Survey Reveals Likely Participation of Christian Conservatives in 2016 Campaign

Some observers of the raucous 2016 presidential race have opined that many conservatives will be less likely to get involved in the campaign because they are disappointed to have Donald Trump as their presumptive candidate. A new survey from the American Culture & Faith Institute examined how likely Christian conservatives who are active in political matters and in pursuing their faith – a segment known as SAGE Cons – are to get involved in the campaign in each of six different ways.

Volunteering

One out of every six SAGE Cons (16%) said they expect to volunteer to help a candidate’s campaign at some point during the election cycle. Men were slightly more likely to volunteer than women. The older the respondent was, the more likely they were to assist a campaign. In fact, people 65 or older were twice as likely as those under 50 to plan to volunteer. Catholics were also noticeably more likely than Protestants to engage in campaign work (25% versus 15%, respectively)

Donating Money

Three out of every ten SAGE Cons (30%) said that they had or would contribute money to one or more candidates during the 2016 election cycle. Men were more likely to indicate that they will donate funds than were women; one-third of men said they would do so compared to one-quarter of the women. Again, the data showed that the likelihood of donating increased with age: those 65 or older were more than twice as likely as Christian conservatives in the 30-49 age bracket to donate (38% to 17%, with the 50-to-64 group in-between at 28%). Catholics were more likely to donate than were Protestants (40% to 30%, respectively), and Tea Party supporters were more likely to share their money than were Christian conservatives who are not supportive of the Tea Party (34% to 25%). Household income also made a huge difference, with nearly half of the Christian conservatives from households making over $200,000 annually expecting to donate (45%) compared to 24% among those from households making under $60,000 per year (24%)

Registering

About four out of every ten SAGE Cons (42%) said they would attempt to get unregistered voters to register before the election. The respondents who are registered Republicans were somewhat more likely than those without a party affiliation to pursue new voters, 42% to 35%. Older conservatives (46%) were significantly more likely than those under 50 (29%) to seek out new voters. The higher a person’s income level, the less likely they are to attempt to get the unregistered to alter that status.

Persuading Their Friends

Two-thirds of the Christian conservatives (66%) expect to have conservations with other people in which they will try to persuade them to vote the same way as the conservative plans to vote. The same patterns regarding age and Tea Party support were evident: the older conservatives and those who favor the Tea Party were much more likely to engage in such persuasion efforts.

Using Information Guides

More than four out of five SAGE Cons (82%) expect to use sources of election-related information, such as voter guides and websites, to learn more about the candidates between now and the election. Protestants (84%) were more likely than Catholics (76%) to examine such resources for election-related information. Conservatives from lower and moderate-income households were more likely than those in upper-income homes to seek such resources.

Voting

Despite all the concern and hysteria about Donald Trump, more than nine out of ten SAGE Cons say they will definitely vote. This is in keeping with historical data showing that this niche is perhaps the group with the highest turnout rate in presidential elections over the past five presidential elections. Although actual turnout never proves to be as high as voters estimate, these statistics suggest that more than four out of five SAGE Cons are likely to cast a ballot on November 8. The other challenge, which will be explored in subsequent ACFI surveys, is what percentage of these religious conservatives plan to vote but not for a presidential candidate.

Decreasing Engagement

The survey results were compared to ACFI’s mid-term surveys conducted during the 2014 mid-term election cycle. Three of the six participation measures show decreases in activity. The trio of options that is likely to see less action in 2016 includes:

  • Using sources of voter information about the election, such as voter guides and websites – down from 92% to 82%
  • Donating money to candidates – down from 43% to 30%
  • Volunteering to help a candidate’s campaign – down from 24% to 16%

Harbinger of Things to Come

“The decline in anticipated participation levels may be a sign of a less engaged voting public for the November election,” said George Barna, Executive Director of the American Culture & Faith Institute. “During the primary season, Republicans experienced a dramatic rise in turnout, thanks to Donald Trump and the large field of candidates who ran. We track more than a dozen measures of campaign engagement and initially found that the aggregate level surpassed the norm, which would produce an above-average turnout in November.

“In a battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, however, religious conservatives feel obligated to vote,” Barna continued, “but less compelled to lift a finger to help Mr. Trump or candidates for other offices who are on the ballot. If Mr. Trump is able to wage an effective battle through unpaid media, as he did in the primaries, it might not effect his campaign. But if the campaign turns out to hinge on the effectiveness of paid advertising and a ground game, his campaign could be significantly hindered.”

The survey showed that there is also a gender gap at play. “As many have pointed out, Mr. Trump is not showing well among women. Even among SAGE Cons, men were significantly more likely than women to volunteer, to try to persuade non-Trump voters, and to donate to a campaign. Anything the Republican can do to close that gender gap will be hugely beneficial to his efforts.”

The research provided another pair of insights that Barna explained. “As is often the case, the best predictor of someone donating to a campaign is their willingness to volunteer their time to assist it. The survey indicated that volunteers are twice as likely to donate as are those who are inactive.” The veteran researcher also noted that “voters are more likely to turnout in November if they can identify one or two issues that they feel strongly about, and which they are tracking during the campaign season. Voters who cannot identify a compelling issue will be more likely to stay on the sidelines this November.”

About the Research

The survey was conducted by the American Culture & Faith Institute among 2,000 individuals whose faith views and political activity qualified them as SAGE Cons. The survey was conducted online from May 11-20, 2016. The 2014 survey was conducted online among 2,001 SAGE Cons during August 2014. To avoid any design bias, the same questions were asked in both the 2014 and 2016 surveys.

The American Culture & Faith Institute is a division of United in Purpose, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The mission of United in Purpose is to educate, motivate and activate conservative Christians related to the political process. The organization does not support individual candidates or political parties.

In the research SAGE Cons are qualified as adults who are registered voters; conservative on political matters; have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior; are active in pursuing their Christian faith; and are actively engaged in politics and government. They represent about 12% of the national adult population.

Additional information about this and related research is accessible on the American Culture & Faith Institute website, located at www.culturefaith.com.