New survey data from the American Culture & Faith Institute (ACFI) reveal the most popular cultural leaders in the eyes of Christian conservatives as well as the individuals deemed to be most effective at leading cultural change.

Popular Leaders

In a pair of national surveys conducted by ACFI among SAGE Cons – the Spiritually Active, Governance Engaged Conservative Christians – the popularity of 31 leaders was evaluated. Those leaders included both political and religious leaders.

Five of those 30 leaders were rated as favorable in the eyes of at least nine out of ten SAGE Cons. Four of those leaders were political and one was a social/religious leader. The top-rated leaders were Vice President Mike Pence (98%); Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Ben Carson (97%); Rev. Franklin Graham, of the Billy Graham Association and Samaritan’s Pence (97%); Gov. Mike Huckabee (94%); and President Donald Trump (91%).

Just below those leaders was Senator Ted Cruz, who received an 85% favorability score from SAGE Cons.

The next tier of leaders included Attorney General Jeff Sessions (79%); pollster George Barna (77%); presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway (75%); and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (73%).

Other leaders who generated a favorability score above 50% were Family Research Council president Tony Perkins (66%); president of American Values, Gary Bauer (64%); president of the Heritage Foundation, Jim DeMint (58%); president of the American Family Association, Tim Wildmon (54%); and Secretary of Defense James Mattis (53%). David Barton, president of Wallbuilders, had a 50% favorability rating.

Several political leaders failed to reach the 50% favorability plateau due to low awareness levels. President advisor Steve Bannon (49% favorability but unknown to 38%), Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (45% favorability but unknown to 49%), and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price (29% favorability but unknown to 70%) all suffered from being off the radar among large chunks of the SAGE Con population.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was well-known but not widely appreciated among SAGE Cons. The veteran Senator from Kentucky had a 44% favorable – 44% unfavorable rating, with only 11% unaware of him.

The lack of public awareness impacted the ratings of many of the national Christian leaders evaluated by Christian conservatives. Ralph Reed (38% favorable), James Robison (37% favorable), Jack Graham (22%), Russell Moore (16%), Jim Garlow (14%), Samuel Rodriguez (11%), and Bob Vander Plaats (11%) were Christian leaders who generated little negative public reaction, but were invisible to a majority of conservative Christians.

The lowest levels of favorability among the national ministry leaders tested – again attributable to low levels of awareness – were recorded for Lance Wallnau (9% favorable), Jim Wallis (7% favorable), Sam Rohrer (5%), and Steve Scheibner (5%).

Wallis held the distinction of being the only Christian leader evaluated among SAGE Cons who had a higher unfavorable than favorable rating. A leader of the Christian Left, Wallis received a 7% favorable and 10% unfavorable rating from SAGE Cons. His “unfavorable” score was twice as high as that accorded to the next highest negative rating among religious leader (Russell Moore, 5%).


Leaders of Change

The ACFI survey also identified the leaders whom SAGE Cons believed to have been most effective at leading positive cultural change in the U.S. during 2016.

Topping the list, by a large margin, was Franklin Graham. Two-thirds of SAGE Cons (66%) mentioned his name, placing him at the top of the list. He was named more often than the second-highest rated person by 28 percentage points. He was listed by Protestants twice as frequently as by Catholics. He was also mentioned more frequently by conservative Christians in the Midwest and West than by those in the South and Northeast.

Trailing the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association executive were HUD Secretary Ben Carson (listed by 38%); President Donald Trump (30%); and Vice President Mike Pence (27%).

A bit farther down the list were family advocate and radio host James Dobson (19%); biblical apologist Ravi Zacharias (19%); Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins (16%); past presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (16%); reality TV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines (16%); and radio personality Rush Limbaugh (13%).

Other leaders perceived by significant numbers of conservative Christians to have ushered in positive cultural transformation last year included several additional faith-centered leaders: David Barton, Mat Staver, Tim Wildmon, Eric Metaxas, and Jim Daly.

SAGE Cons had the opportunity to name any leaders that came to mind as having fostered positive cultural transformation in 2016. Perhaps surprisingly, many of the high-profile leaders regularly promoted by the major media did not appear on the list constructed by Christian conservatives. Among the well-known leaders who did notmake the list of people credited with producing positive cultural transformation were:

  • Political leaders including former President Barack Hussein Obama, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, left-wing philanthropist George Soros, and long-time House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
  • Technology executives Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, and Eric Schmidt
  • Business icons Rupert Murdoch, Jeff Bezos, Howard Schultz, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk
  • Activist musicians Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, and Barbra Streisand
  • Entertainers Oprah Winfrey, Kim Kardashian, George Clooney, Ellen DeGeneres, Whoopi Goldberg, and Alec Baldwin.

None of those individuals was named by at least one-half of one percent of the SAGE Con population.


About the Research

The research described in this report is drawn from two studies that are part of the RightView™ longitudinal research project, a national study undertaken among spiritually active, governance engaged conservatives – a segment known as SAGE Cons. These waves of the survey had a combined sample size of 1,400 qualified adults and were conducted online by the American Culture & Faith Institute during January and February of 2017.

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 8% to 10% of the national adult population, which constitutes a segment of some 20 to 25 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 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 To receive a free copy of the weekly research reports produced by ACFI, visit the website and register for the American Culture Review newsletter.