Relatively few Americans – estimated to be slightly less than 5% of those who voted – entered the final days of the 2016 election campaign uncertain as to who they would support for the presidency. But a new study from the American Culture & Faith Institute (ACFI) shows that a majority of Christian conservatives relied on voter guides to give them insight into the many candidates, referenda, and initiatives that appeared on the ballot.
ACFI’s national survey of SAGE Cons – the spiritually active, governance engaged conservatives tracked by ACFI – discovered that three out of four turned to resources such as voter guides, websites, and other resources to gain information about their choices on the ballot. However, of that 75%, most of them included one or more voter guides among the resources consulted. Overall, about three out of five SAGE Cons (61%) specifically identified voter guides as a resource they used to help them decide how to vote.
Women Were Most Likely
The survey found that SAGE Con women were especially likely to lean on voter guides for insight – particularly in relation to initiatives and referenda. Overall, two-thirds of conservative Christian women (66%) used voter guides to better understand the policy options on their ballot; barely half of all conservative Christian men did so (53%). Women were also slightly more likely than men to use voter guides in relation to the various candidates on the ballot (62% versus 57%, respectively).
Age was also a factor in who used voter guides – but perhaps not in the way expected. In general, the older SAGE Con voters were, the more likely they were to use a guide for assistance. The survey revealed that people 65 or older were far more likely than those under 50 years of age to seek information from voter guides on the policy options by a 61% to 48% margin. There was no significant difference by age when it came to using voter guides in relation to candidate selection.
The research indicated that voter guides were most likely to be used by Christian conservatives in the West and least likely in the Northeast. In the West, a huge percentage – 86% – used guides to help them understand referenda and initiatives. Two-thirds of the Christian conservatives in the West (68%) also used a voter guide to decipher their candidate choices. SAGE Cons in the Northeast were far less likely than elsewhere in the country to use voter guides for either policy choices (38%) or candidate background (38%). Use by conservative Christian voters in the South and Midwest fell in-between the coastal extremes.
Interestingly, voter guides had greater usage among people from households earning $60,000 or less per year than among voters from homes earning more money.
Voter Guides Mattered
Although just 3% said voter guides had been the single, most important influence on their voting choices, one out of six SAGE Cons said guides were “one of the most important influences” and another one-half (53%) called voter guides “a significant influence.” In total, then, almost three out of four users (72%) attributed significant influence to voter guides.
The influence of voter guides was greater in the Northeast and Midwest than in the South and West, according to those who used them. They also had a bigger impact on the thinking of people from middle and lower-income households than upon SAGE Cons from more affluent homes.
The Lesser the Office, the Greater the Influence
ACFI’s study indicated that the farther down the ballot an elective office was positioned, the more likely voter guides were to be deemed useful by users. For instance, just 16% said they used information from a guide in determining who to vote for as president. Larger but still limited proportions used guides to help select their preference for other federal officials in the US Senate (22%) and the US House of Representatives (25%).
Once the ballot got to state and local offices, though, voter guides took on greater influence. Almost four out of ten users said they relied on voter guides to help them select candidates for state government (37%) and for local offices (39%). In like manner, four out of ten (42%) said they also turned to guides for insights into candidates seeking other positions (e.g., regional and county offices).
Women were more likely to use a voter guide for each level of office than were men.
In general, paper guides were preferred by Christian conservatives to digital or online guides. Forty-one percent said they preferred to use printed or paper guides while less than half as many (19%) favored digital or online guides. The remaining 40% said they were equally willing to use either paper or digital guides.
Comfort with technology may have been responsible for the fact that age was a major delineator of preference. Voters under age 50 preferred digital to paper (32% to 18%, respectively); voters in the 50 to 64 age group leaned toward paper rather than digital (39% to 23%); and voters 65 or older favored paper over digital guides by almost a 4-to-1 margin (49% – 13%).
Sharing the Guide
Pass-along readership greatly multiplied the value of voter guides among conservative Christians. A majority of SAGE Cons (57%) said they passed on their voter guide to other voters to use, as well. While a majority of users, across-the-board, admitted to sharing their guide with others, the survey found that people living in households making $100,000 or more were the least likely to share the resource.
About the Research
The research described in this report is part of the RightView™ longitudinal survey, a national 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 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, in ways that are consistent with the gospel of Christ. The organization does not support or promote individual candidates or political 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.