It must be Pew Research day here at my blog. Today Pew Research released a very interesting study of the attitudes of young White Evangelicals, that shows a significant shift in the political attitudes of this group:
White evangelicals are typically analyzed as a group, but an examination of the younger generation (those ages 18-29) provides evidence that white evangelicals may be undergoing some significant political changes. An analysis of Pew Research Center surveys conducted between 2001 and 2007 suggests that younger white evangelicals have become increasingly dissatisfied with Bush and are moving away from the GOP. The question is whether these changes will result in a shift in white evangelical votes in 2008 and beyond.
Bush's approval rating has fallen fairly steadily among almost every segment of the American public, but the drop in support has been particularly significant among white evangelicals ages 18-29. This group was among Bush's strongest supporters in the beginning of his presidency; in 2002, for example, an overwhelming majority (87%) approved of Bush's job performance. By August 2007, however, Bush's approval rating among this group had plummeted by 42 percentage points, with most of the drop (25 points) coming since 2005.
By contrast, Bush's job approval among older generations of white evangelicals (those ages 30 and older) has undergone a much more gradual decline, falling 28 points since 2002 and just 11 points since 2005.
. . .
In 2001, 55% of younger white evangelicals identified as Republicans – nearly three-and-a-half times the number who identified as Democrats, and more than double the number of Americans overall in this age group who identified as Republicans. Throughout Bush's first term, party identification among younger white evangelicals remained relatively stable, but since 2005 the group's Republican affiliation has dropped significantly – by 15 percentage points. However, the shift away from the GOP has not resulted in substantial Democratic gains; instead it has produced a small increase in the number of Democrats (five-point increase) and a ten-point increase in the number of independents and politically unaffiliated Americans. Republicans now have only a two-to-one advantage over Democrats among younger white evangelicals, compared with a nearly four-to-one edge in 2005.
By comparison, the shift in party affiliation among older white evangelicals, and Americans overall in the 18-29 age group, has been less dramatic. Older white evangelicals' Republican Party identification has declined by just five percentage points since 2005, and among young people overall it has also declined by only five points. Yet, despite significant movement away from the GOP since 2005, younger white evangelicals still are twice as likely (40%) as young people as a whole (20%) to say they are Republican.
Pew Research emphasizes that this trend should not be oversold--young white Evangelicals remain more conservative than the general public, and only a minority will vote Democratic. They view this as more a reaction to Bush than a more fundamental ideological shift:
Young white evangelicals remain largely committed to politically conservative values and to conservative positions on a variety of issues, including the war in Iraq, capital punishment and abortion. Indeed, in 2007, more white evangelicals ages 18-29 describe their political views as conservative (44%) than moderate (34%) or liberal (15%), almost identical to their ideological leanings in 2001. So although younger white evangelicals are 14 percentage points less conservative on this measure than white evangelicals ages 30 and older, they are 17 points more conservative than young people as a whole.
Young white evangelicals exhibit this conservative tendency in their opinion on the war in Iraq. While support for the war has fallen precipitously among all Americans since 2003, the majority (60%) of younger white evangelicals still believe that using military force in Iraq was the right decision, an identical percentage to the number of older white evangelicals who express the same view. Among younger Americans overall, only 41% say that it was the right decision.
Younger white evangelicals express a similarly conservative opinion when it comes to capital punishment, with the vast majority (72%) favoring the death penalty for convicted murderers, compared with 75% of older white evangelicals but only 56% of all Americans ages 18-29.
And when it comes to abortion, younger white evangelicals are even more conservative than their older counterparts. For example, 70% of younger white evangelicals favor "making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion," compared with 55% of older white evangelicals and 39% of young Americans overall who share this view.
This strong allegiance to conservatism and conservative positions suggests that young white evangelicals' turn away from the president and his party may be the product of dissatisfaction with this particular administration rather than the result of an underlying shift in this group's political values and policy views.
Read it all here.
While I don't disagree with the Pew Research analysis, I think that at least some of the shift is ideological--focused on addition of issues like the environment rather a change in a position on abortion--and there is other evidence that on some issues like gay rights this younger demographic is more socially liberal. While a majority of young White Evangelicals will not vote Democrat any time soon, even a modest shift in voting could have profound effects on both parties.