Young White Evangelicals will Vote Romney, Poll Finds

This post has been updated.

The latest poll out of Public Religion Research Institute examines the political and religious attitudes of “younger millennials,” the 18-25 set. Do you remember a lot of fretting (from the conservative side) that younger evangelicals are drifting away from Republican orthodoxy? Or, (from the progressive side) that younger evangelicals are a potentially get-able voting bloc for Democrats? This poll dispels all of that.

According to the poll [PDF], a full 80% of white evangelicals in that age group plan to vote for Mitt Romney. Just 15% say they will vote for Barack Obama.

The poll finds both a racial and religious divide among these millennials on attitudes towards the two presidential candidates, according to the analysis by Robert P. Jones, Daniel Cox, and Juhem Navarro-Rivera:

Majorities of minority Protestant millennials (78%), religiously unaffiliated millennials (66%), and Catholic millennials overall (59%) have a favorable opinion of Obama. However, less than half of white mainline Protestant millennials (38%), white Catholic millennials (31%), and white evangelical Protestant millennials (26%) have a favorable opinion of the president.

The reverse is true with regard to Romney. Majorities of white evangelical Protestant millennials (63%) and white Catholic millennials (56%) have a favorable opinion of Mitt Romney. Less than half of white mainline Protestant millennials (48%), Catholic millennials (38%), minority Protestant millennials (20%), and religiously unaffiliated millennials (19%) have a favorable view of the GOP nominee.

The poll didn’t probe whether the contraception coverage requirement and ensuing “religious freedom” debate would play a role in millennials’ voting choices. But there’s evidence in the poll that Obama’s position hasn’t hurt him with younger Catholics. Obama, the report notes, “has a significant advantage among Catholic younger millennial voters overall (55% vs. 38%).” He also has a significant lead over Romney among “minority Protestant younger millennial voters (70% vs. 26%), and religiously unaffiliated younger millennial voters (68% vs. 23%).”

But one of the poll’s most notable findings is this: by a significant margin, Romney voters say their reason for choosing him is their dislike of Obama and the Democrats. A full 35% of respondents gave dislike of Obama and his party as a reason they are voting for Romney. The next most cited reason was “shares my values/Republican” (20%), followed by “economy/budget” (15%, tied with “not sure/refused”). By contrast, only 15% of Obama voters cited dislike of Romney and the GOP as a reason for their Obama vote.

Why might that be?

UPDATE: Because the report itself does not set out what proportion of the sample are represented by each of the religious groups, I reached out to PRRI for some detail on that point. I was told that the sample was drawn from the 2012 Millenial Values Survey, and represents the same religious breakdowns as the sample for that larger survey. By far the largest religious group is the unaffiliated (24.7%), followed by Catholics (20%), followed by white mainline Protestant (12.6%), followed by white evangelical Protestants (12.3%). Note two things, then: the religious divide helps Obama, since his support is concentrated in the two most highly represented groups; and the boost Romney would get from millenial white evangelicals voting for him in such high concentrations would not be as helpful as it would be if he polled that high among older white evangelicals. Nationwide, white evangelicals represent about a fifth to a quarter of voters.

Take a look at page 8 of that report for a closer look at how millennials are losing their religion.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email