Young Christian Voters Carefully Mixing Religion and Politics  

For young Christian voters a funny thing is happening on the way to the polls – their values have broadened from the traditional “wedge” issues of abortion and same-sex marriage – and the party they vote for isn’t automatically influenced by their religion.

A little more than one-third of American voters ages 18-24 say religion is a significant part of their lives, polls show. Many say that faith influences their vote.

But unlike previous generations of religious voters, that faith doesn’t call them to a single party.

For the most part, according to a handful of polls this year, they’re not leaving their conservative values behind. They’re just broadening the agenda.

Younger religious voters do care about abortion and gay marriage, said Emile Lester, professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. But they also care about poverty, AIDS and the environment.

And religious followers are starting to debate which issues should sway their votes, he said.

“There’s a reassessment of priorities,” Lester said.

Kelly Austin, an 18-year-old senior at North Stafford High School, called the typical values, abortion and gay rights, “wedge issues.”

“We focus on them too much,” she said. “We need to broaden values to include social issues, helping the poor, social justice in all aspects and tolerance, especially.”

Emile Lester, assistant professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington says younger voters are focusing outside the core wedge issues for several reasons, including being more aware of what’s happening around the world. They hear about poverty, AIDS, and other social tragedies and their faith tells them they must be concerned not just about reproductive rights and marriage equality, but the well-being of all of humanity. It has also helped that many evangelical leaders like Rick Warren and Richard Cizik are speaking out about other issues like AIDS and poverty.

The shift is summed up by Becca Groman, a University of Mary Washington student who belongs to Trinity Episcopal Church’s Canterbury Club for students:

”I feel like my religion is so very personal to me, and my politics are less personal. It’s more that I don’t want my politics to influence my religion.”

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