A couple of days after the 2004 presidential election I received a phone call from a reporter from a national publication. She wanted to know about those “moral values” voters, the 25 percent of Americans who stated in exit polls that moral values were their No. 1 issue. The “chattering classes” were still in shock about both the values voters and the fact they played such a pivotal role in George W. Bush’s reelection (the only president in U.S. history to secure reelection after having won a first term with fewer votes than his opponents).
This reporter wanted to know who these values voters were. I explained that they were Evangelicals by the millions (26 percent of all voters identified themselves as “Evangelicals” in exit polling and they voted 78 percent for Bush). I added that they were also Mainline Protestants (68 percent of those who identified themselves as “traditional” voted for Bush in those same exit polls) as did 72 percent of “traditional” non-Latino Catholics.
Some have argued that such “values” voters have moved to the political center and away from Republicans. Most of these voters, particularly Evangelicals, consider themselves values voters first, and vote Republican when they get a “pro-life” or “pro-family” bonus for doing so. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and American Life, 72 percent of white Evangelicals voted for Republican candidates in U.S. House elections in 2006, and they made up 24 percent of the electorate who actually cast votes.
The moral values voters have altered the political landscape radically. The debate between the secularists and those who believe religious convictions of all faiths have a valid and important place in public policy (i.e. political) debates is over—and the secularists did not win.
How else do you explain Senators Clinton and Obama attending the “Compassion Forum” last Sunday night at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania? This event, telecast by CNN with Campbell Brown and Jon Meacham as moderators, included questions from selected, diverse religious leaders from around the country. (I was invited to participate, but had a previously scheduled preaching assignment that precluded my attendance.)
And what questions they were. Questions about abortion, euthanasia, torture, creation—“Did God really create the world in six days?”—and creation care. Further, we had questions such as, “Do you have a favorite Bible story?” and “Do you believe God wants you to be president?”
To watch the Compassion Forum was to see just how much the political landscape has been transformed by values voters. Can you imagine Howard Dean and John Kerry at such a forum and responding to such questions? I would pay money for a ticket to see that tableau being played out on screen.
Both parties now understand that they have to value and respect “values” voters and even when they disagree with their positions on issues like abortion, at least explain why and attempt to justify their differing conclusions.
Personally, I think that process will make Democrats better Democrats, Republicans better Republicans, Independents better Independents, Americans better Americans, and America a better place.