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Public perception vs self perception of evangelicals

September 9, 2008, 10:51 am | Posted by Dan Nejfelt

Delving into the latest Barna poll, Christian Post’s Jennifer Riley found some fascinating data.

Sixty percent of the American people perceive evangelicals will significantly influence the election, and 59% think they “spend too much time complaining and not enough time solving problems.” What’s more, 50% of evangelicals share this perception. Hmm, I wonder where people would get that idea.

On other matters, public images and self-perceptions of evangelicals diverge, revealing a remarkable deficit of understanding:

Also, only 48 percent of evangelicals believe it is accurate that their voting peers will focus primarily on abortion and homosexuality despite the wide attention such moral issues have received. In contrast, 85 percent of all American adults agreed with this description about evangelical voters.

David Kinnaman, who directed the Barna study, pointed out that a 2007 study by Barna showed that 9 out of 10 evangelicals believe abortion is a major problem. Similarly, nearly 8 out of 10 evangelicals say homosexuality is a major challenge facing the nation.

…Meanwhile, 47 percent of all adults said evangelical voters will minimize social justice issues, like poverty and immigration. Only 28 percent of evangelicals agreed with that statement.

However, Barna evangelicals don’t see this translating into Obama votes — 74% said they expected evangelicals to vote overwhelmingly Republican.

Barna defines evangelicals by theological criteria, not self-identification, resulting in a much smaller (and more conservative) group falling into the category, so we’re planting an appleseed in an orange grove if we place this poll into the overall picture without qualifiers, but I still think these findings are noteworthy and confounding.

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