Nearly one-quarter of the nation's voters are evangelical Christians, and since the 1980s most of them have endorsed Republican candidates. They helped elect President George Bush to a second term, constituting more than one-third of his votes in 2004.
But today some evangelicals are saying their votes can't be taken for granted. Looking beyond traditional litmus test issues such as abortion or gay marriage, some young Christians say they are no longer calling themselves Republican.
"I'm ashamed to say it. ... I had a yard sign for 'Bush-Cheney 2000.' I was really going for those guys," said Brandon Rhodes, a 23-year-old graduate student at the Multnomah Biblical Seminary and an evangelical Christian.
Rhodes, who considers himself part of the emerging church, said he and his peers are rejecting an individualistic "Marlboro Man spirituality" in favor of a more inclusive faith. "Whereas maybe the fundamentalist in 1980 said, 'We can't do social programs for the poor…that sounds like communism,' this generation is like, 'So what?' If it's the right thing to do, we have to do it," he said. "It's politically ambidextrous."
This newfound communal faith doesn't just include people, but the environment as well.
"The first time I broke ranks with the right it was about the environment," Rhodes said. "What good was it to the unborn if my Republican votes saved them from the abortion clinics, only to deliver them into a resource-scraped world of want, devoid of wild places?"
John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, has spent decades studying American religion and politics.
Green said the number of young, white evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 29 who identify themselves as Republican remained fairly consistent from 2001 to 2005. Since then, however, the data show a steep decline. Fifty-five percent of young, white evangelicals self-identified as Republican in 2005, while in 2007, only 37 percent consider themselves members of the GOP.
Compared with the rest of the population, the difference seems even larger. Republican Party identification fell among older white evangelicals by five points and by a mere four points among the general public, according to the Pew Forum.
But so far young evangelicals show no signs of swinging toward the Democratic Party. Data collected this year by the Pew Forum indicate the majority of young evangelicals still describe themselves as either conservative or moderate. Their newfound party identification? "Most became independents," Green said.
Ben Lowe, 23, describes himself as an "issue by issue voter," who often leans towards the Republican Party. But as the presidential election looms, he anticipates a difficult decision. He is anti-abortion but also deeply concerned about the environment. "As Christians we must always be reevaluating our relationship with politicians based on what the Bible teaches us," he said. "Right now, no major party out there represents my values as a Christian."