Those who have wondered why conservatives and liberals seem to have irreconcilable differences need wonder no more. The Worldview Measurement Project conducted by the American Culture and Faith Institute shows how vastly different the core beliefs of those two segments have become.
Ideology and Theology
Drawing from a nationwide survey of adults that measured how many people have a biblical worldview, the research discovered that people who are politically conservative are more than twice as likely as those who are politically liberal to have biblical positions on the twenty belief indicators tested by ACFI. In addition, the survey found that political conservatives are about 60% more likely to hold biblical positions on those indicators than are those who qualify as politically moderate.
There were 15 belief statements among the 20 included in the survey for which conservatives were substantially more likely than liberals to hold a biblical point of view – that is, a difference between the two groups of at least 25 percentage points. Those included the following differences:
- Saying that God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect creator of the universe who still rules it today (a 43 percentage point difference between the two segments)
- Strongly agreeing that the main purpose of life is to know, love, and serve God (40-point gap)
- Asserting that everyone is a sinner in need of a savior, repentance and forgiveness (39-point difference)
- Believing that the Bible is the word of God, with no errors (38-point gap)
- Strongly disagreeing that Satan does not exist but is just a symbol of evil (36-point gap)
- Saying that God created human beings in what is pretty much their present form, just as the Bible says (34-point difference)
- Strongly agreeing that the Bible is totally accurate in the life principles it conveys (33-point gap)
- Believing that God is aware of everything happening and remains actively involved in peoples’ lives (33-point difference)
- Believing that the Bible is the most reliable source of absolute moral truth (32-point gap)
- Believing that the most important indicator of personal success in life is one’s commitment and obedience to God (31-point difference)
- Believing that success is best indicated by commitment and obedience to God (31-point difference)
- Firmly asserting that their religious faith is very important to them (31-point gap)
- Contending that there are moral absolutes that are unchanging (30-point difference)
- Saying it is very important to be engaged in developing a deeper relationship with God (27-point difference)
- Saying it is very important to increase their personal understanding of God’s ways, as described in the Bible (27-point gap)
Those statistics reveal that conservatives and liberals have substantially different perspectives on such central beliefs as the nature and influence of God; the reliability of the Bible; the definition of success in life; the existence of moral absolutes; the purpose of life; the centrality of faith; and the existence of evil.
People who classify themselves as neither conservative nor liberal on political matters tend to fall somewhere between the positions of conservatives and liberals on spiritual and worldview questions. The ACFI data shows, however, that these political “moderates” are typically positioned more closely to the liberal point of view than to the conservative outlook.
The survey also pointed out that among the twenty different belief statements only one of those was embraced by a majority of the adult population. A slight majority (55%) believes it is very important to develop a deeper relationship with God.
Noting that our core spiritual beliefs are central to determining our self-image, our character, and how we live, researcher George Barna expanded on the importance of the survey results.
“The bottom line is that we do what we deeply believe,” Barna commented. “Imploring people to just get along by compromising their convictions is not a realistic call to action. These beliefs form the core of peoples’ worldview, which is the filter through which they experience, understand, and respond to the world. Their worldview helps them makes sense of reality and gives them a way of reacting to situations that is consistent with what they believe is right and appropriate. You cannot compromise your convictions and feel good about yourself. The only way we can get people to come together in a more meaningful, honest and peaceful fashion is by addressing the worldview that is responsible for peoples’ choices.”
The ACFI survey revealed that the link between ideology and beliefs helps explain the recent election results. “Election surveys have pointed out how significant people’s candidate preference in the presidential race was to their hopes for the future,” said Barna. “In that light, the Worldview Measurement Project surveys demonstrate the power of worldview, even in elections. Among all adults, those with a biblical worldview were more likely to vote than were those who did not. That is because a biblical worldview informs people that participating in the direction and leadership of society is a personal duty. Further, among voters who have a biblical worldview, 68% voted for Donald Trump and 27% voted for Hillary Clinton. Their primary motivation had to do with restoring traditional moral values. Among voters who do not have a biblical worldview, Mrs. Clinton held a 47% to 44% edge. She was the preference of those without a biblical worldview primarily in the hope of adopting more postmodern values.
“These people are not merely accepting the party line. They are expressing their view of the world. The only viable route to creating political accord on the divisive issues of the day is to facilitate adjustments to their worldview.”
Barna further indicated that a quick resolution to the “culture war” plaguing America is impossible. “This confrontation has been in the making for the last 50 years. The fact that it is coming into focus now reflects our past unwillingness to admit that our choices have consequences. The implications of the choices that we, as a society, have made since the mid-Sixties, in terms of parenting, education, media exposure, religious training, and political influence, are now inescapable. Because a person’s worldview is developed before their teen years, it takes a while for that process to bear its fruit. But the divisiveness we have in the United States today did not emerge overnight. It is the outgrowth of the principles and values that were taught to our children over the last 50 years. Now that they are adults, we are seeing the impact of those choices.
“And in the same way that it took a long time for those choices to produce results,” Barna concluded, “it will take several decades of intentional development of children to alter the direction in which America is moving these days.”
The survey is part of the Worldview Measurement Project, which will be conducted every February to assess the state of America’s worldview. The current study is the first in that project and will be used as a benchmark for comparison in future years.
About the Research
The research described in this report is from FullView™, a national public opinion study conducted by the American Culture and Faith Institute (ACFI) among a nationwide random sample of adults. The FullView™ survey was conducted February 1-5, 2017, with 1,000 respondents age 18 or older 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 Jesus 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 the weekly research reports produced by ACFI, visit the website and register for the American Culture Review newsletter.