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The Table Video

Roxanne Stone

Love & the American Political Landscape

Editor in Chief, Barna Group
June 15, 2017

Roxanne Stone, Editor in Chief of The Barna Group, characterizes the American political landscape approaching the 2016 presidential election, especially with respect to evangelical Christian communities.

Roxanne Stone is Editor in Chief at Barna Group and the general editor of the FRAMES series. She has more than a decade of experience in publishing, serving as an editor at Christianity Today, Group Publishing, Q Ideas and This Is Our City, and as the editorial director for RELEVANT magazine and its sister publications Reject Apathy and Neue. She has edited books, magazines, web sites and curriculum; and is the author of dozens of articles, including an award-winning cover story on the relief efforts in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. In addition, Roxanne curated and cohosted the first annual Q Women event.

She speaks, trains and consults in the areas of faith and culture, vocation, Millennials, social justice and church leadership.


So, first maybe you could tell us a little bit about Barna Group, what you guys do, how you conduct your research.

Yeah, absolutely. So Barna Group is a social research organization. We have been around for over 30 years and focus primarily on sort of, we do, we do research that encompasses all of the U.S. but we take a real focus look at different faith segments and communities. Evangelicals, practicing Christians, Catholics, Protestants, just kind of a variety of different ways that the faith landscape interacts with these different political and social issues.

Mhmm. And can you give us a kind of taste for what, what the political landscape is?

I mean,

I can.

The media gives us, I think we all have an idea about how it’s going but what is the data suggesting?

Yeah, yeah. So we’ll do a quick, quick run-through of that. So we ask people, in every poll that we do, we ask people to identify various sort of demographic, psychographic, and what we call theolographic questions, which for us is sort of identifying different faith breeds that are out there. One of the questions that we ask in every survey that we do is whether people identify as mostly conservative, mostly liberal, or somewhere in-between.

This is sort of all American adults so you can see the plurality here are, are saying that they are, they identify as somewhere in-between. And throughout while I talk, you’ll see sort of an N= at the bottom of these and that’s just the total sample size. This is a very large sample size of people so it’s very representative of the U.S. You can see we’re, we’re, Americans are swinging slightly toward conservative in terms of identifying with values but are mostly in-between. Now when you start breaking that down by generation, you can really see that there is a real difference between the youngest generation and the oldest generation and almost a reversal in terms of identifying as conservative and liberal.

You can see that, that millennials are more likely to be identifying as liberal. And when you look at faith segments, so Evangelicals and practicing Christians are the two I wanted to take a look at.

Host: Mhmm.

And practicing Christians, for our definition, this is a Barna definition as well as Evangelical is, and what I mean by that is we’ve sort of, we ask some, like I talked about, those sort of theolographic questions and by asking those questions we, the ways that people answer those not self-ID, not saying ‘Yes, I’m an Evangelical’, ‘Yes, I’m a practicing Christian’ but we ask some questions and the way that they answer those questions we identify them as Evangelical. There’s a series of nine belief questions that we ask people and if they say ‘yes’ to all of those then they would be classified as an Evangelical.

Host: Mhmm.

Practicing Christians is more about behavior than belief. Practicing Christian means that they’ve self-identified as Christian and then they’ve said that faith is very important in their life and they’ve attended church in the, within the last six weeks.

Host: Hmmm.

Roxanne: You can see there’s a real, I mean this is where it’s very startling, right? Practicing Christians are falling a little bit more in line, in sort of divided on conservative and liberal, to a degree. But you can see Evangelicals are sharply conservative, they’re sharply divided from the rest of the nation in that way, and you’ll see this sort of playing out in the rest of the stats that we’re going to go through.

Now if you, if you look at race you can again see some pretty distinct differences and you can start to see sort of the setup here for a lot of the reasons that we see so many divisions, particularly right now, so many conversations about race.

But you can see there’s, there’s a real difference between the races. White Americans are a little bit more divided and you can see Black Americans, Hispanic, all non-whites are more liberal. And you can see now, too, that, that real difference from the Evangelical community. And you can see sort of, okay, now, now these are some of the conditions for some of what we’re seeing.

Host: Right.

We also do the Republican, Democrat, Independent what are you registered and it’s very similar, very similar breakdown. There are more registered Democrats in the U.S. right now. The Independent number is growing every year in our polls. All adults, if you go by generation, again you can see sort of the reversal from the older to the younger, and again this is another division that we talk about pretty regularly, even within the church, and you can really see, ‘Okay, there’s real ideological and political differences here between generations’.

And we’ve seen, particularly among Gen-Xers, a spike in sort of the Independent. Evangelical and practicing Christian, so again you see a very sharp difference and a real rise on the conservative, or the Republican. And by race it’s, it’s a very similar picture. Again really trying to show, to set up a lot of what we’re talking about for this conference, these are some of, these are at the roots even of some of the real divisions that we’re seeing.

Yeah, so we’re thinking differently from one another.


So when you–

Very much so.

It’s hard to group Americans just as a particular way of thinking, especially American Christians we seem to be implicated in this kind of division. What about particular issues?

Policy, policy issues–

Yeah, absolutely.

What kind of things do you look at?

Absolutely. We talked about just earlier, you saying sort of the media stirring up this sort of fear and anxiety ever four years. When you look at this chart we asked, ‘Is the United States headed in the wrong direction or the right direction?’ And you can see how, how the majority of Americans think it’s headed in the wrong direction. Really only liberals with a majority would say that it’s headed in the right direction and again you can see how steeply Evangelicals are responding to this. 93% say it’s headed in the wrong direction.

Host: Interesting.

There’s that, we talked about just this kind of stirring up of fear and anxiety around the state and we’ve talked about the rise of Trump and other sort of outside candidates who are really sort of playing on this, this fear and this feeling that the establishment is doing it wrong.


That’s, that’s, you know, that’s a real reason for that. This is just favorable, unfavorable view of the presidential candidate and you’ll see the only, the only polled group in this particular section that would, that would prefer Trump over Clinton are Evangelicals.

Host: Interesting.

Roxanne: Yeah. So these are some of the issues: religious liberty, abortion, marriage, poverty, social justice, some of the issues that you all are going to be talking about over the next few days.


What are the issues, and we can see it up there–


I wonder if you can comment on some of the issues that are, that we’re most divided over.

Well I think, yeah, I think some of the, particularly in this one you can see Evangelicals are just, that religious liberty is at the top of their list and social justice is really at the bottom of their list in this particular, this particular thing. And you can see the skeptics, it’s really the reverse for that. Even just seeing that division between believers and non-believers and really where our priorities are lying and just recognizing even in our prioritization there’s dramatic differences.


Here’s one issue that we talked, we’ve done some work on: immigration versus reality or the ideal versus the reality. We see 3 out of 4 adults actually believe people from different cultures enrich America, so there is sort of a continued ideal, a continued desire for, and recognition that immigration and various cultures has really influenced America for the better.

But then when we really asked about sort of ‘What about the policies?’, a plurality favor stricter immigration policies. On the left you can see, the blue I guess is on your left, but the, these are all sort of stricter ideas. Agree that immigrants and refugees take jobs away from America, so you see a majority would say yes. The right side is, is less strict policies, the left is more strict. You can see America is slightly on the side of, of stricter policies.

And then you can see by, if you look at it by faith. Evangelicals are much more likely than the broader population to support stricter immigration policies.

And we’re going to be talking about immigration tomorrow. Tom Crisp is going to be giving a talk about the ethics of Jesus and its implications on how we should think about immigration. But one thing that we’re actually going to be addressing later in this very session is, is race.


Right now we’re deeply struggling over racial justice with the rise of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, with people commenting from all different perspectives, our social feeds are full of, sometimes, bitter and angry division.

So, can you speak to race–

Yeah, I can.

And how are we, how are American Christians

Thinking about this?

Yeah, yeah.

I mean America agrees with you. There is a lot of anger and hostility between the different ethnic and racial groups in America. You can see the vast majority of America would agree with that statement across the board. 84% of Americans would agree with that. But when we start really digging into some of, some of this racism we ask, ‘Is racism mostly a problem of the past or the present?’

Those who strongly agreed with that, Evangelicals and conservatives were more likely than other groups to strongly agree with that. On the flip side, those who strongly disagreed with that you can see, of course, maybe what you would expect. Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, non-white are more likely to say that, to disagree that it’s a problem of the past.

Host: Hmmm.

Roxanne: And then of course when you ask, when you ask by generation, millennials are much more likely to agree; oh, this is social disadvantage for people of color, sorry. ‘People of color are often put at a social disadvantage because of their race.’ We see some pretty distinct differences between generations, generations are more likely to agree that that is true and you can see some pretty distinct differences between races there. And then, most, only 16% of Evangelicals would strongly agree with the fact, with the statement that people of color are put at a social disadvantage because of their color.

Host: Interesting.

Roxanne: Again you’re seeing sort of these, these real divisions. And then when we asked about, ‘How do you feel about the “Black Lives Matter” movement?’ We asked, ‘Do you support their message?’, ‘Supported it and posted something on social media’, ‘Participated in a offline activity’ like a march or a protest, 16% of Americans said they don’t support it, only 2% said don’t support it but actively campaigned against it. Now the majority of Americans in response to ‘How you feel about the “Black Lives Matter” movement?’ said that all lives matter. You can see just even that marketing message that’s been, that’s kind of missed in some ways for a lot of Americans.

Host: Right.

Roxanne: And then 12% said they don’t know enough about it. Now when we asked ‘Do you support the “Black Lives Matter” movement?’ We had about, a little over a quarter of all adults. Again you can see millennials being much more likely than other generations, so again it was a, it was born on social media, it was a campaign that was really, actively used young people so young people have responded to it more than other groups.

Now again, the percent who feel that all lives matter when asked that, the answers, Evangelicals three-quarters of them answered in that way. You can see some of the differences there. Practicing Christians only about half did. We asked, ‘Are churches part of the problem?’ for, in race today? When it comes to racism and the hostility there. You can see African Americans who are predominantly identify as Christians, so they’re part of the church, they’re much more frustrated with the church in this respect than White Americans.

Now I think that this is probably the, the most disturbing one. ‘Christian churches play an important role in racial reconciliation.’ You see that Evangelicals 94% said, ‘Yes, that’s true.’ The real question is, 94% say we are the solution but they’re saying we are the solution to a problem that we maybe don’t know if it exists.

Host: Wow.

Roxanne: Or are at least not ready to recognize the pain and the suffering that a lot of their African American, especially, brothers and sisters are feeling and aren’t willing to validate that suffering. This is, I think, one of the more striking examples of that.

Yeah, I wonder if, as a way of sort of wrapping up the thought here, what do you recommend people do with,

With your data?


How should, what is the response to it? Clearly this is a slice of the population. What’s the best way to kind of take, what’s the takeaway?

Absolutely. Yeah, I think one of the big things that we need to do and what this conference, what we’re talking about, the love and humility and even just gathering in this way. So much of it is ‘Can we talk to one another?’, ‘Can we have these conversations?’, ‘Can we, as Christians, really be able to sort of reach across these divides?’

These divides that we’ve sort of, in many ways, been, been a part of creating. And we have done some, some research recently on sort of conversations and friendship. We asked people, ‘Which group do you think it would be difficult to have a natural and normal conversation with?’ So you can see Evangelicals, 87% said it would be tough to talk to a Muslim, 67 to a Mormon, 85 to an Atheist, 28% said it would be tough to talk to another Evangelical.

Host: Wow, yeah. [Roxanne laughing]

Roxanne: And 87% said–

I’ve experienced that.

Yeah, LGBT community.

You can see that across the board, kind of, other groups have less of a hard, say they would have less of a hard time talking to one another. Again there’s sort of this: how can we begin to practice these conversations in a better way? And I think part of that is just proximity. Which we’ve talked, we’ve talked to Americans really about where they have friendships and really found this sort of, opposites don’t seem to attract.

You can see the majority of people, when we asked, ‘Would you say your current friends are mostly similar or different from you in these areas?’ So religious belief, racial or ethnic background, social status, level of education, income,

Political views–


Life stages. You can see people are hanging out with people who are just like them. The majority of Americans are doing that. And, of course, when you look at Evangelicals, they’re the group least likely to have friends who are like them, unlike them in religious beliefs, unlike them in racial or ethnic backgrounds, and unlike them in political views. So I think that’s a big place to start, is proximity to people who are different than us, who have different views and being able to foster those conversations.

Yeah, Roxanne, thank you so much.

You’re welcome.

Let’s thank Roxanne.

It’s good to be here.

Thank you. [audience clapping]

Continue the conversation with this piece from Harold Heie.