Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

The Incredible Shrinking God Gap

The final exit polls pointed to a stunning conclusion: one ingredient to Obama’s victory was improvement among the most devoutly religious voters.
Obama got 43% of weekly church-goers vs. 55% for McCain. In 2004, Bush got 61% vs. 39% for Kerry.
What this means is that Bush beat Kerry by roughly 27 million among weekly churchgoers, and McCain beat Obama by only 15 million — a stunning 12 million person shift. (Those are tentative numbers that will change as the full results come in)
These are rough numbers because not all the votes have been counted yet, but that has to count as one of the most dramatic of the changes.
Here’s my first take on how he pulled this off:
How Obama Narrowed the God Gap
“We worship an awesome God in the blue states,” Barack Obama declared during his 2004 Democratic convention keynote. Thunderous applause greeted that line, in part because Democrats felt frustrated that they’d been unfairly cast as a secular or even anti-religion party, and by the political dominance of religious conservatives.


Tonight, Obama forged a New Democratic Faith Coalition. To a large degree, he was able to make such progress with these groups because of the economy. Some pro-life voters went with Obama in spite of his positions on ‘values issues,’ not because of them.
But Obama nonetheless helped ease their way to his side through a canny set of tactics and strategies unlike anything we’ve seen from Democrats in years.
Emphasizing His Personal Faith
No Democrat since Jimmy Carter has spoken as openly, and as often, about his personal faith. In his Call to Renewal speech in 2006, Obama chastised some Democrats ‘who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word “Christian” describes one’s political opponents, not people of faith.’
Indeed, some of his comments would have been mocked by the left had they come out of a Republican mouth. Obama’s campaign distributed literature during the primaries that described “”That day Obama felt a beckoning of the spirit and accepted Jesus Christ into his life.” One panel on the brochure, “Called to Bring Change,” declares, “We do what we do because God is with us.” Another described his belief in “the power of prayer,” and another, labeled, “Called to Christ,” stated, “Kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.”
This had two purposes: one was reaching out to religious voters. The other was to show him as a mainstream, culturally conservative person. Obama might not be able to bowl, but he sure could pray.
The Rise of the Religious Left
Obama’s religious outreach efforts were orders of magnitude greater than John Kerry’s. The campaign’s religious outreach arm has initiated 950 “American values” house parties. Initially, the campaign had hoped for a significant turnout of moderate evangelicals, especially among the young. That apparently happened in a few key states such as Ohio and Indiana.
Just as significant, the efforts paid dividends among Mainline Protestants, a heretofore Republican-leaning group that apparently went for Obama. Senator Obama’s frequent discussions of his personal faith seemed targeted at evangelicals but may have given comfort as well to traditional mainliners. “Obama planting seeds in the evangelical garden has borne fruit in the mainline garden,” says Mara Vanderslice, founder of a progressive religious group Matthew25 and religious outreach director for John Kerry’s 2004 campaign.
Just as important, a bevy of ‘religious left’ groups sprouted up since 2004 which ran ads and organized grass roots activity in battleground states. Among the newcomers on the scene: Catholics United, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Mattew25, Faith in Public Life, Network of Spiritual Progressives, and Red Letter Christians.
Abortion Reduction
As the campaign went on it became clear that many moderate evangelicals and Catholics agreed with Obama on the economy and the Iraq war but couldn’t get past his consistently pro-choice views. As conservatives hammered Obama on his opposition to the born alive bill, he could see moderate evangelicals and possibly Catholics slipping away. At the urging of progressive pro-life activists, the campaign began talking about an ‘abortion reduction’ agenda — helping reduce unintended pregnancies through education and birth control, and providing financial assistance to pregnant mothers to make it easier for them to carry a baby to term. They included language in the Democratic platform suggesting as such and Obama touted the idea in a few comments during debates. Dial-ometers soared when, during the third debate, he emphasized common ground on abortion and ‘sacred sex.’
As the election approached, pro-life progressive ran radio and TV ads pushing the idea that one could be pro-life and pro-obama.
The Vice Presidential Pick
McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin created an opportunity for Obama. She revved up the evangelical base (possible by end of the night we’ll be saying the ‘traditionally Republican core of the evangelical base – or some other qualifier) but created greater concerns among mainline protestants, a group that had leaned Republican.
Meanwhile, Obama’s selection of Joe Biden was meant to improve his chances with white Catholics — not because Biden is a theological conservative but because he’s a cultural Catholic. Over and over, Biden tied the ticket’s economic messages to Catholic language– emphasizing, for instance, ‘the dignity of work.’ This particularly seemed to help in the Catholic areas of Pennsylvania, where they know Biden well.

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Olegario Martinez

posted November 5, 2008 at 11:37 am

I think one of the biggest problems in the Evangelical circle is the lost of absolutes. What I mean is that we are now asking, did God really say that?
Is abortion really murder? Is homosexuality really a sin?
Isn’t God against state executions? Isn’t God a tolerant God? And the list goes on. Since so few christians read or believe the bible, we can now support politicians who claim that we can reach a common ground. The God of the bible is a God who is Holy. If we would take the time to read all of the Bible we would see that he has no use for common ground. We have gone the way of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and I’m afraid of what that brings.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 11:52 am

Americans elected a liar and deceiver as president in our anger, disappointment and frustration with GW.
If Americans think the election of B. Hussein Obama will end racism, bigotry and bias they’re incorrect. For black Americans, their votes cast for Obama showed racism on their part – they voted primarily for Obama because he is black; while many white Americans were castigated by the MSM and unending tirades that their NObama vote meant they are racists.
It isn’t necessarily so that religious Americans flocked to Obama’s camp – except they were deluded and deceived, as NObama’s spin reversed, confused, contradicted, and obfuscated his previous positions.
BTW, GOD ain’t impressed, oppressed or depressed.
Very often, HIS Loving-kindness allows us to explore forbidden ‘social and moral’ territories – but not without repercussions and consequences.
9.11, extensive flooding and Katrina will pale in comparison to other coming occurrences for our stubbornness and avoidance of obeying HIS WORD.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 2:17 pm

It’s astounding and dismaying that pro-life Christians would be deceived by the hallow rhetoric of the most radically pro-abortion presidential candidate in history.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 3:10 pm

It is astounding to me how anyone full of such hatred can speak of what has or has not “impressed” God. If you believe that nothing happens outside the will of God, then you have to accept that this election was God’s will.
I was in disbelief that Americans were so easily confused by the hateful lies, gossip and fear mongering. Claims he was “Muslim”, when he is Christian, “Arab”, when he is American (if he wasn’t he couldn’t be elected to office). In this day when we have a tool like the Internet, where is takes only seconds to find the truth, people raised their voices in outrage, while they sat on their butts and accepted the poison they were fed. They pound their Bible but have never read the Scripture Rev. 21:8. “all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” Shame on you for listening to such poison. But then, you repeated the hateful gossip without testing it.
Fortunately, the majority of Americans know how to use their brain and check the facts. They don’t listen blindly. They test to see what is good and worthy and throw away the foolishness.
The old saying about, “It is better to be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt” certainly comes to mind. A number of you have shown what category you belong in.
Please learn from this. Stop judging and finding fault. And just because “They say” … Question them!!?? Who are “They”? You will find many times “They” lie, in order to control weak minded, lazy people.
We have a chance to work together for a better America. Open your fist and extend your hand.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 3:57 pm

This election has brought the worst out of people. I have heard more hate demonstrations, racial slurs, and assassination attempts during this time then I ever have in my 27 years and all this from a country who claims Christianity as it’s major religion. Just last week my African American coworker was told she has never and would never amount to anything by a Caucasian woman in the vehicle next to her because my coworker wouldn’t let her over at a red light. The woman continued to insult her with offensive language and said Obama will never be voted into office and she said all of this while her two young children listened from the back seat of the car.
Racism and hate between blacks and whites has always been a problem in America and although I think it is slowly diminishing with every generation it still exists but it surprises me how alive it still is. What further amazes me is not only is it alive in the general population but within churches, among preachers and clergy; those who claim to be living their lives for God, for love and for peace. It states in Leviticus to not hold grudges and love your neighbor as yourself. I have a friend who works will small children. A few of these children told her their preacher said Obama is a baby killer and others said their pastor said he would vote for a dog before voting for Obama. These “Men or Women of God” are spreading hate to young, impressionable children. My brother who is too young to vote and who has attended a Christian school most of his life even made the comment that we are all going to die because Obama is in office. I know he has no interest in politics so I know he had to have heard that from his peers.
It just seems to me being Christian doesn’t matter anymore. I feel for the majority of Christians that Christianity is a member’s only card you use when it is beneficial to get a deeper discount, the “code word” to get into a group, and the façade you wear when you don’t’ want others to see who you really are. How are we as a nation going to battle these forces of hate, racism and mans inhumanity to itself if love is optional? For those of you who do truly love thy neighbor and strive for peace; you have your work cut out for you. Before you can conquer the nation you have to find and weed out those posing as your brothers and sisters who sit on the pew next to you.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 7:32 pm

To the comments I have just read: YOU need to read the Book of Revelation….all of it. What I saw was something close to idolizing a MAN. Not his smooth words but his past “talks” for it’s self. There was a time in the 1930s when THAT nation thought that they had a leader that would lead them out of the hard times. It takes OPEN eyes to see what is truly taking place. This nation carries a national sin of killing unborn innocents and being “tolerant to sin” which has become politically correct. Being tolerant when it means letting people be lost to God their creator IS NOT LOVE! we are beginning to see the fall out…there is a God that will not be kind to this nation just because we started out with the intention of being a One Nation Under God..(that meant following His Word and being a light for the lost) Read the Bible: He gave us a commission to STAND and keep on standing and not sit while God’s enemy has worked to deceive. Shame on us all!

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posted November 6, 2008 at 4:24 pm

Just wanted to say that this is a great, interesting post, and if there’s any doubt that we still have a long ways to go as a nation to heal divisions and end intolerance and racism it’s only necessary to read comments like Wayne, who presumes to know not only what God wants but thinks God wants people to be fearful of someone because of their name. It’s clear from this election that modern day Christianity is becoming a more open, diverse place that is less wrapped up in the world of politics, and that can only be a good thing for the church, the country and the world.

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posted November 6, 2008 at 4:45 pm

We will never see eye to eye on the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate. It’s truly a shame that this issue has become so important in the political world. It’s something that deserves a serious conversation without the agendas and manipulation that comes with modern politics. I’m sure if we took this out of the public forum and just sat down we would both see that you don’t want to take away women’s rights or put them in serious harm and I don’t want to kill innocent unborns. Because I am not Anti-Life and you are certainly not Anti-Choice. What we both are striving for is to bring happy and healthy children into this world and, perhaps, both of us feel so strongly because this is god’s greatest gift to all of us. My grandfather used to say that “hate’n is easy, understandin’ each other is hard.” That’s pretty much where we’re at right now, nobody wants to stop the divide from growing wider because it will be difficult. True, but much more worthwhile.

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posted November 6, 2008 at 5:21 pm

The fact is the younger generation doesnt care about abortion.gays or the color of peoples skin!This means for republicans the rouse of bigotry and hatred of others wont work anymore.Getting people to vote for the unborn while they and their kids watched the american dream circle the drain was impressive though gotta hand it to ya.Youll have to come up with a new CON.

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Marcos El Malo

posted November 6, 2008 at 5:42 pm

Christianity, and more broadly, religion and spirituality certainly belong in the public square and have a very important role to play culturally. The danger, as we have all seen and experienced, is when Christianity becomes a hollow political ideology that fronts those ambitious for power. (If one is unwilling or unable to see the “Christianist*” faction and the destructive role they have played, I suggest one does a side-by-side comparison with the fundamentalist extremist Muslim faction. I would also suggest that one suspend judgments and excuses along the lines of, “Yes, but we’re not as bad as that”.
I would also say that the Christianist political agenda (which is different from a Christian cultural program) is inherently anti- LIBERTY and, ironically, anti-Christian. I have heard it said that you cannot legislate morality. Whether one can or can’t, I would say that you SHOULD NOT legislate religious morality. Doing so invites nanny state intervention on the private individual. More importantly, it flies in the face of God’s will for us to be free to choose for ourselves what we do in life, whether good or evil. It is God’s will that we each have the freedom to come to Him or turn away from Him. Indeed, it might be necessary for an individual to turn away from God before returning to the fold. The last thing we want is for the state to interfere with the individual’s spiritual growth, let alone mandate and proscribe religious and spiritual activity.
*The term Christianist is used to denote a political ideology that should be differentiated from Christian belief. A Christian can and should act as a Christian in the public sphere, leading by example without imposing his or her will on others. A Christianist uses the themes of Christianity to construct or uphold a political ideology for the purpose of gaining and maintaining political power and control of others. Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for coining this term.

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