Religious beliefs are play a significant role in the formation of people's preferred candidate for the next President of the United States, according to a new study by Barna Group.
Even though there has been a consistent decline in the church-going population, religious convictions still fare highest among all the factors which influence voters this election.
The Barna Group conducted an online survey of 1,023 US adults from a nationally representative sample in September, out of whom 908 were registered voters and 627 were likely voters.
About 18 percent of the participating adults said that their religious beliefs mattered 'a lot' in making their decision about voting for the next president, followed by 10 percent who said that their family members primarily influenced them in their choice.
Only 8 percent attributed their decision to media in shaping their opinion on the candidates, while others mentioned friends (7 percent), campaign advertisements (7 percent), political commentators on TV (6 percent), radio (6 percent), social media (5 percent) and publications (5 percent), and church's pastor (7 percent) as having influenced their voting decision.
Among those people who listed religious convictions as a major motivator in coming to a voting decision, evangelicals (75 percent) were most likely to agree that religious beliefs influenced their opinion 'a lot.' Evangelicals also highly regarded their church pastor (22 percent) and family members (21 percent) in forming their views on electoral candidates.
Religious conviction was also on top of the list for non-evangelical born again Christians (30 percent), while some 10 percent from among this group did not cite any other factor as having influenced their decision.
Non-Christians' opinion on the political candidates was shaped most by news media (18 percent), followed by their respective religious beliefs (15 percent) and political analysts on TV (12 percent).
Born again Christians' opinion varied among different age groups.
About half of the born again Christians under the age of 50 said that their religious convictions mattered a 'a lot' in their voting decisions, while only about 30 percent of those over the age of 50 considered religious beliefs as supremely important.
Religious convictions were also important to more Protestants (36 percent) than Catholics (10 percent).
People with different political leanings were markedly divided in the role religious beliefs played in their voting choice. Conservatives (38 percent) were more likely than moderates (9 percent) and liberals (6 percent) in citing religious convictions as having mattered 'a lot' in their voting decisions. Opinion of pastors mattered little for moderates (3 percent) and liberals (4 percent), but mattered significantly more for conservatives (14 percent).
George Barna, a special analyst for the Barna Group's 2016 election polling, noted that the research shows that churches do have political influence on people, especially evangelicals.
"Pastors and people's religious beliefs had the most prolific levels of influence on the political choices of evangelicals," Barna said. "The influence of the two religious inputs examined was four times greater on evangelicals than it was on all other people associated with the Christian faith. Evangelicals take a lot of criticism for their blending of faith and politics, but they believe that their faith is meant to be integrated into every dimension of their life. The research shows that they are following through on that belief."