Are Evangelicals 38% of the Population or Just 9%? Measurement Matters According to New Survey

Across most nationally representative surveys, if you measure Evangelical christians as those respondents who identify themselves as "evangelical" and who also, when given a multiple choice question, answer that the "bible is the literal word of God," you usually find that about 30% to 35% of adult Americans can be categorized as Evangelical christians. If you just use the measure of "evangelical" self-identification, that figure runs closer to 40% or higher.

George Barna, a pollster who's firm specializes in religious marketing and communications, disagrees with this method for tracking Evangelical identity. In a survey released today, using what he believes is a more valid and precise 9 point survey question scale, Barna says that the "true" proportion of Evangelicals among Americans adults is only around 9% (+/- 5% margin of error .)

According to the Barna survey, there are huge gaps between the two groups in terms of political inclinations. For instance, those who are self-described evangelicals are much less likely to say they are mostly conservative on social and political matters (45%, compared to 65% among the 9-point evangelicals). They are also considerably more likely to be registered to vote as a Democrat (35%, compared to just 26% among the 9-point evangelicals) and less likely to be registered as a Republican (42%, compared to 51% among the 9-point evangelicals). Seen in a different light, there is only a seven percentage point difference in the number of Democrats and Republicans among the self-defined evangelicals, but a 25-point difference among those who are deemed evangelical by virtue of their beliefs.

The difference is that the 9 point scale, according to Barna, taps how closely the respondents' beliefs are in line with those officialy recognized as core beliefs by the National Association of Evangelicals. In Barna's scale, respondents are not asked to identify themselves as "evangelical," as is common in many surveys. Instead, "Born again Christians" are defined as:

1) People who say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today
2) And who also indicate they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as "born again."

"Evangelicals" defined by Barna, meet the born again criteria (as described above) plus seven other conditions. Those include:

3) Saying their faith is very important in their life today;
4) Believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians
5) Believing that Satan exists
6) Believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works;
7) Believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth
8) Asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches
9) Describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today.

Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as "evangelical."


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I take any claim to religiosity in America with a wagon train of salt.

The media report Americans as churchgoing faithfuls.

I live in Alhambra, California, a city of 85,000 people in Los Angeles County, smack dab in the middle of suburban sprawl, where parking is at a premium and pedestrians are rare.

Sunday morning, if people are going to church, how are they getting there? They're not walking, or I'd see them. They're not driving, or they would be freeing up parking spaces. Where are all the churchgoers?

I do see people going out for newspapers, coffee, donuts, and breakfast, so maybe I live in an enclave of godlessness.

Or maybe the media lie for their masters.

Barna's description match my own personal experience in evangelical Christianity as far as a definition of who is an evangelical. I wonder who the other people on other polls are, and why they are self identifying with the evangelical or born again labels when they don't believe in the tennents of said doctrines. Weird.

By writerdddd (not verified) on 22 Jan 2007 #permalink

Just because the National Evangelical Association has a certain definition of evangelical has no bearing on whether people who think they're evangelicals know the definition or not. Americans are (in)famous for having no clue on what they're talking about. It's almost the only predominant national trait. Americans are much more likely to prefer a mythology than a history. Facts just get in the way.

That is an interesting take, I'm going to this for later digestion.

By Robert P. (not verified) on 22 Jan 2007 #permalink