Evangelical Christians favor a nuclear freeze by better than 3 to 1, about the same as the public at large, according to a new Gallup Poll.
The findings appear counter to the views of many Americans, including President Reagan, who say they perceive evangelicals as hawkish on war-peace issues.
In March, Reagan appealed to the annual meeting of the National Association of Evangelicals to help defeat the nuclear freeze resolution then before Congress because, he said, a freeze would "reward the Soviet Union for its enormous and unparalleled military buildup" and leave the United States "increasingly vulnerable."
The poll, taken nine weeks after Reagan's speech, revealed that 77 percent of evangelicals questioned favor an immediate and verifiable nuclear freeze on testing, production and use of nuclear weapons. This compares with 82 percent of the general public on that question.
The poll was commissioned by the national association after the president's speech "to provide insight on the thinking of evangelicals regarding this crucial issue," an NAE spokesman said.
Evangelicals, who number around 40 million, are generally perceived to be pro-Reagan, in part because of the outspoken support of highly visible leaders like the Rev. Jerry Falwell and partly because of the president's championing of such topics as school prayer, Bible reading and the so-called pro-family issues.
But in fact there are wide differences of opinion among evangelicals on social and political issues.
The new Gallup study was based on interviews with 1,540 adults in more than 300 localities, of whom 17 percent were classified as evangelicals on the basis of three criteria: a born-again experience, acceptance of the Bible as the inspired word of God and efforts to persuade others to accept Jesus Christ as savior.
The views of evangelicals in the poll are strikingly similar to those of the general public, except for one area: evangelicals have a significantly higher percentage in the "no opinion" column on each of the seven questions in the survey.
Overall, 61 percent of the evangelicals and 56 percent of the general public said they approved of "the way President Reagan is dealing with the nuclear arms situation."
Also, 49 percent of the evangelicals and 42 percent of the general public said the Soviet Union is ahead in the nuclear arms race; 21 percent of evangelicals and 19 percent of the general public said the United States was ahead; 30 percent of the evangelicals and 39 percent of the general public said the two were "about equal."
Evangelicals and the general public were only a percentage point apart--85 and 86 percent, respectively--in saying that "a person can be a good Christian and still support the possession of nuclear weapons for only defensive purposes."
The widely publicized statement of the U.S. Catholic bishops, adopted in May, accepts possession of nuclear weapons for deterrence, but only as a step toward arms reduction talks.