Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Evangelicals Made Up a BIGGER Part of the Republican Coalition This Time

It seemed like 2004 was a high water mark for evangelical influence. They loved President Bush and helped sweep him into victory.
Well guess what: evangelicals made up an even bigger part of the McCain vote than the Bush vote.
Born again Christians or evangelicals made up 36% of Bush vote and, by my count, 38.5% of the McCain vote.
Some of that results from non-evangelicals – Catholics in particular — abandoning the Republicans while evangelicals mostly stayed put. But the Republican ticket actually drew two million more evangelicals in raw numbers than George Bush did, presumably because of excitement about Sarah Palin and extreme fear of Barack Obama.
Whatever the reason, some four million more evangelicals turned out this time than last, some going to Obama but most to McCain.
This leaves many questions still open: Polls showed that Sarah Palin cost the ticket votes. Did the increase in evangelical voters she helped trigger make up for that? Since they represent such a key part of the Republican party will they have more clout going forward? Or will they be blamed for the loss and have less power?

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posted November 10, 2008 at 6:23 pm

I can’t prove it, but I am certain that for every vote Palin locked in for McCain, she locked in more than one vote for Obama.
Evangelicals constitute a minority of Americans, and most Americans see them, fairly or unfairly, as people they do not want to be. On any given Sunday morning, if most Americans were tasked with finding a group of bigoted, possibly racist, reactionary folks, most would start looking for an evangelical church.
This is not to say that being evangelical is synonymous with being racist. Thinking Christians of any flavor see racism as a personal moral failure.
But, perception is everything. If the GOP entertains hopes of once again becoming a national party, it needs to walk out of its marriage with the evangelical right. If it does not, the only people who vote for the GOP will be members of the evangelical right.

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posted November 10, 2008 at 6:43 pm

It’s actually quite possible that choosing Palin increased McCain’s total votes compared to other possible choices. Choosing Lieberman, say, could well have been worse. We will never know.
What matters though is that with the evangelicals on the one side, and independents on the other, McCain had a too small blanket to work with. Cover one and you lose the other.

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Drew Tatusko

posted November 10, 2008 at 8:29 pm

The religious element in politics has a choice: become more sectarian and thus increase tensions with the majority of the population or relax tensions and work with people with whom they disagree even on hot button issues.
It seems that the Matthew 25 Network and the Sojourners are already doing the latter. This leaves the religious right pushed out at the moment.
I suspect that the Family Research Council, Christian Coalition, American Family Association, etc. will ratchet up their sectarian tensions with the culture. Then it leaves the GOP with a choice: allow that element to continue to hold sway, or come to the center-right and manage the middle with the center-left democrats in order to push the religious right and the far left-socialist elements to the fringe rendering their lobbies anemic.
It’s a coin flip right now, but the trajectory of the religious right is clearly on the side of increased sectarian tension and gays, guns and God will be pushed harder and from a more vocally fundamentalist view. My hope is that the libertarians can fill up the center and mind the fence to hold both parties accountable, they just need a bigger and louder presence on Capitol Hill which is not gong to happen very soon.

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posted November 10, 2008 at 9:26 pm

I think the voting patterns show that evangelical support isn’t worth much politically. McCain gets more evangelical votes than Bush, and he loses. Palin attracts evangelicals but repels everyone else, and she loses. Evangelical voters are too few and too far from the American mainstream to be the major component of a winning political coalition. If the Republican party wants to survive, it will have to disengage itself from the evangelical movement and reengage itself with the majority of the American people.
Speaking personally, I couldn’t be happier. The evangelical movement has had too much political influence for the last 28 years, quite out of proportion to the number of Americans who agree with their values. The political power of the evangelicals have not been good for the country. They have encouraged divisiveness and intolerance, and in the failing last days of the McCain campaign they fell back on bigotry as their last desperate tactic. The same people sending me “Obama is the Antichrist and an omen of the Last Days” emails were also sending me crypto-racist “Obama is a secret Muslim and not really an American citizen” emails.
It’s high time for the evangelicals to join the rest of America and give up the dream of dictating their agenda on the rest of the country.

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posted November 10, 2008 at 10:02 pm

… manage the middle with the center-left democrats in order to push the religious right and the far left-socialist elements to the fringe…
My hope is that the libertarians can fill up the center

Legitimate socialism does not exist as a measurable political force in this country. Even the most liberal of Democrats do not want to abandon the market economy. Regulate it, yes, but that’s not socialism.
I don’t think libertarians have much of a future. People naturally ally with others to seek advantage and leverage. Eventually, this results in the powerful and wealthy few suppressing everyone else. (See human history for the example of your choice.) A powerful countervailing force is required to block the predations of the few on the many. Libertarianism gives free rein to the few and eliminates any opportunity for the countervailing force — representative government in this country — to exist.

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James (San Jose)

posted November 10, 2008 at 10:14 pm

It is interesting is that McCain got such numbers. He was not the pick of “values voters.” But what options did they have on the Democratic side? Hillary Clinton? Nope. John Edwards? Are you kidding? Palin persuaded them to come out and vote but she really was a net minus. She had high disapproval ratings (60% of the voters thought she was not qualified for the job) and probably was a further drag on a sputtering campaign.
She energized the Republican base but that energized the Democratic Base. How many Hillary voters took one look at Plain and then ran away screaming? How many “progressives” or even moderate voters were turned off by her position on abortion? Being a bit cruel, how many voters did she loose when her teen-aged daughter ended up pregnant?
Politics is often a zero sum game. Gains in one group can easily negated by losses in other. The Republicans gained with evangelicals only to loose the Hispanic vote (badly) and the youth vote ( very badly.) Look at New England and the East Coast; the Republican Party is dying the death of a thousand cuts. In New York State the Party has cratered; Democrats Rule both houses and the Governor’s Office. New York, New Jersey,Massachusetts, all are now one party states. There are no Republican Congressmen from New England. The only Republican Senators still kicking are the dynamic duo from Maine. The only Republican Governors left are the remnants from the Rockefeller wing of the party.
As evangelicals and others seize control of the Republican party all the old-line Republicans and huge percentage of the moderates are drifting over to the Democrats. The increase in the evangelical vote is not a good thing for the Elephants, it means Catholics, Presbyterians, and even Methodist are deserting the party. It means that the religiously unaffiliated are also streaming away. At only 1/3 of the electorate evangelicals can not win national or state-wide elections by themselves. Even if they find common cause with the Mormons, not exactly the easiest thing in the world, evangelicals can not get beyond permanent minority status.
Notice that none of the Anti-Abortion propositions was supported in this go around. Even the parental notification Proposition in California went down in flames. Even the big win Proposition 8 in California is less than meets the eye. The last time California voted on Gay Marriage the results were not even close 60% / 40 % Now only five percentage points separates the the contestants. Mind you the opponents of gay marriage had to spend a ton of money to get those results. And we have yet to see what kind of backlash all that outside money will do. Proposition 8 and the other anti-gay marriage propositions may yet prove to be a Pyrrhic victory.
Having totally shut out gays and with no place to go on abortion what is next? Intelligent design? Abstinence Only? A.O. has become an exploding cigar for the Religious Right thanks to Sara Palin. Her pregnant teen-aged daughter has made A.O. a joke; a perfect foil for opponents of A.O. Intelligent Design? Do evangelicals really want a repeat of the Scopes Trial? It took four generations for that particular stain to fade away. Evangelicals have pushed social policy just about as far as it is willing to go. Where they are strong ( deep in the heart of Dixie) they have run the table. Where they competing with other ideas and movements ( Libertarians in the Mountain West, Classical Liberalism on the Left And East Coast, Progressivism in the Midwest) they are now either barely holding on to their ground or suffering from blow-back. In a tanking economy and with two hot wars people are just not as concerned with social issues as they once were.
For better or worse there is a new base out there. Mock Howard Dean all you want but he and his strategy has delivered two consecutive body-blows to Republicans. Granted Howard was given the gift that keeps on giving : George W Bush. Still Dean crafted a new Internet and grass roots strategy that has delivered two big wins in ’06 and ’08. Evangelicals may have their churches but that organizational advantage has been checked by the World Wide Web and organizations like Move On and DFA. This organizational savvy and the money it brings in allowed Obama to play offense in Red states. Evangelicals are getting reacquainted with Newtons 3rd law as it applies to politics. The political action of an energized evangelical political movement has been met by a equal and opposite reaction of the NetRoots.
While evangelicals added a million or so extra votes in ’08 the Obama campaign countered with the youth vote, the Hispanic vote and the black vote. The loss of the Hispanic vote was especially painful for McCain et al because it was Bush who improved Republican representation in that group by appealing to Evangelical Hispanics. Now that voting group may be gone for a generation thanks to nativists in the Republican Party, many of whom are Evangelicals. You can cut the irony with a knife.
Loosing the fastest growing subset of the electorate and loosing it convincingly was not helpful. Loosing the next generation of voters could be catastrophic. Even next generation of evangelicals does not act nor look like their parents. Their less religious peers are even less concerned with the culture wars of the Baby Boomers. The ground is already shifting under the present evangelical leadership. As the next generation climbs into the pulpit and into leadership there might be a shift in the political concerns of many evangelical voters. This may happen a whole lot sooner than anyone may guess. With the economy tanking many parishioners may rediscover their concern and solidarity with those who are less fortunate. Gay Marriage may take a back seat to health care and job creation. With more unfortunates in their midst evangelicals may refocus on the least amongst us. With less prosperity to go around the prosperity gospel looses its appeal. There is a very good chance that economic and political realities may shift the very core notions of what it means to be a politically active evangelical. Hello to global climate change, rebuilding the nation, and public service. Goodbye to culture wars, partisanship and domination.
This was a change election, a pivot in history and politics. The U.S.A. voted against the last eight years and has pushed the reset button. Bush was very much the evangelicals man; everything they wished for. But as the Chinese once observed-be careful of what you wish for, you may just get it. As evangelicals soared with Bush in 2000 and 2004 they crashed and burned in 06 and 08. We will see what happens in 2010. Maybe evangelicals will stage a comeback. Most likely not. Moses and the children of Israel spent two generations in the wilderness; evangelicals may spend an equal amount of time. The sojourn has just begun and no one really knows how long it will take. The worst thing you can tell yourself is “well that trip through the sea of reeds was not as bad I thought. The worst part of the trip is over- it’s all gravy from here.”

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Your Name

posted November 11, 2008 at 4:57 am

“Even the most liberal of Democrats do not want to abandon the market economy”
Every company I do business with is in the process of quickly divesting and leaving the country. I must follow. The market economy is leaving you.

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posted November 11, 2008 at 10:41 am

Interesting article. Relevantly, many prominent experts and publications have pointed out that Obama is part of Generation Jones, born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and GenXers. And Evangelicals are disproportionally concentrated heavily within this Generation Jones cohort.
You may find this page interesting: it has, among other things, excerpts from publications like Newsweek and the New York Times, and videos with over 25 top pundits, all talking specifically about Obama’s identity as a GenJoneser:

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Charles Cosimano

posted November 11, 2008 at 11:27 am

In 1984, polling data revealed that the AFL-CIO endorsement cost Walter Mondale two votes for every vote it brought it. The religious right is now doing the same thing to the Republican Party. There are not enough of them to win a national contest and too many of them to allow the rest of the country to feel comfortable voting for Republicans.

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Steven Ertelt

posted November 11, 2008 at 12:39 pm

“Polls showed that Sarah Palin cost the ticket votes. Did the increase in evangelical voters she helped trigger make up for that?”
Polls did not show Palin costing the ticket votes.
Exit polls show Palin appeared to help McCain by energizing the pro-life Republican base and were motivated by her selection to support him.
Some 60 percent of voters said Palin was a factor when making their vote and they split for McCain over Obama on a 56-43 percentage point margin.
That’s not costing votes.

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posted November 11, 2008 at 5:29 pm

I think the growing presence of the conservative evangelical in the GOP presents a real problems for the party, as it will become increasingly narrow in it’s focus and appeal to a shrinking voting block. It may render itself a permanently minority party if the trend continues. I think that is why we may well see a civil war in the GOP for control: the old gaurd fiscal conservatives want to wrest the party from the culture warriors. This will be a losing war, like most civil wars, for the winner will drive away the loser, and still be a minority party for decades to come.

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posted November 15, 2008 at 7:31 pm

I don’t understand the math. Waldman says that McCain got 2 million more evangelical votes than Bush, but 4 million more evangelicals turned out this election. He then says that McCain got most of these 4 million. But according to those numbers, out of the 4 mill new evangelical votes, half went to McCain and half to Obama. What gives?

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