Evangelicals will Decide the 2012 Election

So says Marcia Pally, who teaches at New York University and Fordham University. Her most recent book is "The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good"

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Until the mid-twentieth century, however, the self-reliant emphasis had not meant evangelical allegiance to the Republican party. Government-wary evangelicals often stayed outside politics altogether. Moreover, American southerners, including southern evangelicals, resented the Republicans, who had defeated them in the Civil War and humiliated them in the decades after. But in the 1960s, evangelicals, like many Americans, were alarmed by what they saw as "self-indulgent" hippies, “spineless” anti-Vietnam-war protestors and the "handouts" of the Civil Rights and anti-poverty programs implemented by the Democrats. For the first time, they joined hands with the Republicans to steer the country back to what they felt are its moral strengths.

That is, the Republican party, because of its coalition of business and populist interests, was able to attract evangelicals from both these demographics. They are united by faith in small government—one that

keeps the market mostly unregulated and moral self-responsibility sacrosanct. But they are also divided, with higher income and education tending towards the business interest, mid and lower, towards populism.[2]

These differences divide the votes of Republicans, evangelical and otherwise. Where there is less populist tradition, in Maine, Nevada, and New Hampshire, evangelicals favored Romney. His supporters set up “Evangelicals for Mitt” (http://evangelicalsformitt.org/). Where they are divided populist/business, the vote is split. In Arizona, evangelicals voted 36% for Romney, 37% for Santorum. In Florida, 36% voted for Romney, 38% for Gingrich, who was there seen as the populist. Only 19% voted for Santorum, who there was the “religious” candidate.


Where there is significant populism, the candidate who has succeeded in positioning himself as the populist hero, has won. In Iowa, Santorum did and won among evangelicals, who preferred him (a Catholic) over co-religionists Rick Perry (14%) and Michelle Bachmann (6%). In South Carolina and Georgia, Newt Gingrich did—attacking Romney as a “vulture capitalist”--and he won among evangelicals as among all voters. The Santorum flurry in February in more rural states[3]--traditional populist ground--is his reward for firming up his community-populist profile. In Michigan, currently fueled by rust-belt populism, Santorum positioned himself as the populist hero, attacking Romney for supporting the banking but not the auto-industry bailout that saved millions of jobs. He landed just three points short of Romney in Romney’s home state and won among evangelicals. In Mississippi and Alabama, where 80% of voters identify as evangelical/born-again Christian, both Santorum and Gingrich had populist profiles, yielding near-ties. But even here, other concerns were in play among evangelicals: Romney earned a close second place on his “electability” in the general election.

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By Marcia Pally
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