We’ve certainly had a healthy dose of religion in the 2008 presidential campaign. We’ve been treated to: Sarah Palin’s claiming that God had endorsed a natural gas pipeline; Barack Obama explaining Jeremiah “God Damn America” Wright; Joe Biden getting into a theological argument with the Catholic Bishops; and John McCain praising the “most God-loving” parts of the country.
Despite all the noise, will the Faith Factor matter on election day? It certainly was significant in 2004. George W. Bush won in part because he generated significant turn out among evangelical Christians and moderate and conservative Catholics.
Here are the Top Ten Faith Factors to watch on Tuesday:
How Many Obamagelicals Are There? – It might seem farfetched that a socialist-terror-lovin’-pro-abortion candidate like Obama could win any evangelical Christians but he’s been courting them fervently since he began his presidential run. The key the 40% of evangelicals who call themselves “moderate” or “liberal.” Point of reference: John Kerry won 21% of white evangelicals, Gore 18%. Bill Clinton in 1996 won 26%
Will Palin Turn Out the “Religious Right”? — By picking Sarah Palin, John McCain gambled that she’d be able to rev up the evangelical “base.” Even as her popularity has fallen generally, evangelicals still love her (some even believing she was sent to battle the anti-Christ.) Assuming most conservative evangelicals vote for McCain, the second question is: how many will show up? Point of reference: white evangelicals accounted for 23% of the electorate in 2004.
Do Midwestern Evangelicals Split With Their Brethren? — Recent polls have showed Obama trailing badly among evangelicals in Florida and Colorado but doing quite well with them in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. If he succeeds there, he may have tapped into regional differences in style, theology and politics and launch a new era in faith-and-politics punditry, in which we no longer talk about “the evangelical vote” as a geographically uniform phenomenon.
Will Catholics Ignore Their Bishops? – The overall Catholic vote has gone with the popular vote winner every election since 1968. Catholic Bishops have been urging Catholic voters to vote for pro-life candidates but a majority of Catholic voters are now pro-choice so it remains to be seen what influence the church will have. (Obama is also winning with the 100-year-old-nuns bloc) Another factor in Obama’s favor: a higher percentage of the Catholic vote will be Latino this year. Last election, George W. Bush won the Catholic vote 52%-46%.
Can Obama Finally Bowl a Strike With Skeptical White Catholics? – During the primaries, Obama did poorly with white Catholics, often working class ethnics or their offspring. Remember his feeble attempt to curry favor through bowling? They tend to be culturally conservative and haven’t voted for a Democrat since 1996. On the other hand, they’re especially concerned about the economy this year, and Joe Biden has been trying to bond with them as a fellow “cultural Catholic.” Point of reference: In 2004, Bush won 56% of white Catholics, Kerry 43%
Will Whitebread Protestants Back the Black Guy? – Recent polls show Democrats gaining with a group that had leaned Republican for most of the past few decades – Mainline Protestants. It appears that while Sarah Palin energized evangelicals, she may have alienated some Mainliners. In 2004, they went for President George W. Bush 54%-46%.
Will Latino Protestants Vote Their Values or the Pocketbook? – One positive trend for Obama will likely be the shift of Latinos from the Republican side, where they resided in 2004, to the Democrats. The hidden religious story: most of the shift is driven by Latino Protestants. Many are evangelical and liked Bush’s Christian faith and his conservative positions on social issues (gay marriage, abortion) but have shifted to Obama because of the economy and concerns about immigration.
How Will the Kinda-Sorta Religious Vote? – In recent elections, the more religious you were, the more likely you were to vote Republican. This is known as the God Gap, which will still certainly exist. But watch for two things: among weekly churchoers how big is McCain’s margin? Bush won that group 61%-39%. Second, Kerry last time beat Bush among more occasional churchgoers 53%-47%. Will Obama increase that margin?
Will Jews Schlep to Republican Side? – This only really matters in Florida, and even there it doesn’t matter as much as you’d think (Jews made up 5% of the electorate there in 2004). Early polls had Obama struggling among Jews – in part because of fears about his former church’s connections to Louis Farrakhan — but more recently he’s caught up, possibly because Jews fear that Sarah Palin is an extreme evangelical. Or possibly the Sarah Silverman factor. Jews reportedly went about 75%-25% for Kerry.
Will the GOP Become the ROP? – Will Republicans become the Religiously Oriented Party? In 2004, white evangelicals made up 36% of Bush voters.
Will that go up or down? If it becomes an even more dominant force within the party, how will that shape either the way McCain governs if he wins or, if he loses, how the Republicans re-invent themselves?
Reprinted from the Wall Street Journal Online