Religion Poll Proves that Liberals Are Not Conservatives

In 1988, George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign inflicted the mortal wound on the word “liberal” as they pounded away at a hapless Michael Dukakis—branding him as a wishy-washy “L-word.” The virulent attack on the liberal label began long before 1988. Instead, it was the culmination of years of attacks on liberalism by conservatives since at least the 1960s. After the ‘88 election, “liberal” was officially a dirty word. Unfortunately, despite Obama’s win last November after a campaign full of liberal values and promises, the word itself has never quite recovered its past respect.

That’s why the results of George Barna’s latest poll comparing “conservatives” and “liberals” and their religious beliefs is suspect, to say the least.

Based upon an evaluation of more than a dozen religious beliefs of liberals and conservatives, consistent and significant differences are evident. Liberals are less than half as likely as conservatives to firmly believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches (27% versus 63%, respectively); to strongly believe that Satan is real (17% versus 36%); and to firmly contend that they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with others (23% versus 8%).

In a nutshell, all Barna has really proven is that liberals are not conservatives, and vice versa. The main problem here is how the questions are framed, deliberately privileging the conservative view of Christianity. It’s not a shock that a liberal would not believe in Satan or the primacy of evangelism. Other results are not all that surprising either:

The research also discovered that liberals are more likely than conservatives to develop their own set of religious beliefs rather than adopt those proposed by a church or other entity. A greater percentage of liberals also indicated they are very open to accepting different moral views than those they presently possess.

In short, liberals are more open minded, more prone to questioning their beliefs and instead of hewing to the rigid doctrines and dogmas they are given by the church, are more likely to admit wrong beliefs and embrace new beliefs that mesh with reality. All in all, that doesn’t sound like a bad trait for anyone, religious or otherwise. Liberals, it seems, are thinking people who are open to new ideas and will change their minds and beliefs if they think old ideas and habits were wrong. That sounds like a good thing to me.

It’s also instructive to note—given the obvious slant toward the goodness of conservative religious views—that at least one question was hedged a bit by the conservative pollster. Usually, in such surveys, the question is something along the lines of, “Do you believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God?” The question here was muted a bit, asking if respondents “firmly believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches.” That would seem to be a bit of a retreat from the more rigid question and, dare I say, a more liberal way to phrase what is usually a “gotcha” question for liberal Christians?

Another problem arises when one ventures to ask, “Who has defined the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’?” The answer: The respondents themselves who were given the choice of answering whether they were “mostly conservative” or “mostly liberal” or somewhere in between. It’s not really a shock, then, that 32 percent say they are “mostly conservative” on social and political issues and a mere 17 percent say they are “mostly liberal” on social and political issues.

The thrust of Barna’s “research” here is to basically prove that “conservatives” are more pious and religious than their “liberal” counterparts—but, as with the phrasing of the questions, the deck is stacked in the conservative’s favor from the outset. The “conservative” label, while it has suffered a few setbacks in the last few years and election cycles, has not taken one iota of the abuse that the label “liberal” has suffered. Certainly, when faced with a choice of calling themselves “liberal” or somewhere in between “liberal” and “conservative” most people, who I suspect are true liberals, will shy away from the tainted label. What has really been revealed is twofold: 1) Barna’s underlying polling prejudice and that 2) only those who have no fear of the “L-word” will embrace it.

So, to prove the piety of conservatives over liberals, Barna compares this 32 percent of “mostly conservatives” to the 17 percent of “mostly liberals” and asks us to believe it is a fair comparison. Barna doesn’t dare present the number of people who fall between mostly conservative and mostly liberal—you have to buy his new book to get all of those details. It would be interesting to see how those 32 percent compare in faith matters with the 51 percent who consider themselves centrists. But that’s not the point of this press release. Instead, Barna’s content to present misleading numbers that do nothing but continue the assault on the “liberal” label—painting us as godless, unchurched, heathens who don’t pray, read the Bible, or have a personal relationship with our Creator.

Are conservatives really that insecure about their faith that they have to cook to books to prove that they love God more?