Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

The Myth of McCain’s Weakness Among Evangelicals

Conventional wisdom holds that John McCain is struggling to win evangelical voters. Evangelical leader Mark DeMoss predicted last week that he’d run weaker than any Republican since 1976, and a front page New York Times piece detailed the evangelical malaise.
Sen. McCain has been criticized by prominent Christian leaders such as James Dobson, who said at one point he might even stay home instead of supporting someone as repulsive as Sen. McCain. They view him as insufficiently conservative and still fume over his comments in 2000 that some religious conservative leaders were “agents of intolerance.” In the primaries, most Christian leaders backed Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee. More recently, Sen. McCain’s decision to jettison two prominent conservative Christians – John Hagee and Rod Parsely – has sent his God-o-Meter ratings plummeting like a stone in a baptismal font.
But is this conventional wisdom really true? Or to be more precise, Sen. McCain clearly has a problem with evangelical leaders — but does he really have a major problem with evangelical voters?
On the contrary, Sen. McCain won the nomination in part because he did far better than expected with rank-and-file evangelicals.
For instance, in New Hampshire, among the 21% of the Republican electorate that was evangelical or “born again,” Sen. McCain won 29%, Mr. Romney 28% and Mr. Huckabee 27% — even though Mr. Huckabee is a former evangelical preacher and Mr. Romney had the endorsements of many key Christian leaders.
In Texas, where half the primary voters described themselves as evangelical, Sen. McCain won 44% of them, while Mr. Huckabee got 48%. And in Florida, the decisive state that clinched the nomination for Sen. McCain, he once again played to a tie among evangelicals (Mr. Huckabee 31%, Mr. Romney 31%, Sen. McCain 28%.) Not too shabby for someone supposedly viewed as just one step above Sen. Lucifer.
Where he does have trouble is among Southern evangelicals; in South Carolina, for instance, Mr. Huckabee won 43% and Sen. McCain 27%, though even here he beat Fred Thompson and Mr. Romney, both candidates supposed to do much better than Sen. McCain among evangelicals.
In a recent Rasmussen poll, Sen. McCain was winning 58% of evangelicals, and his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, was winning 32%.
Why would Sen. McCain be doing so much better among evangelical voters than evangelical leaders?
First, the leadership’s disgust with Sen. McCain stems from the candidate’s treatment of them. His “agents of intolerance” speech was not an attack on evangelicals, but on a few of their leaders.
Second, some of the issues over which Christian leaders have chastised Sen. McCain are inside-the-beltway concerns that don’t resonate with rank-and-file voters. For instance, Christian leaders often cite Sen. McCain’s authorship of campaign finance legislation that they believe would restrict their lobbying and advocacy abilities. Most voters care little about this issue.
Third, though he’s reluctant to talk about his personal faith, in many ways Sen. McCain is substantively in perfect alignment with today’s evangelical voters. They tend to be conservative but have veered from the religious right on a few issues, one of which is climate change – the exact issue that Sen. McCain has highlighted as his point of departure with Republican orthodoxy.
Fourth, Sen. McCain’s support of the Iraq war, his war-hero history and his emphasis on fighting terrorism appeals to those Christians who feel that fighting Islam has risen to the top of the list of important issues for Christians. For many Christians, Islamofascism is the new “gay marriage.”
Is he as beloved among evangelicals as President Bush was? No. Does Sen. Obama have a shot at winning a bulk of them? Yes. But Sen. McCain’s problems with rank-and-file evangelical voters have been vastly overstated.
Republished from The Wall Street Journal Online

Comments read comments(7)
post a comment

posted June 12, 2008 at 12:06 pm

There was a time I simply did not understand how Evangelical voters could be OK with electing a man who cheated on his wife after she was horribly injured in an automobile accident, or how having an extravagant livelihood based on beer sales was not an issue, or, for that matter, how making jokes about “bomb, bomb, bomb”-ing Iran and killing innocent women and children could be construed as Christian. Then I thought about it. Virtually all of the Evangelicals I know well enough to know about their intimate lives have had extensive sexual relationships outside of marriage. A few might make a furtive joke about drinking beer even a church supper, but there are still many who carry their beer cans and whiskey bottles to the neighbor’s trash less the discovery dilute their Christian “witness.” And the killing of 3,000 might justify the killing of 3,000,000 in the name of defense. McCain is doing just fine with Evangelicals, because Evangelical has become a political label, not a spiritual one.
My personal challenge is not to let the hypocrisy of Evangelicals, among whose number I once counted myself, to dampen my love of Christ or my witness to others (and the convenant even in my non-Evangelical church includes a promise to witness). But as more and more people realize just how fake this brand of Christianity has become, my walk with Christ may become easier.

report abuse


posted June 12, 2008 at 5:21 pm

Amen to that Bob.
Evangelicals neo-cons are about as likely to leave McCain as the feminists are to tyrn their back on Obama.

report abuse

Charles Cosimano

posted June 13, 2008 at 12:54 am

Apparently few pundits have considered the possibility that the evangelical rank and file are even more disgusted with the Dobsons of this world than they could ever be with McCain.

report abuse


posted June 13, 2008 at 9:29 am

I like the notion that evangrlicals have decided their religious and moral beliefs aren’t soley defined by abortion, homosexuality and corporatism.

report abuse

Brian Horan

posted June 15, 2008 at 1:24 pm

I would title this post: “HOW LOW CAN THE MONEYCHANGERS GO?”
I think a focus on this would be fair, being that Rev. Wright got so much media attention.
One of McCain’s fundraisers has said some interesting things about women. I’ve tried posting it on some of the more obnoxious blogs here on Beliefnet. I’ll tone it down a bit.
First here’s the web address to get to the Associated Press article on YAHOO:
Here’s some actual parts of the article:
“Questions from the media prompted Republican John McCain to cancel a fundraiser at the home of a Texas oilman (who has already raised 300K for McCain) who once joked that women should give in while being raped.
The Texan, Republican Clayton “Claytie” Williams, made the joke during his failed 1990 campaign for governor against Democrat Ann Richards. Williams compared rape to the weather, saying, “As long as it’s inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it.” He also compared Richards to the cattle on his ranch, saying he would “head her and hoof her and drag her through the dirt.”
Williams’ comments made national news at the time and remain easy to find on the Internet. Even so, McCain’s campaign said it hadn’t known about the remarks.”
Is our media really liberal? I guess we’ll see how much they cover this in comparison to Rev. Wright.
I don’t think Obama’s perfect. But, I really wonder why the hell Republicans have somebody like this raising money.
Mr. Williams must be okay with Republicans. He’s already raised 300K for McCain according to the AP.
McCain’s also had folks working on his campaign that have lobbied for the brutal Burma regime.
So what do Evangelicals think of all this?

report abuse


posted June 16, 2008 at 1:38 pm

FONDA FACTOR: Obama, Hillary and Al Franken, running for senate, MN (MN papers have noted his obscene writings) are part of Fonda Factor, weak on natl defense and represent values in shambles. There should be demonstrations at DEmo and REpub conventions, “Liberal Agenda House of Horors” with Fonda and Hillary as witches, Obama as perhaps Dracula and Franken as obscene Frankenstein monster of liberal agenda. Go to Telegraph (London) search for title Hillary Srugggles in Wayne’s World to see Hillary witch effigy and sign Hillary’s House of Horrors, weak natl defense. We need demonstrations and perhaps storefront exhibits as described above to energize voters against the liberal agenda.

report abuse

Reaganite in NYC

posted June 20, 2008 at 2:35 pm

Steven Waldman,
This is great analysis. DeMoss’ prediction that the GOP nominee will fare as poorly among evangelicas as their candidate in 1976 …. is another reminder of how this election may be a lot like 1976.
At this point in 1976 (June 1976), Carter was riding a wave of disgust with Washington and promised his own form of “new politics”: “a government as good and great as are the American people.” Like Obama, he was a new face who offered vague promises of hope and little in the way of details. Ford, like McCain, was saddled by a rusty GOP “brand.” The country was enduring high energy prices, unrest in the Middle East and dealing with the social and economic (and political) costs of a long war.
McCain will be the first GOP nominee since Ford to NOT come out of the right wing of the party. Ford lost a lot of Southern states to Carter but his moderate image helped in places that Republicans do poorly in.
Ford was way behind Carter in the polls but managed to come within 2 percentage points of beating him on election day. Political experts claim that the trend was favoring Ford and that a day or two longer and the campaign would have resulted in a Ford election.

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!
Thank you for visiting this page. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Top Religious News Most Recent Inspiration Post Happy Reading! ...

posted 6:00:22pm Apr. 20, 2012 | read full post »

Good Bye
Today is my last day at Beliefnet (which I co-founded in 1999). The swirling emotions: sadness, relief, love, humility, pride, anxiety. But mostly deep, deep gratitude. How many people get to come up with an idea and have rich people invest ...

posted 8:37:24am Nov. 20, 2009 | read full post »

"Steven Waldman Named To Lead Commission Effort on Future of Media In a Changing Technological Landscape" (FCC Press Release)
STEVEN WALDMAN NAMED TO LEAD COMMISSION EFFORT ON FUTURE OF MEDIA IN A CHANGING TECHNOLOGICAL LANDSCAPE FCC chairman Julius Genachowski announced today the appointment of Steven Waldman, a highly respected internet entrepreneur and journalist, ...

posted 11:46:42am Oct. 29, 2009 | read full post »

My Big News
Dear Readers, This is the most difficult (and surreal) post I've had to write. I'm leaving Beliefnet, the company I co-founded in 1999. In mid November, I'll be stepping down as President and Editor in Chief to lead a project on the future of ...

posted 1:10:11pm Oct. 28, 2009 | read full post »

"Beliefnet Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief Steps Down to Lead FCC Future of the Media Initiative" (Beliefnet Press Release)
October 28, 2009 BELIEFNET CO-FOUNDER AND EDITOR-IN-CHIEF STEPS DOWN TO LEAD FCC FUTURE OF THE MEDIA INITIATIVE New York, NY - October 28, 2009 - Beliefnet, the leading online community for inspiration and faith, announced today that Steven ...

posted 1:05:43pm Oct. 28, 2009 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.