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Polls: Sou. Baptist pastors, evangelicals back McCain

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Despite media speculation to the contrary, three new polls show that evangelicals, including Southern Baptist pastors, support Republican John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama by wide margins.

The polls were released as Obama courts Christian leaders and voters in hopes of cutting into what has traditionally been a Republican stronghold. During the Democratic primary, Obama’s campaign released a flyer in conservative Kentucky showing him at a pulpit, with a cross in the background, quoting him as saying, “I won’t be fulfilling God’s will unless I go out and do the Lord’s work.” The flyer called Obama a “committed Christian.”

But, so far, Obama’s outreach hasn’t put a significant dent in McCain’s support among evangelicals. For instance:

— 80 percent of Southern Baptist pastors plan to vote for McCain and only 1 percent for Obama, according to a poll of 778 pastors conducted by LifeWay Research in April and May. Fifteen percent were undecided.

— 78 percent of likely evangelical voters say they’ll vote for McCain, according to a survey of 1,003 adults conducted in May by The Barna Group.

— 57 percent of evangelical Protestants say they’ll vote for McCain and 25 percent for Obama, according to a poll of 3,002 adults in April and May commissioned by the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College. Additionally, 54 percent of evangelical Protestants identify themselves as Republicans — down only 2 percent from a similar poll in 2004.

The differences between the results from the Barna and Calvin College surveys could be explained by examining the respective survey’s methodology. Calvin College’s survey simply asked people if they considered themselves evangelicals; Barna’s survey used a series of detailed questions to determine if someone actually is an evangelical. Also, the Calvin College survey was conducted while Hillary Clinton was still a Democratic candidate.

In 2004, President Bush won 78 percent of the vote among white evangelicals, according to exit polls.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press McCain’s support among Southern Baptist pastors isn’t surprising.

“My explanation of that is that I have heard variations of this theme too many times to count and the theme is, ‘I’d rather have a third-rate fireman than a first-class arsonist,'” Land said, echoing what people have told him.

Even though McCain is seen as somewhat of a maverick on some issues, he and Obama nevertheless still offer a stark contrast on what have traditionally been viewed as the leading issues for social conservatives.

Obama is pro-choice, has said he “will not yield” on the issue of abortion, opposes the ban on partial-birth abortion and has said the “first thing” he’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act, a proposed law that would codify abortion-on-demand as the law of the land and also overturn every pro-life law — such as mandatory waiting periods, parental notifications and partial-birth abortion bans — on the federal and state level. Obama has been endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice America. McCain has a consistent pro-life record on abortion, supports the ban on partial-birth abortion and has been endorsed by National Right to Life.

On the issue of judges, Obama voted against both of President Bush’s Supreme Court nominees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. He also spoke last year to Planned Parenthood and underscored his commitment to making sure the Supreme Court upholds Roe v. Wade. McCain voted for Roberts and Alito and favors overturning Roe. He also has pledged to nominate justices “in the cast of” Roberts and Alito and has criticized what he calls examples of “judicial activism.”

“For decades now, some federal judges have taken it upon themselves to pronounce and rule on matters that were never intended to be heard in courts or decided by judges,” McCain said during a speech this year.

For more information about Obama and McCain on the issues, visit www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=28183.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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