Barna’s evangelicals

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Steve Waldman’s got a useful post trying to make sense of Barna’s new poll showing evangelicals splitting evenly between Obama and McCain. OMG. Barna’s so idiosyncratic in the way he defines evangelicals–a narrow, theologically defined screen–that comparing him to other pollsters is like comparing a kumquat to a watermelon. And even taking that into account, I don’t trust his results very much: He’s always pushing an “evangelicals as backsliders” line, and this is of a piece with that. Still and all, comparing his kumquats, there does seem to be some kind of evangelical shift Obamawards. The way to look at this, as at the better documented Obama shifts among other religious groups, is not that the junior senator from Illinois has suddenly found the way into faithful hearts. It’s that he’s picking up votes across the board because of the economy, his temperament, and other secular reasons. Some of that shift is coming from parts of religious communities that he wasn’t winning before–across the board, from frequent worship attenders. Some groups are harder to move than others–Jews on the Democratic side and, in the Republican camp, Mormons above all. Their partisan identification is very, very strong. In recent elections, white evangelicals have identified almost as strongly with the GOP, so if they do shift in significant numbers, no doubt about it, it’s a big story. We’ll see.
Update: Today’s Times/CBS poll, which has Obama holding a 13 point lead, identifies evangelicals in the usual way (“Do you consider yourself a born-again or evangelical Christian?”), and finds that white evangelicals are supporting McCain 63-25, whereas they supported Bush over Kerry in 2004 78-22. What that suggests is that while Obama has not won many, a substantial number of them–12 percent–are still on the fence. Should they break strongly for Obama, such that the final margin was, say, 67-33, we’d have a real story.