Young evangelical Protestants continue to cling closely to their bedrock conservative values. Yet they are abandoning trust in the White House and straying from the Republican Party, according to an analysis that tracked waning sentiments from 2001 to 2007.
"An examination of the younger generation [those ages 18 to 29] provides evidence that white evangelicals may be undergoing some significant political changes," said Dan Cox, a researcher with the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. "The question is whether these changes will result in a shift in white evangelical votes in 2008 and beyond."
Dissatisfaction with the White House is stark. Five years ago, President Bush enjoyed a buoyant 87 percent job approval rating among youthful evangelicals — higher than their older counterparts (80 percent) and the general public (67 percent).
By August this year, the approval rating was cut almost in half in the younger demographic, dropping to 45 percent. The older folks were more forgiving: 52 percent still approve of Mr. Bush. Among the general population, the number stands at 33 percent.
Mr. Bush has relied on faith-driven stalwarts. Consider that in the 2004 election, Mr. Bush commanded 78 percent of the overall white evangelical vote, with 21 percent voting for his opponent, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat.
Party identity also has come undone among the younger group, particularly in the past two years.
A majority of the young evangelicals — 55 percent — steadfastly proclaimed themselves Republicans in 2001, with 16 percent calling themselves Democrats and 26 percent independent. This year, Republican affiliation has dropped to 40 percent, while the number favoring Democrats has risen to 19 percent and independents to 32 percent.
"Since 2005 the group"s Republican affiliation has dropped significantly — by 15 percentage points," Mr. Cox said. "Republicans now have only a 2-to-1 advantage over Democrats among younger white evangelicals, compared with a nearly 4-to-1 edge in 2005."
Still, the young folks have not abandoned conservative ideas.
"Young white evangelicals remain largely committed to politically conservative values and to conservative positions on a variety of issues, including the war in Iraq, capital punishment and abortion," Mr. Cox said.
Though support for the war has fallen among the general public, 60 percent of young evangelicals said the use of military force was the "right decision." The number was identical among their elders, but 41 percent among all Americans ages 18 to 29.
The study reported that 72 percent approve of the death penalty, compared with 75 percent among elders and 56 percent among all young Americans.
It also found that 70 percent of young evangelicals favor "making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion." The figure was 55 percent among older evangelicals and 39 percent among young Americans overall.