Explaining WORLD's evangelical insiders survey

Media | A response to Ann Coulter’s criticisms
by J.C. Derrick

Posted on Thursday, November 5, 2015, at 9:02 am

Commentator Ann Coulter drew international criticism in September when she profanely described the U.S. Jewish population during the second GOP presidential debate. Last week she turned her fire (in part) on WORLD and Warren Cole Smith in a syndicated column

We’ll simply agree to disagree with Coulter’s bewildering assertion that America is “the last hope for Christianity on the planet,” but her piece does provide a good opportunity to explain more about our evangelical insiders survey, which Coulter derides as a sham. 

Coulter, an anti-immigrant zealot, pointed to Donald Trump’s low support in WORLD’s survey as evidence it was created as a covert way of hurting the billionaire businessman’s presidential aspirations. But, in fact, both the idea and the participant list were fully formed before Trump announced his candidacy on June 16.

Coulter, providing no evidence, claimed “the anti-Trump Warren Cole Smith” handpicked survey participants. In fact, 10 members of WORLD’s editorial staff selected and vetted the 103 participants. (An average of 90 participants have responded each month so far.)

We chose participants based on a wide range of factors, including racial, age, and gender diversity and their involvement in various corners of the evangelical community: ministry, law, public policy, higher education, media, and more. As we have noted, we’re not naming all participants because some, such as pastors and religious liberty attorneys, want to avoid jumping in the political fray.

Coulter and others have questioned the use of the term “insider,” but that is simply meant to describe persons who are engaged in the evangelical community. The 15 to 20 millennial participants might not be considered “leaders” yet, but they’re involved in important endeavors.

WORLD created the survey as an additional data point in what has become a crowded, volatile race for the White House. Numerous outlets—including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, National Public Radio, CNN, and others—have appropriately cited it that way. 

We were never under the delusion that the survey would “prove” anything, but we were and are interested to see the results, since half the GOP field plans to harness the power of evangelical voters. The idea that we would (or even could) select participants to produce a specific result in such a large field is ludicrous—and offensive. If Donald Trump were the winner, we would report that, too. 

Swings in the survey since July illustrate how many respondents are still trying to make up their minds: In July, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker drew first- or second-choice support from 28 percent of respondents, and yet he’s no longer in the race. This month Carly Fiorina saw half of her support evaporate.

We had no way of predicting Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida would become the runaway winner (at least so far), but the results align with a recent National Association of Evangelicals leadership survey that also found Rubio atop the field.

How much stock should you put into these results? That remains to be seen. But here are two takeaways:

  1. Survey participants are real evangelicals. Self-identifying as evangelical in a national poll could mean someone thinks owning a gun and watching Fox News makes you one. Beliefs matter. Church attendance matters. Our participants have demonstrated real faith in Christ.
  2. Participants are paying attention. Many are engaged at the national level (e.g., Russell Moore of The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention), while many others are involved at the state level, including all the early voting states (e.g., radio talk show host Steve Deace in Iowa). One ran for president. Three worked in the Obama administration. None are waiting until next summer to start thinking about the presidential race.

We don’t know how the survey results will develop in the coming months, but more shifts are sure to come before the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1. WORLD will continue delivering the results and let the outcome be what it is. Honest journalism is our pledge.

J.C. Derrick

J.C. is WORLD’s deputy chief content officer and WORLD Radio’s managing editor based in Dallas. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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