” (42%), “national morality and changing values” (38%) and “religious freedom” (36%).

However, respondents with a biblical worldview ranked religious freedom in the top five most important issues determining their vote. Abortion is the third most frequently cited issue determining the votes of those with a biblical worldview.

At the same time, abortion, concerns about national morals, quality of public education and religious freedom were not included as one of the top five most frequently cited determining factors in the votes of born-again Christians and respondents who regularly attend Evangelical churches.

Among born-again Christians, the highest share of respondents ranked “food prices and shortages,” “inflation and the rising cost of living,” and “oil and gasoline policies, prices” as issues that mattered “a lot” in determining their vote. “Protection against terrorism and crime” and “policing and public safety” rounded out the top five issues most frequently cited as the most important among born-again Christians. 

Ranking issues by the frequency with which Christians cited them as the most important factor in their midterm votes found “inflation and the rising cost of living” in first place, followed by “food prices and shortages,” “oil and gasoline policies, prices,” “crime, policing and public safety,” and “protection against terrorism.”

The issue most frequently cited as a major factor determining the votes of adherents to a religion other than Christianity was “oil and gasoline policies, prices,” followed by “food prices and shortages,” “inflation and the rising cost of living,” “health insurance,” “protection against terrorism” and “racism, discrimination, intolerance.”

The largest share of those who self-identified as having no faith listed “inflation and rising cost of living” as a significant factors determining their vote ahead of the midterms, followed by “food prices and shortages,” “oil and gasoline policies, prices,” “abortion,” “protection against terrorism” and “racism, discrimination, intolerance.”

Although the frequency in which they were cited differed among the groups, Evangelicals, Protestants and Catholics saw the same five issues as most determinative of their midterm vote: inflation, food prices, gas prices, public safety and protection against terrorism.

Inflation ranked high in importance among Spiritually Active Governance Engaged Christians, also known as SAGE Cons, as did gas prices, religious freedom, food prices and shortages, and immigration.

Barna believes the survey results should be a concern for Democrats on the ballot in 2022. 

“Many of the most influential issues in this election are those that highlight publicly perceived failures by the Democrats,” Barna contends. “The highest-impact issues — specifically, inflation, the cost of food and related shortages, and policies and prices related to gas and oil — all highlight turns for the worse over the past two years, when Democrats have held the White House and both chambers of Congress.”

Barna believes that “if historical patterns hold true, voters will hold Democrats responsible for those failures.” Despite a typically high incumbency rating in Congress, Barna said there has been a “historical tendency to replace the prevailing party in mid-term elections,” and there is an “unusually large number of incumbents not seeking re-election.”

“Some four out of five incumbents in the U.S. House and Senate are typically re-elected,” Barna stressed. “However, there may yet be substantial change in the two federal legislative bodies given the confluence of anger with the condition of America.”

The RealClearPolitics average of generic ballot polls asking voters which party they want to control Congress shows Republicans with a 3.2-point lead. The FiveThirtyEight Deluxe Model, which forecasts the outcome of elections based on polls, fundraising, past voting patterns and the opinions of political experts, gives Republicans an 80% chance of retaking control of the U.S. House of Representatives while giving Democrats a 55% chance of maintaining control of the U.S. Senate as of Sunday night.