The New Evangelical: Stuck in the Middle

Throughout this election season, there has been great concern among Republicans as to whether or not young, evangelical Christians will remain loyal to the Grand Old Party (GOP), which has been justified by a recent lack of support for John McCain among evangelicals.
A recent survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner featured in Religion and Ethics Newsweekly found that young white evangelical Christians aged 18 to 29 years “are less supportive of John McCain for president than their older counterparts.” Overall, McCain’s support led Barack Obama by 71 to 23 percent among white evangelicals. McCain’s support was even larger, garnering 73 to 22 percent among white evangelicals over the age of 30.
However, the fact that McCain led Obama by only 62 to 30 percent among those under 30 years of age indicates “a real change among younger white evangelicals in a more progressive and moderate direction.”
So, why is this sudden shift occurring? How could Obama’s charismatic appeal and “relative strength” among young voters disrupt the base and lifeline of the GOP? For Emilo Arias, the president of UC Irvine’s Young Democrats Club, this change is no surprise.
“It’s inevitable that over time societies become more progressive, which causes people to shift toward the left,” Arias said.
According to Arias, many former Republicans are detaching themselves from the GOP for the same reasons.
“Many people broke from the Republican Party in the 2006 legislative elections: the war in Iraq, the Bush Administration and now the declining economy,” Arias said.
Other young evangelicals disaffiliated themselves with the Republican Party when John McCain became the Republican presidential nominee because he has not been a favorite of evangelicals in the past.
Rosner’s survey also found that many young evangelical Christians differ from older generations on a couple of key social issues that have traditionally been the bases for the Republican Party. For example, a “majority of young evangelicals support some form of legal recognition for civil unions or marriage for same-sex couples.” This is a social issue that has been traditionally opposed by older evangelicals.
However, liberals and Democrats alike should not celebrate quite yet. Rosner’s research found that despite differences on some key social issues, young evangelicals remain completely “conservative” when it comes to abortion and family values. In addition, even though 15 percent of 18 to 29-year-old evangelical Christians are no longer identifying themselves as Republican, only “5 percent of young evangelicals have joined the Democratic Party, and the other 10 percent either remain unaffiliated or refuse to take part in the upcoming election,” according to the study. These numbers suggest that even though young evangelicals are leaving the Republican Party, a new evangelical left is not taking its place. Instead, a new shift toward the middle has occurred.
Could this detachment and moderation of young evangelicals cost John McCain the election this November? Not according to Edwin Ohanian, president of the College Republicans at UCI, who feels confident that McCain is in no danger of losing this election because a couple of young evangelicals have left the Republican party due to the sad truth that young people do not vote. In addition, Ohanian believes that the evangelicals who left the GOP are just caught up in the whole excitement of the Obama campaign, and that they will eventually return to the conservative right once they are older and more informed.
However, if McCain had the same support among all evangelicals that Obama has among young voters, then Obama could face political trouble. The effect that this evangelical shift will have on the future of the Republican Party remains to be seen. What is clear is that today young evangelicals are no longer unquestionably following the old Christian right anymore. Young evangelicals are starting to take a step back in order to view both sides of the political spectrum with an open heart towards progressive and moderate policies.

Natalie Goudarzian is a third-year international studies and literary journalism double major. She can be reached at ngoudarz@uci.edu.