In the midst of this year’s chaotic campaign for the presidency, few things have been clear or predictable. However, when Christian conservatives are asked about the issues that matter most, some of that ambiguity gets eliminated. Seven issues were listed by at least one out of every seven survey respondents as being critical matters the country must address with wisdom and immediacy. By far the most-often mentioned concerns related to government performance (e.g., its power, reach, spending habits, debt level, accountability, etc.). Anxieties about the national economy were next, listed by 21% of the respondents. People’s economic concerns largely revolved around taxes, excessive regulation, overblown entitlements, federal spending, unemployment, and international economic policies.
Despite federal reports claiming that the US economy is in good shape, SAGE Cons – the spiritually active, governance engaged conservatives who were the focus of the national survey by the American Culture and Faith Institute – are not buying what the government is selling. The study revealed several reasons why they are skeptical of the government’s claims.
Among Christian conservatives, less than 10% believe the national economy is currently strong. In fact, quite the opposite is true: three out of four (75%) believe the economy is currently in a weak state. The other one-sixth of the group (16%) believes the economy is somewhere in-between weak and strong.
Not surprisingly, the higher a person’s income, the less likely they were to characterize the economy as weak. Among respondents in households making under $60,000 annually, 78% consider the economy weak, compared to 75% among religious conservatives in homes earning $60,000 to $200,000, and just 66% among those from homes making in excess of $200,000.
However, the unmistakable pattern across the more than sixty subgroups examined in the research is that a large majority of Christian conservatives believe the economy is weak.
What Economic Recovery?
When asked to assess the progress of the nation’s economic recovery since the recession began nearly a decade ago, perspectives again leaned toward the discouraged side. Less than 1% of the Christian conservatives said the economy is recovering strongly, and 16% felt it is recovering but not strongly. A plurality – 36% – said that the economy is stagnant. Nearly half, however, said the economy is either slowly declining (33%) or in a state of strong decline (14%).
The big picture, then, shows that more than four out of five Christian conservatives (83%) believe the country’s economy is either stagnant or declining. In fact, SAGE Cons are roughly three times more likely to view the economy as declining as to say it is in recovery.
Once again, the higher a person’s household income, the less likely they were to view the economy in strong decline. Similarly, Protestants were less likely than Catholics to see the nation as immersed in a strong economic slide.
Not a single subgroup of the SAGE Con population contains one-quarter or more who believe the economy is improving. None of the subgroups studied contend that the national economy is recovering from its near decade of weakness.
A final measure evaluated how SAGE Cons expect the economy to emerge in the near future. The results show that only 11% are optimistic about our economic future compared to 58% who are pessimistic. Another 12% are neither optimistic nor pessimistic, and 18% pushed the decision off, saying it depends on the outcome of the General Election in November.
Men (15%) were less likely than women (23%) to believe the election will influence our future economic conditions. Adults under age 50 were substantially more pessimistic (66%) than were adults 50 or older (57%). The most optimistic segments were those earning more than $200,000 annually (17%) and Catholics (19%).
Expect More Proposals
It is likely that given the importance attached to economic policies by the voting public, the major party presidential candidates, as well as those seeking election to the 34 U.S. Senate seats that are up for grabs this year, will provide more policy proposals on this topic between now and November than were provided during the primaries.
“Candidates that admit the economy is weak are more likely to have credibility in the eyes of SAGE Cons,” explained George Barna, Executive Director of the research institute that conducted the survey. “Despite questionable reports about the growing strength of the national economy, many Americans are skeptical about the accuracy of those reports. Their personal experience in the marketplace suggests that the economy is neither growing nor improving.”
Barna also described the desire of voters to consider meaningful solutions to a major subject of concern. “The overall pessimism of the conservative electorate gives candidates seeking their support the liberty to propose more daring solutions than have been tried by the Obama Administration. Because the health of our economy impacts every person in this country, merely offering platitudes about the importance of addressing unemployment, wages, the tax system, and government efficiency is not going to impress many voters. A decade of recession has left Americans hungry for specific solutions that re-energize a stalled economy.”
About the Research
The survey was conducted by the American Culture & Faith Institute among 2,000 individuals whose faith views and political activity qualified them as SAGE Cons. The survey was conducted online from May 11-20, 2016.
The American Culture & Faith Institute is a division of United in Purpose, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The mission of United in Purpose is to educate, motivate and activate conservative Christians related to the political process. The organization does not support or promote individual candidates or political parties.
SAGE Cons are qualified in the research as adults who are registered voters; conservative on political matters; have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior; are active in pursuing their Christian faith; and are actively engaged in politics and government. They represent about 12% of the national adult population.
Additional information about this and related research is accessible on the American Culture & Faith Institute website, located at www.culturefaith.com.