The Adventist Vote: Findings from the 2016 National Election Survey

Adventism presents a challenge to modern culture in the earth’s last days and faces a challenge in its witness on today’s vital social and political issues. An understanding of the Adventist social and political persona is key to facing this challenge, to shaping our individual ministry expression, and to engaging corporately to create a place that is more just and meets the needs of all. The aim of our 2016 National Election Survey is to provide a partial understanding of these challenges.

Just days after Donald Trump’s surprising victory in the 2016 national election we asked Spectrum and Adventist Today readers to participate in a short survey about their religious and political leanings, voting behaviors, and positions on several controversial social issues. We asked questions similar to those found in most public opinion polls such as the Gallup Poll, replicating our previous surveys of Adventist Today readers, Adventist pastors, and faculty and staff of Adventists colleges and universities. We also asked questions from surveys of Adventists conducted by Roger Dudley and Edwin Hernandez.

Our Sample

More than 1,600 responded, most of them immediately. Most respondents were born in the U.S. (81%), more than half (57%) were male, and three in four were married. Around 15% were single or never married and fewer than one in ten were separated or divorced. The age distribution of our sample was relatively evenly distributed, with one-quarter ages 18 to 35 years, approximately one-fifth 36 to 50 years, over one-fourth each aged 51 to 65 years and over 65 years. More than one-third had annual household incomes more than $100,000 a year, around 15% between $75,000 and $100,000, nearly 20% between $50,000 and $75,000, and around 20% $50,000 or less. Finally, our sample’s ethnic background is three-fourths White with all others - Latino, Black, Asian, Multi-Racial—each at 8% or less. Eighty-five percent of our sample had four years of college or more.

Our Findings

Our sample had a range of religious and political leanings. As indicated in Figure 1, nearly half considered themselves moderate in their religious orientations. About one in five considered themselves to be religious conservatives, while about one in four were liberal in their religious orientation. Slightly more than three percent identified as fundamentalist. Figure 1 also shows the respondents’ political orientations. Political orientation mirrors religious orientation, with greater than 30% identifying as political moderates. Liberals/progressives and strong liberals/progressives represented nearly 40% of the sample. Those who are conservative or strong conservatives represented one-quarter of the respondents. This is in line with findings of previous studies showing that religious and political orientations are closely aligned.

In party affiliation, our respondents were divided roughly into thirds between Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. There were slightly more Democrats (32%) than Republicans (28%) or Independents (29%). Significantly, about one in twenty had not registered to vote.

Figure 2 shows respondents’ votes for President. More than half of respondents (55%)) voted for Hillary Clinton, more than twice the number who voted for Donald Trump (27%). Only about 10% voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson, Green Party candidate Jill Stein received only about two percent, and 6% did not vote.

When we asked respondents (Figure 3) to indicate the single most important reason for voting for the presidential candidate they selected, four in ten said their choice was based on the candidate’s position on issues important to them, and more than two in ten cited “fitness for the presidency” as most important. Almost an equal number (about 10%) voted either AGAINST both candidates or AGAINST Hillary Clinton, and about 14% voted AGAINST Donald Trump, with more than one-third casting a protest vote. About 6% did not vote in this election.

When asked who they voted for in the 2012 election, more than one-half said Barack Obama, while just over one-third chose Republican challenger Mitt Romney, with very limited apparent protest voting. Around 15% said they did not vote in the 2012 election, less than half the number who did not vote in 2016, suggesting more vigorous overall interest in 2016. Though some have suggested that many Obama voters in 2012 voted for Trump in 2016, there was no apparent evidence of this shift among our Adventist respondents, who maintained roughly the same level of support for Democratic candidates in both elections.

Respondents were asked how important the presidential candidates’ religious affiliations were a factor in their voting decisions. Figure 4 shows the range of responses indicating that more than one in three considered it important or very important. Twice as many (66 percent) considered candidates’ religious affiliations as somewhat unimportant or very unimportant. This majority may indicate respondents’ strong positions on the separation of church and state.

Finally, respondents were given the opportunity to post open-ended comments at the end of the survey. Our preliminary review of the comments suggests a broad range of opinions on the 2016 election and related political and social issues.


Our findings represent the views of a large number of Spectrum and Adventist Today readers - largely white, married men and women across a broad range of ages and are likely to enjoy an upper socio-economic status. They represent a wide range of religious and political leanings and party affiliations. While this sample may not represent the general Adventist population in North America, there is an apparent indication of a shift from conservative religious and political leanings to more moderate views, as their voting in 2012 and 2016 U.S. elections indicates a preference for more moderate, liberal/progressive versus conservative candidates for President. However, because of the number of protest votes, the unusual nature of the 2016 campaigns, and the results of the election, it may be difficult to draw general conclusions from this year’s election. Adventists who participated in this survey were clearly more involved in this election than in 2012. More people voted in the 2016 election, indicating a more intense involvement in the electoral process. A majority of those who did vote indicated that their favored candidate’s position on issues was the most important reason for their vote, again indicating more intense involvement in this election. Finally, Adventists in our sample were actively engaged in the political process and in the discourse as indicated by the number and the nature of comments added to the survey response.

Rapidly changing social and political forces make it more difficult for Adventists to maintain foundational beliefs and to become a more relevant witness on important religious, social and political issues. We hope this information is helpful in facing this challenge. Findings from our survey questions about controversial social issues, along with an analysis of the 400 or so posted comments, will be the subject of a future article.

John T. Gavin is the Chair of the Social Work Department at Washington Adventist University and Director of the Center for Metropolitan Ministry. William W. Ellis is a senior social scientist, public policy analyst and Professor of Political Science at Washington Adventist University. Curtis J. VanderWaal is Professor of Social Work and Chair of the Department of Social Work at Andrews University.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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It’s very difficult to get a clear picture of proportions within our church favoring any particular candidate or position because it’s difficult to address response bias. If Spectrum and Adventist Today readers were the primary respondents, then we should expect to see a slant toward liberal views. Identifying associations among the data should be more meaningful when carefully done by the researchers. The association between religious and political orientation, for example, was expected, but it also revealed a normal curve (with a lot people in the middle), in which we are not so divided as some would suggest.

Definitely looking forward to the next post that will include social issues.


Nice to see results posted so quickly. I get survey/review requests at work from service companies. Health providers request surveys on their staff. There are movie reviews and restaurant reviews all of the time. When will SDA churches initiate sermon/worship service & Sabbath school reviews?
I was told that “people vote with their feet”. It might help to learn the specifics.
It is time for the ministerial secretaries to integrate quality control into their management.


Were the 1600 respondents only from the readership of Spectrum and Adventist Today? Then given the obvious fact that most of the readership of Spectrum and Adventist Today represent the liberal wing of the Adventist denomination, it is not surprising that there were more votes for the liberal candidates than the more conservative candidate. It would be a more interesting survey if the respondents were actually more from the entire rank and file of the denomination. The results would more likely to have been more towards the conservative “spectrum” of political opinion.


It appears that the Spectrum and AT readers/commenters are a convenient sample, although biased by education certainly. However, both groups have many “conservative” readers and commenters.

I’m not surprised that a majority of this sample voted for Hillary, since this educated group would be most likely acquainted with her support and knowledge of Adventist Liberty magazine, the educational and medical system throughout the world, as well as her support for education and separation of church and state as well as the importance of her U.S. Supreme Court appointments to religious liberty.

Others, as the polls already show, who are high school educated or less, would support someone who wants to appoint Ben Carson to a position (because they are Adventists who want to vote for an “Adventist.”).

What is surprising is that Adventists who have traditionally supported diversity would vote for someone who would build walls and ship an entire group from a religion out of the country, when this is the country where Adventists were founded, found freedom, and continue to thrive as a diverse community of believers.

A stratified research project that includes broad education and ethnic levels would be most fascinating. Also, a broader level of age range would provide more predictability in trends with a reliability factor of +/- .5. Looking forward to seeing a more comprehensive piece of research on the election soon.

The educated, affluent voters of Spectrum/AT have been deceived by liberal media and left behind by the will of the people. The Democrat strategists grossly overplayed their hand and tried to sell a bill of goods that simply didn’t pass the smell test, even in an increasingly post-christian, hedonistic popular culture. America saw through the hypocrisy of the Clintons. America realized that she was “extremely careless” with sensitive documents after declaring that her personal server was only used to set up babysitting with Chelsea, to say “hey baby” to Bill, and to remind her when to go to her yoga.

Obviously a lot of Spectrum/AT people were willing to overlook the fact that the president of their choice has been “extremely careless” with national security. That is not rational.

Now the presidency, the house, the senate, the supreme court is lost. Democrats have some honest soul-searching to do. I see a Democratic abandoning of the extreme left/ Marxist agenda in the near future, and a scampering toward the middle. Candidates will avoid the prospect of being likened to Hillary of Barack like the plague.

Nothing tarnishes a good legacy as does history.


The fact that any Adventist voted for Donald Trump is appalling. I would be curious to know what compelled them to choose him? Was it just religious liberty or was it the racism and bigotry?


“The results would more likely to have been more towards the conservative “spectrum” of political opinion.” says BD.

Maybe among white voters, but not among black, hispanic and asian voters. But the church is not the white church living in rural areas anymore.

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The racism and bigotry canard is a fiction of the left. Conservatives are not inclined to allow such ad hominen howling rhetoric sway their common sense perspectives on the smorgasboard of issues that need to be addressed.

As Prof. Kent said, the challenge with this survey is response bias. In fact, given that the majority of respondents voted for Sec. of State Clinton, it’s likely that this same response bias is what tripped up all of the mainstream pollsters who forecast a sweeping victory for her.

I would be curious as to how the demographics of the survey respondents corellate to the US Seventh-day Adventist population as a whole. Without any supporting evidence, my guess is that US SDA’s at large have a lower average income along with higher levels of minorities. Additionally, matching survey respondents by state would also be helpful. For example if large numbers of respondents were from California, that would skew national results given that California voted for Hillary Clinton in a higher percentage than any other state.

(add) Not sure this tells us much about the political leanings of church members. If separated it by state it might tell us about the political leanings of SDA’s by geography which probably parallel non-SDA trends pretty closely. I say that as compared to Mormons who in 2012 and to a lesser but significant number in 2016 vote as a block.

What I find very disappointing in this research is that there are no definitions provided for the categories of conservative, moderate or liberal/progressive that they ask about with regard to politics and religion. Let’s say you have an Adventist who believes everlasting Hell is not only wrong but an insult to God. Now let’s say we have a Catholic who believes the traditional understanding of eternal suffering in Hell. Which one is liberal and which conservative in their religious orientation? Similarly, what about someone running for a political office where they will have to take an oath to support the Constitution but they vociferously demand that people not be allowed to spend money supporting the election of this or that candidate? Compared with someone who maintains that the First Amendment is extremely important and a hallmark of our society so people should be free to spend money in support of their preferred candidates? Which one is conservative and which one liberal? I think it would be much more helpful if instead of letting the respondent invent their definition of those categories the words would have been defined for the survey. Another example, it appears that Gary Johnson got about 10% of the vote from respondents, but Libertarian is not a philosophy that was allowed as a choice in your political persuasion. In addition to the self-selection bias others pointed out I believe this lack of word definition is fatal to this survey (which I did participate in).

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You raise a very worthwhile point. My observation is that the intellectual elite tend to just lump conservatives together into a category called “racist homophobic bigots”.


You forgot “Right Wing Christian Evangelical”. All Christians get thrown into this category, except some SDA’s, it seems.


It’s quite difficult to put faith and trust in polls even the most respected such as Gallup. It’s even more difficult to take much from a survey which only targets Spectrum and Adventist Today. And certainly that’s not to disparage the two scholars who conducted the survey.

There is a opinion shared by many that we have become very good at saying one thing yet doing another. Living in a SDA “getto” this is fairly common. Many verbalize and regurgitate the common themes associated with conservative SDA culture while living a much more liberal lifestyle. And while this is true from a religious perspective, it many times it is the opposite in the political life. The popular position of speaking “social justice”, whatever that means to the individual, many times is not what happens behind the voting booth screen. This double life both religious and political is not new to SDA’s since the cultural revolution of the 60’s and 70’s.

Today the group of 30-40’s SDA’s, a deminishing group, are not real students of politics. Some are and so one must not paint with a broad brush. However, the news they get from both conservative and liberal news organizations are simply driven by money rather than truth. We see this in the first reporting of a incident evolving a police shooting or the first reports of a mass killing. The first report becomes the driven truth. The after reporting is many times less than honest if it goes against the ideology of the organization.

I think more SDA’s vote economics, foreign policy, and their domestic position than they do religious liberty. Just watch the local church attendance when it is announced that the Religiouse Liberty leader will be having the sermon next week.


Attendance went up at my local SDA when it was announced Alan Reinach was to speak. Best sermon all year. So the problem is not the topic, but the speakers who sermonize on the topic rather than engage in real issues and live their life advocating on behalf of others.

Racism is fiction? Was slavery fiction as well?

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CommonSense, it’s because they have Common Sense. And thank God, they did!