George Barna: 8 Nov. 16 — The Day Christians Changed America

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump waves has he arrives for a cam
AP Photo/David Goldman

In his new book, The Day Christians Changed America, Dr. George Barna, a leading researcher on the intersection of faith, culture, and politics argues that “Christian conservatives put [Donald] Trump in the White House.”

“When all the hyperbole is stripped away, and the countless actors who played minor roles are done pontificating about how it was they who shaped the November [2016] outcome, the empirical evidence shows that it was Christian conservatives — especially an unheralded group known as SAGE Cons [an acronym for Spiritually Active, Governance Engaged Conservatives] — who pushed the Trump-Pence tandem to the top of the mountain,” Barna says.

SAGE Cons, Barna says, while constituting ten percent of all voters, cast their ballots for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a 93 percent to one percent margin, and that overwhelming margin turned the tide for Trump in key swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, and North Carolina.

“Perhaps Trump was chosen by God for such a time as this,” Barna suggests in the final chapter of his book, adding:

Perhaps the Lord saw in this crass man a person whose backbone, love of conflict, courage, stubbornness, and occasional ruthlessness would be used by Him to turn around the federal government and its self-serving system. Honestly, as much as I like and appreciate the evangelicals who were in the [presidential] race and believe their godly character would serve the nation well, the task of regenerating the heartbeat of the system may require a “wrecking ball” like Donald Trump.

Barna offers an incredibly detailed analysis of the voting behavior of Christians and segments that large part of the population into groups that are defined by evidentiary differences his extensive research has revealed, a level of fact-based reporting ignored by the liberal media.

“The media are often lazy,” he notes.

“Rather than dig for the truth, they sometimes settle for the way things appear. Sadly, because the audience often does not know any better, those lazy narratives become an established reality in the minds of the public,” Barna continues, adding:

The perception of “evangelicals” is one such example. Based on simplistic and misleading survey techniques, the media polls consistently claim that about 30% to 35% of the population is born again or evangelical — about one of every three adults. That figure is based on people identifying as such. Such surveys make no distinction between a “born again” and “evangelical” Christian, assuming those are synonyms for the same condition.

Barna says voters in the 2016 presidential election fit into six different faith segments:

  • Ten percent were SAGE Cons, who had a 91 percent turnout rate and voted for Trump over Clinton by a 93 percent to one percent margin.
  • Seven percent were evangelicals, who had a 61 percent turnout rate and voted for Trump over Clinton by a 79 percent to 18 percent margin.
  • 24 percent were non-evangelical born again Christians, who had a 58 percent turnout rate and voted for Trump over Clinton by a 56 percent to 35 percent margin.
  • 43 percent were notional Christians, who had a 59 percent turnout rate and voted for Trump over Clinton by a 49 percent to 47 percent margin.
  • Five percent were non-Christian faith, who had a 57 percent turnout rate and voted for Clinton over Trump by a 71 percent to 20 percent margin.
  • 21 percent were skeptics, who had a 57 percent turnout rate and voted for Clinton over Trump by a 60 percent to 27 percent margin.

Overall, voters across the country turned out at a 59 percent rate and voted for Clinton over Trump by a 48 percent to 46 percent margin.

Trump, however, easily won the electoral college by a 304 to 234 margin because Clinton piled up majorities in several large states, including California, New York, and Illinois, and narrowly lost the vote in the key swing states of Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

Barna organizes faith voters into different segments than Pew Research, which offers the more traditional faith segment breakdowns, such as Catholic, mainstream Protestant, and evangelical Protestant.

“There are some 20 to 25 million adult SAGE Cons across the country,” Barna writes, adding:

Two-thirds of them live in the South and Midwest. They are not as concentrated in the Pacific Northwest or in the Northeast, but there are thousands upon thousands of SAGE Cons in every state of the union.

The demographic profile of SAGE Cons differs significantly from that of the rest of America’s adults. These Christian conservatives have a median age around 60 and are primarily white. They are highly educated — more than twice as likely to have graduated from college as are other adults. Two-thirds of them have a median household income above $60,000 annually. Almost nine out of ten of them attend a Protestant Church. Nearly nine out of ten are married but relatively few (23%) have a child under 18 living in their home. One out of every five of them has served in the military — again, about double the national average.

Overwhelmingly, SAGE Cons have a biblical worldview, Barna says, which is key to understanding both their political views and their electoral engagement.

“The driving force behind their faith is that nine out of ten of them (90%) have developed a biblical worldview. That compares to just 1% of the rest of the U.S. adult population who possess a biblical worldview. Because a person’s worldview is the operating system that drives our decisions in life, that night-and-day distinction is huge,” Barna says.

Barna offers these definitions for the other five faith segments:

Evangelicals “[1] believe that God is the all-knowing, all powerful creator of the universe who still rules the world today; [2] have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that’s still important in their life today; [3] believe they will go to heaven after they die only because they have confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior; [4] believe the Bible is totally accurate in all the principles it teaches; [5] maintain that their religious faith is very important in their life today; [6] believe that Satan is a real, living being; [7] believe that people cannot earn salvation through their good works, [8] believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith in Christ with non-believers; [and] [9] describe themselves as Christians.”

Non-evangelical born again Christians are people who “[1] say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ; [2] That commitment is still important to them now; … [3] have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior … [4] believe that, because of their confession and acceptance, they will spend eternity in Heaven.”

Notional Christians are “people who associate with Christianity but do not take the faith seriously and generally fail to integrate biblical principles into their lifestyle.”

Non-Christian Faith are people who practice non-Christian religions, including Judaism, Islam, and other.

Skeptics are non-believers, atheists, and agnostics.

[Note: The Barna Group first defined these five faith segments back in 1991. Subsequent to 2013, George Barna developed defined the sixth segment, SAGE Cons, which draws from both evangelicals and non-evangelical born again Christians.]

A key turning point in the 2016 presidential election, Barna argues, came in June of that year when a non-profit group called United in Purpose and another group, My Faith Votes, organized a meeting between Donald Trump and about 1,000 pastors held in New York City at the Marquis Marriott in Manhattan, billed as “A Conversation about America’s Future.”

“The event was proclaimed to be for those who had not yet made up their mind if they were for or against Trump. The purpose was to help those who were on the fence to gain clarity. Conservative Christian leaders who had already declared themselves to be pro-Trump or anti-Trump were asked to stay home,” Barna writes, adding:

During the course of those two hours, the mood in the room had changed from doubt and skepticism to optimism and hope. Not everyone in the hall was persuaded that Trump was worthy of their support — but enough of them were convinced that most of those who were not would eventually come around. Donald Trump was clearly no evangelical — but he now understood their concerns and was seemingly on board with the direction they wished to move American social policy.

The results of the meeting were immediately seen in the voting behavior of SAGE Cons who were influenced by the pastors in attendance.

Polling by the American Culture & Faith Institute in May 2016, the month before the meeting, showed that 76 percent of SAGE Cons planned to vote for Trump. By July, that number increased to 81 percent. It reached 86 percent in September, 88 percent in October, and 93 percent on election day.

Looking forward to 2020, Barna notes that “If President Trump truly sets his mind on cleaning house in the fetid swamp that has become our nation’s capital, then God may have specifically chosen him for that task — an undertaking that some of the faith-driven candidates would not have been equipped to handle.”

“Only time will tell if this is the case,” Barna cautions.

Barna also sounds the demographic alarm for conservatives.

“Simple demographic analysis tells us that unless we expand the base of conservative Americans, the country will continue to drift leftward. As the number of Boomers and Builders decreases, the conservative constituency shrinks,” he says, adding:

The only way to reverse that impact is to attract people who presently embrace liberal views: people under 50, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Catholics, and college graduates. It will not be easy to persuade them to look at the world differently, since overwhelming proportions of each of those groups hold secular worldviews. But if the United States is to remain a strong, vital, and viable nation in the future, and to resist the socialist impulse that large and growing numbers of the people in those groups find attractive, convincing them to embrace a conservative biblical perspective is imperative.

Barna, a graduate of Boston College, with two Master’s degrees from Rutgers University, and a doctorate from Dallas Baptist University, has spent more than three decades “conducting research on worldview, cultural transformation, and politics.” He founded the Barna Group in 1984, sold it in 2009, and is now the executive director of the American Culture & Faith Institute.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.