Taking a break from writing a paper this morning, I saw a link to this study by the Pew Forum at Arkansas Democrat-Gazette religion editor Frank Lockwood's blog, the Bible Belt Blogger. It notes the precipitous drop in President Bush's approval rating among young (18-29 years old) white evangelical Protestants:
In 2002 (at the height of his popularity among all voters) Bush's approval rating among young white evangelicals was a whopping 87%, compared to a still incredible 67% approval rate with the total population.
In 2007, however, only 45% of young white evangelicals approve of president Bush. While that is still considerably stronger than his approval rating among the entire population (33%), it is significant to note that not even a majority of those who were once his strongest supporters approve of the Bush presidency.
But, the important question to ask - and the question I can't answer - is this:
What does this mean?
What it doesn't seem to mean, at least according to the Pew Forum, is that young white evangelicals are growing more liberal. A disturbing number of the population to which I nominally belong (60%) still believe that it was right for the US to invade Iraq. An even more disturbing number, given that we all claim allegiance to one who was unjustly executed by the state, (72%) favor capital punishment. While those numbers are not compared to numbers from 2002 (when Bush was at the height of his popularity among both young white evangelical Protestants and the general population), they are compared to the numbers for all Americans between 18 and 29. And, no surprise, only 56% of young Americans (compared to 72% of young white evangelicals) favor the death penalty, and only 41% of young Americans (compared to 60% of young white evangelicals) think that it was right to invade Iraq.
Abortion is a separate issue, because it can easily be made part of a comprehensive pro-life philosophy that opposes wars and state-sanctioned killings. However, it was also a part of the Pew Forum's study, and no surprise, young white evangelicals differ from their peers on it, too. 70%, according to the Pew Forum, believe that it should be "more difficult for a woman to get an abortion," compared to just 39% for young Americans in general.
The study did not, as far as I could tell, ask questions about the actual prosecution of the war in Iraq, nor did it seem to ask about other important issues for young white evangelicals, such as global climate change. It is possible that many young white evangelicals disapprove of president Bush for these reasons - the war is going badly, and the natural environment is becoming more important for young white evangelicals shaped by a kind of "stewardship" theology. And, of course, there are many, many more reasons to oppose the Bush presidency, stemming from corruption, incompetence, and cronyism (and boy, aren't those three related!).
So, I'm not sure what to make of these numbers. While, as a liberal Democrat who takes my faith seriously, I hope that they signal a seismic political shift; as a rational human being I just don't see the numbers reflecting that. Rather, I think the numbers simply reflect what a bad president George W. Bush has been. Even the bulk of his base has left him.
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