News Articles

Poll reports on pastors & ballot box

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An Oct. 10-28 survey conducted by LifeWay Research found that 55 percent of Protestant pastors plan to vote for John McCain compared with 20 percent for Obama. A full 22 percent are undecided.

Evangelical pastors are significantly more likely to support McCain than their mainline counterparts. Sixty-six percent of self-identified evangelicals plan to vote for McCain while 13 percent are for Barack Obama and 19 percent are undecided.

Among mainline pastors, 36 percent of plan to vote for McCain; 37 percent support Obama; and 24 percent are undecided.

“Protestant pastors are strongly for McCain, though that changes when you look at mainline versus evangelicals,” said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research. “Mainline pastors reflect the American setting — they are split between Obama and McCain. Self-identified evangelical pastors are overwhelmingly for McCain.”

Stetzer added that given the late date in the campaign, “there are a surprising number of undecideds.”


Fifty-four percent of pastors consider themselves Republicans and 22 percent said they are Democrats. One difference related to party affiliation is that there appears to be less uncertainty among Republican pastors compared to others. About 13 percent of Republican pastors are undecided, but 21 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of independents reported they have not yet made up their minds.

Forty-five percent of independents plan to vote for McCain and 20 percent for Obama.

Pastors’ voting plans also tend to follow political ideology, with 77 percent of those identifying themselves as “progressive or very liberal” or “liberal” planning to vote for Obama. Of those identifying themselves as “very conservative,” 91 percent plan to vote for McCain.

The undecided bloc appears to consist largely of pastors identifying themselves as “moderate” or “conservative.” Of the 46 percent who identify themselves as conservative, 71 percent plan to vote for McCain and 24 percent are undecided. Of the 15 percent who identify themselves as moderate, 47 percent plan to vote for Obama and 37 percent are undecided.

“The political ‘middle’ among Protestant pastors is more conservative than among all Americans,” noted Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research. “The large number of undecided pastors is found among those in the middle politically.”

Pastors in the East (38 percent) are least likely to vote for McCain while those in the South (59 percent) and Midwest (59 percent) are his strongest supporters. The strongest support for Obama is in the East (37 percent).
The South claims the greatest number of undecided pastors (25 percent).

“Differences in Protestant pastors’ voting plans by region reflects both regional denominational concentrations as well as political differences,” McConnell said. “Much has been made of the political shifts in the South, and Protestant pastors still may not have landed.”


When asked about endorsing candidates for any public office, more than half (53 percent) of Protestant pastors affirmed that they have “personally endorsed candidates for public office this year,” but only outside of their church roles. Less than 3 percent agree that they have publicly endorsed candidates for public office during a church service this year.

In a LifeWay Research study earlier this year, 53 percent of Americans at large agreed that “it is appropriate for pastors to personally endorse candidates for public office, but only outside their church role.”

When asked whether their church has publicly endorsed candidates for public office this year, 95 percent of pastors strongly disagree that their church has provided any endorsements.

Once again, pastors’ beliefs appear to line up with Americans’ preferences. In the earlier survey, only 23 percent of Americans agreed that it is appropriate for churches to publicly endorse candidates for public office.

“The pulpit is a powerful place of promotion, so many have wondered for whom pastors will vote,” Stetzer said. “Although few have endorsed a candidate at the church or in their church role, a majority have done so as private citizens. These influences may help understand where the faith-based vote will go during this election.”

Methodology: This LifeWay Research study among Protestant pastors was conducted by phone from Oct. 10-28. Churches were selected randomly and each interview was conducted with the church’s senior pastor, minister or priest. Size of church was controlled through interview quotas and church location through statistical weighting to represent all Protestant churches. Some responses may not total 100 percent due to rounding. The sample of 864 provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.3 percent for the total sample.
David Roach is pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Ky., and a Ph.D. candidate at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.