Religious right could grow with evangelicals Their conservative views agree with movement, Jewish study shows

August 10, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The religious right political movement has considerable opportunity for future growth because many of its prime potential constituents, politically-conservative evangelicals, are unfamiliar with the movement and unaware of some of its leaders, according to a poll commissioned by the American Jewish Committee.

For example, only 38 percent of the nation's conservative evangelicals say they have read or heard much about the religious right; fewer than half say they support it.

While 74 percent know enough about Pat Robertson -- the founder of the Christian Coalition, which is one of the most prominent organizations in the movement -- to give him a rating, only 18 percent know enough about Ralph Reed, the executive director of the coalition, to rate him.

The national poll, commissioned by the American Jewish Committee and conducted by the Gallup International Institute, screened a much larger group to identify 507 conservative evangelicals and 503 other Americans, representing the rest of society. All were interviewed by telephone between May 10 and June 3. The margin of sampling error for each group is plus or minus five percentage points.

Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the University of Chicago, analyzed the poll for the American Jewish Committee, a private advocacy group.

"As conservative evangelicals learn more about the religious right, they are more favorable," Smith said.

"If the Christian Coalition and similar organizations can expand their familiarity among this group, they will gain more adherents," he said.

To be classified as a conservative evangelical, respondents first had to describe themselves as conservative on political or social issues. Then they also had to agree with three theological statements: that the Bible is the actual word of God and to be taken literally; that they have been born again and have committed themselves to Jesus Christ; and that they have at some time encouraged others to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.

These conservative evangelicals express many attitudes consistent with the religious right political movement:

89 percent say the main cause of the United States' problems is moral decay.

89 percent favor a constitutional amendment to allow organized prayers in school.

76 percent favor the active involvement of Christians in politics to protect their values.

The poll found that conservative evangelicals were much more negative than other Americans toward nontraditionalists or outsiders such as homosexuals, feminists, atheists and Muslims.

But they expressed as much tolerance as other Americans in their attitudes toward ethnic minorities like blacks, Jews and Asians.

Pub Date: 8/10/96

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