By John T. Gavin, William W. Ellis, and Curtis J. VanderWaal, 8 October 2020 |
During the last week in August we asked Adventist Today and Spectrum readers in the United States to participate in a short survey about their religious and political views, plans for voting in the upcoming national election, and positions on a number of controversial social issues. We asked questions similar to those found in most public opinion polls such as the Gallup Poll, replicating many questions from our previous surveys of Adventist Today and Spectrum readers, Adventist pastors, and Adventist college students. Spectrum is the journal of the Association of Adventist Forums, the largest organization of Adventist academics.
The Survey Sample
More than 1,500 people responded, with 94 percent completing the entire survey (N=1,467). Most respondents were born in the U.S. (81 percent) and more than half (56 percent) were male. The age distribution of our sample trended toward older participants, with 7 percent aged 18 to 35 years, 11 percent aged 36 to 50 years, 25 percent aged 51 to 65 years and 57 percent over 65 years. More than one-third (37 percent) had total annual household incomes of more than $100,000 a year, around 16 percent between $75,000 and $100,000, nearly 18 percent between $50,000 and $75,000, and 18 percent at $50,000 or less. Our sample’s ethnic background was 80 percent White, followed by Latino (5 percent), Black (7 percent), Asian (3 percent), Multi-Racial (2 percent) and Other (3 percent). Sixty-four percent of our sample had post-college graduate study or a graduate degree, 20 percent had four years of college, with the remaining 15 percent of respondents having some college study or less. Finally, 57 percent of respondents had no formal role in the church, while 20 percent self-identified as local church elder or deacon, 18 percent as Sabbath School leaders, and approximately 5 percent each for pastor, local Adventist school teacher/staff, or Adventist university faculty/staff.
Two-thirds (66 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that their religious beliefs will influence their voting. Nearly half (48 percent) considered themselves moderate in their religious orientations. About one in four (24 percent) considered themselves to be religious conservatives, while another one in four (25 percent) were liberal in their religious orientation. About four percent (3.6 percent) identified as fundamentalist.
The political orientations reported by readers are generally associated with their religious orientation, with an almost evenly divided 36 percent identifying as politically moderate, 30 percent identifying as conservative or strong conservative, and 32 percent viewing themselves as liberal/progressive or strong liberal/progressive. Party affiliation follows the same pattern. There were slightly more Democrats (34 percent) than Republicans (30 percent) or Independents (26 percent). The remainder were either not registered (5 percent) or were “other” (3 percent), perhaps because they had not registered by political party or could not vote due to citizenship. Over 90 percent said they were very likely to vote in the November election.
Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of respondents plan to vote for Joe Biden, about twice the number who plan to vote for Donald Trump (32 percent). Most of the remaining five percent were undecided, not voting, or planned to vote for a Libertarian candidate.
Using questions from a Pew Research Center poll, we asked Biden supporters to indicate the main reason for voting for him. The largest responses were “He is not Trump” (29 percent), “Positions on Issues” (15 percent), and “He is For the American People” (14 percent). About 19 percent responded “Other” reasons.
When we asked Trump supporters their main reason for voting for him, the largest responses were “Position on Issues” (33 percent), “Leadership/Performance” (26 percent), and “He is For the American People”(22 percent). “He is not Biden” was selected by only 5 percent, and “Personal Characteristics” by only two percent.
We also asked our participants who they voted for in 2016. Twenty-nine percent said they voted for Trump. A slightly higher percent (32 percent) continues to support Trump in 2020, showing consistent support. In 2016, our participants supported the Democrat candidate at 49 percent. Biden’s support at 63 percent is 15 percent higher in 2020. In 2016, the remaining 20 percent of these same voters either voted for a third-party candidate or did not vote at all.
Our findings represent the views of a large number of Adventist Today and Spectrum readers – highly educated, largely white men and women across a broad range of ages, with generally higher socio-economic status. However, they represent a balanced range of religious and political leanings and party affiliations. While this sample may or may not represent the general Adventist population in the United States, they make up an almost evenly divided political and religious range of views. However, despite almost equal percentages of participants representing Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, the strongest support appears to be for Biden in 2020. While we are only beginning to look at the patterns in the data, it is clear that this group of respondents is highly engaged in the voting process. That said, given the highly polarizing nature of this year’s political process, it may be difficult to understand the true nature of Adventist political thought.
Judging from the 623 vigorously worded responses to the open-ended last question on the survey, “Is there anything else you would like to tell us about politics, social issues, or the national election?” … undoubtedly, this election has stirred powerful sentiments among Adventists resulting in increased voter engagement. We look forward to sharing more findings from this study of Adventists’ religious, political and social-issue views in the future.
John T. Gavin and Curtis J. VanderWaal are faculty members at Andrews University, the Adventist institution in Berrien Springs, Michigan. William W. Ellis is a faculty member at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Maryland.