How various factors and attributes would impact pastors' likelihood of voting for a presidential candidate:...

Protestant ministers would vote for a Catholic or Jewish

presidential candidate, but not a Mormon or an Atheist

(Original release date:  October 16, 2000)  Protestant ministers would vote for a Roman Catholic for president.  They would also vote for an observant Jew, a racial or ethnic minority candidate, and someone who admitted smoking marijuana in the ‘70s.  But they don’t want to vote for an atheist or a Mormon.

 

So say the results of a study conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research) of Phoenix, Arizona.  In the study, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of Protestant church ministers, pastors were asked how 23 different factors might impact their willingness to vote for a particular candidate.

 

Most pastors are color-blind.  Eighty-four percent say the fact that a presidential candidate is African-American makes no difference to them.  Eight percent feel this would make them more likely to vote for this candidate, while 7% say they would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who is African-American.  The findings are very similar for a candidate with Hispanic or Asian heritage. 

 

Pastors aren’t entirely gender-blind, however.  Sixty-seven percent of all pastors say the gender of a candidate doesn’t make any difference to them.  Nine percent would be more likely to vote for a candidate who is female, while 24% say they would be less likely to support a female candidate. 

 

In the thinking of ministers, some of the most positive factors are a candidate’s personal faith.  Few ministers feel they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is active in a Christian church or faith group.  Eighty-four percent would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate because the candidate attends a Christian church regularly, while 16% say this would make no difference to them.  

 

Other religious factors that are positive to pastors include a candidate who is a self-described “born again Christian” (71% more likely), and a candidate who attends church in the pastor’s own denomination (55% more likely).  Pastors aren’t overly denominational, though – 56% say even if a candidate attended a Christian church outside of the pastor’s denomination, they would be more likely to vote for that candidate. 

 

The only other factor that is close to this level of importance among pastors is being a military veteran, which increases the likelihood of support among 52% of all ministers. 

 

Just because ministers like candidates with Christian involvement doesn’t mean they would support one of their own in that role.  Only 33% of all pastors would be more likely to vote for a candidate who is an ordained Christian minister, while 19% say this would decrease their likelihood of support, and 48% say it wouldn’t make a difference. 

 

Ministers were also asked about supporting candidates from other faith traditions.  Sixty-three percent of all pastors say the fact that a candidate actively practices the Jewish faith would not impact their vote, which takes on particular importance in the 2000 election due to Senator Joe Lieberman’s presence on the Democratic ticket.  Nine percent feel this would increase their likelihood of support for the candidate, while 29% feel less likely to vote for someone who is an observant Jew.  (It should be noted that the data was gathered before Senator Lieberman was named as the vice presidential candidate, which means pastors were responding to the issue rather than to a specific individual.)  The numbers are very similar for a candidate who is active in the Roman Catholic faith. 

 

While Catholicism and Judaism are acceptable to most Protestant ministers, other faiths are not.  Ninety-four percent feel they would be less likely to support someone who is a self-described atheist, and 85% would be less likely to vote for someone who actively practices a non-Christian faith.  

 

In what may be one of the more surprising findings in the study, 76% of all Protestant ministers say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate because of that candidate’s active participation in the Mormon faith.  And while Mormons are often noted for strong family orientation and conservative politics, the ministers most strongly opposed to a Mormon candidate are Republicans and political conservatives.  

 

There were also a number of factors which proved to be relatively divisive among ministers.  For instance, a candidate who is a member of the National Rifle Association would have a positive impact on 23% of all ministers, a negative impact on 31%, and make no difference to 45%.  Similarly, a candidate’s membership in the Christian Coalition is appealing to 42% of all ministers, unappealing to 29%, and would make no difference for 29%.  

 

The same is not true of membership in the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU.  Seventy-seven percent would be less likely to vote for someone because of ACLU membership. 

 

Another strongly negative factor is homosexuality.  Eighty-six percent of all pastors say the fact that a candidate is openly gay would negatively impact their likelihood of voting for that candidate. 

 

Interestingly, two issues of past indiscretions which have surfaced in recent presidential elections and may be thought to have similarities – marital infidelity and drug use – are viewed very differently by ministers.  A majority of pastors (61%) say the fact that a candidate admits to having smoked marijuana in the 1970s would not make a difference, while 38% say this would decrease their likelihood of supporting that candidate.  But a candidate who admits to having had a marital affair twenty years ago would make no difference to just 39% of ministers, while 59% feel their chances of supporting the candidate would shrink because of that factor. 

 

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, noted that pastors, like many other people, are often products of their times and their personal development.  “People tend to think of ministers as making decisions based solely on their faith, but that’s not always true,” Sellers noted.  “For instance, there is little difference between older and younger pastors in which political party they belong to or which current presidential candidate they support, but older pastors are less likely than average to support a candidate who is female, from an ethnic minority, or who smoked marijuana many years ago.” 

 

Study Details:

This study was funded and conducted independently by Grey Matter Research.  The sample of 518 Protestant ministers included only those who were actively pastoring churches.  The study’s total sample is accurate to within ±4.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level with a 50% response distribution.  The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors.  Respondents’ geography, church size, and denomination were carefully tracked to ensure accuracy.  Data was gathered in late spring 2000, but this is the first time the findings on this topic have been released to the public.

 

If politics is the art of the possible, research is surely the art of the

soluble.  Both are immensely practical-minded affairs.

Sir Peter Medawar, British Immunologist

A PASSION FOR

RESEARCH THAT

MAKES A DIFFERENCE

Grey Matter logo

  

Type of Candidate

Much More

Likely

Little More

Likely

 No

Difference

Little Less

Likely

Much Less

Likely

Positive Factors

 

 

 

 

 

Attends a Christian church regularly

39%

45%

16%

0%

0%

Calls himself a born-again Christian

29

42

24

4

1

Attends a church in your denomination

25

30

44

0

1

Attends a Christian church in another denomination

 18

38

 44

0

0

Active in the Protestant faith

18

40

41

1

0

A military veteran

13

39

45

2

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make Little Difference

 

 

 

 

 

An African-American

4%

4%

84%

5%

2%

A Hispanic-American

2

5

82

7

2

An Asian-American

2

5

82

8

3

A woman

2

7

67

15

9

Active in the Roman Catholic faith

2

9

64

16

9

Active in the Jewish faith

2

7

63

22

7

Admits smoking marijuana in the 70s

1

1

61

28

10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Divisive Factors

 

 

 

 

 

A member of the Christian Coalition

11%

31%

29%

14%

15%

A member of the National Rifle Assoc.

6

17

45

12

19

An ordained Christian minister

10

23

48

13

6

Someone from the business world,

   who hasn’t held political office before

 

2

 

17

 

50

 

  21

 

  9

 

 

 

 

 

 

Negative Factors

 

 

 

 

 

A self-described atheist

1%

0%

6%

12%

82%

Someone who is openly gay

2

1

11

8

78

A member of the ACLU

1

6

16

13

64

Actively practices a non-Christian faith

1

1

14

22

63

Active in the Mormon faith

1

1

22

29

47

Admits to a marital affair 20 years ago

1

1

39

43

16