Thursday, November 10, 2011

Evangelicals and Romney

Will Christian evangelicals vote for Mitt Romney, a Mormon?  A Pew report out this week notes the following:
... a May 2011 Pew Research Center poll found that about one-third (34%) of white evangelical Protestants would be less likely to vote for a Mormon, echoing reservations that evangelical Republicans expressed about voting for a Mormon during the 2008 GOP primary campaign. 
I'm not interested debating religion and politics.  At least not at the moment (buy me a beer and we'll debate all ya want).  I'm interested here in methodology.  That is, who are these "evangelical Protestants" and how do we know they're "evangelical Protestants."  For some of you, this is obvious stuff.  For others, perhaps not so much.

I downloaded the raw Pew data to peek under the methodological hood, to see how they were identifying people as "white evangelical" or "white mainline" or "white Catholic."  In the latter, the answer is obvious -- respondents answered the race question as "white" and the religious affiliation question as "Catholic" (see below).  We should all utter a collective duh.  Let me lay it out how Pew does this.  Here's the main question:

What is your present religion, if any? Are you Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Orthodox such as Greek or Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, something else, or nothing in particular?
[INTERVIEWER: IF R VOLUNTEERS “nothing in particular, none, no religion, etc.” BEFORE REACHING END OF LIST, PROMPT WITH: And would you say that’s atheist, agnostic, or just nothing in particular?]

1              Protestant (Baptist, Methodist, Non-denominational, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, Reformed, Church of Christ, Jehovah’s Witness, etc.)
2          Roman Catholic (Catholic)
3          Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints/LDS)
4          Orthodox (Greek, Russian, or some other orthodox church)
5          Jewish (Judaism)
6          Muslim (Islam)
7          Buddhist
8          Hindu
9          Atheist (do not believe in God)
10        Agnostic (not sure if there is a God)
11        Something else (SPECIFY:______)
12        Nothing in particular
13        Christian (VOL.)
14        Unitarian (Universalist) (VOL.)
99        Don't Know/Refused (VOL.)

Now as you can see, it's fairly obvious and on its face holds up pretty well in terms of validity.  This allows us to categorize folks.  Of interest here, of course, are Protestants.  There are a number of ways to continue.  The ANES and GSS approach to this question is often to burrow down to the level of your actual church denomination and then let scholars collapse respondents back into whatever scheme they want, deciding whether certain denominations are "evangelical" or "fundamentalist" or whatever.  They're are actual lists for this.  I have one somewhere that goes down so far and I've used it in the past.

But Pew uses a simpler method.  Shortly after this question, they ask:

BORN    Would you describe yourself as a "born again" or evangelical Christian, or not?

1          Yes, would
2          No, would not
9          Don't know/Refused (VOL.)

While it's not certain, I suspect the folks at Pew take the first question I pasted in and combine it with the question just above to categorize folks as Protestant evangelicals.   Toss in the race question and, kaboom, you're ready to rock and roll (er, methodologically speaking).  But how does the Pew approach stack up with the other version?  Not so terribly bad.  There was a study that looked at the two approaches not so many years ago, I believe in POQ, though I can't for the life of me find it now, that found the straightforward question performed pretty well compared to burrowing down to the denomination level.  Not perfect, because we don't know exactly what's going on in people's minds when asked that question above.  My gut tells me the question above, the direct one, misses some people and undercounts the evangelicals.

So all in all, the Pew question isn't half bad and, to be honest, is much simpler and less expensive to ask, to code, and to analyze.

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