New survey results released by the American Culture & Faith Institute (ACFI) show that Christian conservatives are relatively united in their ideas about the current state of the nation. The survey asked them to describe their views on eight matters and found that two-thirds or more of the group concurred in their views regarding six of those eight conditions. The segment, often referred to as SAGE Cons – Spiritually Active, Governance Engaged Conservatives – is more evenly divided on the other two matters.
The December survey discovered that SAGE Cons are almost uniformly pro-life and believe in absolute moral truth.
Overall, 99% of the SAGE Cons described themselves as “a pro-life advocate.” That is consistent with surveys throughout the election season indicating that national abortion laws were a major concern for SAGE Con voters and a primary deterrent to voting for Hillary Clinton. Their concern about abortion policies led a majority of them to rate the Supreme Court nomination, to fill the seat vacated by recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia, as one of the two most important issues in the election.
The data also indicated that SAGE Cons are twice as likely as the typical American adult to embrace the “pro-life advocate” label. A national survey of all adults conducted by ACFI in February 2017 found that only 49% of adults claim that description for themselves.
Similarly, 99% of SAGE Cons said they believe that absolute moral truths exist. That represents more than double the percentage of the national adult population that believes in absolute moral truth; just 42% of all US adults say that there is such a thing as absolute moral truth.
In both cases the SAGE Con outcomes were consistent across all of the demographic and theolographic measures examined by ACFI.
These findings presage the release of a groundbreaking research study completed by ACFI during the first week of February to examine Americans’ worldviews. That research, which will be released at the National Religious Broadcasters convention on February 27, will serve as a benchmark for ACFI’s annual update on the worldview of Americans.
Big League Trump Support
The survey found that 95% of SAGE Cons agree that “the United States will be a better place if Donald Trump is allowed to implement his agenda.” That’s about the same percentage of SAGE Cons that voted for Trump in the November election (94%).
In following the trend of younger voters being more likely to challenge President Trump’s efforts, the survey found that only 88% of SAGE Cons under 50 believe that the US will be better off if the President’s agenda is implemented. That was significantly lower than the 96% recorded among the older Christian conservatives surveyed.
Standing Their Ground
Sometimes it is not easy to be a principled conservative, as many SAGE Cons will admit. The survey found that two-thirds of the politically-oriented Christian conservatives (64%) “have had strong disagreements with family or friends about your political views or preferences” during the past six months.
There were a number of significant differences as to what kinds of Christian conservatives were most likely to be embroiled in such disputes. Close to three-quarters of Baby Boom SAGE Cons (72%) had engaged in such arguments, making them far more likely than either younger (63%) or older (56%) SAGE Cons to participate in such exchanges. Christian conservatives who reside in the Northeastern states (74%) were also much more likely than those in any other section of the country to get into heated political conversations with family and friends. The survey data also showed that the more affluent a SAGE Con is, the more likely he or she was to have been involved in strong disagreements with family or friends over political matters.
Media Affecting Young People
SAGE Cons have little love or appreciation for the mainstream media. An Election Day survey by ACFI revealed that 99% of them believed the mainstream media had been unfair and subjective in their reporting of the presidential election. Subsequent surveys show that little has changed regarding conservatives’ perceptions of media performance.
The latest ACFI research notes that almost two-thirds of them (62%) also believe that “the mainstream media have more impact on the lives of young people than any other entity.”
There were no significant differences across the SAGE Con subgroups surveyed.
The Goodness Factor
One of the core philosophies of postmodern society is that people are essentially good. The forthcoming FullView survey data from ACFI show that nearly three out of four Americans (74%) have adopted that view.
However, that is not a creed that SAGE Cons typically endorse. Driven by their Bible beliefs, almost the exact opposite proportion – 76% – says that people are not basically good. A huge majority of SAGE Cons accept the biblical narrative that all people are sinners and no one is righteous, raising the need for everyone to have a savior to represent them before a holy and righteous God who will judge their lives. They believe that Jesus Christ is that savior.
However, there is a major division within the ranks of the Christian conservatives on this matter. Only two out of ten SAGE Cons who attend a Protestant church believe that people are basically good. Among SAGE Cons who are Catholics, though, eight out of ten (81%) believe people are basically good.
The relentless partisan divide that has characterized the US in recent years has disheartened millions of Americans. That was evident in the research showing that almost half of all SAGE Cons – 42% – believe “it will be virtually impossible to unify the American people at this point.”
Men were more likely than women to doubt the likelihood of unification. Protestants were more likely than Catholics to doubt a period of unity in the near future. White SAGE Cons were more likely than their non-white counterparts to dismiss the possibility of unity. Geographically, Christian conservatives in the South were the most hopeful of unity while those living in the Northeast held the least hope of Americans being brought together.
With thousands of protesters demonstrating in various places around the nation it is obvious that many citizens have decided that this is a time for civil disobedience. But what about SAGE Cons? Are they, too, willing to engage in acts of resistance when they perceive the government to have behaved inappropriately?
The December survey showed that half of SAGE Cons (49%) say they are willing to carry out such acts of resistance. The ACFI survey noted that civil disobedience is more likely among non-white than white SAGE Cons; among those under 65 than Christian conservatives 65 or older; and among those from upper income households; and among those living in the Northeast.
When SAGE Cons were asked about their willingness to engage in civil disobedience on Election Day, 43% said they were willing. The slight increase in current degree of willingness (six percentage points) is attributable to increased openness within four particular segments. Those include Christian conservatives under 50 (up 11 points); those living in the Northeast (up 11 points); SAGE Cons from households making $100,000 or more annually (up 16 points); and non-white Christian conservatives (up 23 points). The survey also found that there was no change among Catholic SAGE Cons; all of the increased willingness to engage in civil disobedience was found among those associating with Protestant or non-denominational Christian traditions.
“Just a few years ago it was increasingly popular for writers on the Left to declare that the culture wars were over, and that the Left had won,” noted George Barna, Executive Director of the American Culture & Faith Institute, which conducted the survey. “Much like the time when newspapers famously – and inaccurately – reported the death of Mark Twain, the Left’s recent claims about the death of America’s culture war were also premature. Perhaps it was a dry run of the fake news concept.”
“The more research we conduct, the more clear the battle lines in the culture war are becoming. SAGE Cons have declared their allegiance to Christ and to biblical principles. The research shows that they consider politicians representing the Left, liberal policies, and socialism to be opponents of biblical principles, traditional morality, and the American way of life,” Barna continued. “They almost uniformly believe that the mainstream media is simply a mouthpiece for the Left, and that the media cannot be trusted to provide the public with an objective reporting of facts. They increasingly recognize that the Left has strategically used a variety of social institutions, such as public schools, to misinform children, in particular, about the history, nature, and future of America.”
Having studied religious dynamics in the US for more than three decades, Barna also commented on the role of churches in the cultural landscape. “SAGE Cons are not looking for their church leaders to tell them how to vote but they desperately want their church to relate biblical principles to cultural conditions and possibilities. After years of dashed hopes, they have concluded that because that they are not likely to receive such teaching, they will have to personally pursue such insights. After their experiences during the last four or five years, they are also now more likely to believe that discussing political and social matters may alter friendships, family relationships, and even where they can live or work. It is a war and the battle lines are being drawn.”
“The times bring to mind Jesus’s statement about faith-based conflicts in Matthew 10. He warned His followers that brothers will betray brothers, fathers will betray their children, children will rebel against their parents, and that there may be enemies within one’s own household, as determined by people’s embrace or rejection of Jesus,” the research veteran concluded. “A significant challenge to followers of Christ in these days is to be sure that we are fighting the right battles for the right reasons, not just to prevail politically or to get our way. Our calling is to be strong and courageous in obeying God’s laws and principles, and treating others with love and mercy. This is certainly a time of testing for the true Church in America.”
About the Research
The research described in this report is drawn from two surveys conducted by the American Culture & Faith Institute.
The first of those is RightView™, a national longitudinal study undertaken among spiritually active, governance engaged conservatives who are registered voters – a segment known as SAGE Cons. The national survey conducted for this report had a sample size of 675 qualified adults and was conducted online by the American Culture & Faith Institute from December 20 – 31, 2016.
In RightView™ studies SAGE Cons are identified 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, which constitutes a segment of approximately 30 million individuals.
The second survey was FullView™, a national public opinion survey conducted among a random sample of adults. The FullView™ survey was conducted February 1-5, 2017, based on a sample of 1,000 adults whose demographic profile reflects that of the United States.
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 to engage in cultural transformation, in ways that are consistent with the gospel of Christ. The organization does not support or promote individual political candidates or parties.
Additional information about this study and related research is accessible on the American Culture & Faith Institute website, located at www.culturefaith.com. To receive a free copy of these weekly research reports, visit the website and register for the American Culture Review newsletter.