The few of us who argued over the years that Democrats would be wise to court evangelicals were usually told that such a strategy was a waste of time and resources. Those pro-life, anti-gay “fundamentalists” would never vote Democratic.
Barack Obama has taken a more enlightened view courting evangelicals with a vengeance.
Time to get specific: how many would-be Obamagelicals are there?
Let’s start with the bad news for Obama. A recent Wall Street Journal poll had McCain winning 69% of evangelicals, Obama winning 21%, about as well as Bush did. The recent Pew Religious Landscape survey found that 52% describe themselves as conservative while only 11% describe themselves as liberal.
61% say abortion should be illegal all or most of the time versus 33% who say it should be legal, and more than twice as many say homosexualilty should be discouraged as said it should be “accepted.”
That’s a steep cliff for a pro-choice, liberal Democrat.
On the other hand, there’s much on the Christian landscape to give Democrats hope. In addition to the 11% who call thesmelves liberal, an impressive 30% of evangelicals call themselves politically moderate. And, according to Pew:

  • Only 29% of evangelicals believe the country is headed in the right direction.
  • 57% said we should go deeper in debt to help the poor.
  • 48% say they want bigger government (41% want smaller).
  • 54% want stricter environmental laws.

So how many evangelicals are really in play? Is this a small sliver of Jim Wallis clones or a massive Great Awakening of would-be Obamagelicals?
First, a few points of historical comparison. John Kerry won 22% of white evangelicals, while Clinton in 1996 won 32%. If Kerry had merely hit Clinton levels, instead of getting 5.8 million white evangelical votes, he would have gotten 9 million, a pickup of more than 3 million votes, giving him a popular vote victory.
That Pew number — the 41% of evangelicals who say they’re moderate or liberal — hints at an even bigger upside. If Kerry had gotten 41% of white evangelicals,* he would have pulled 11.5 million votes, an extra 5.7 million votes.
All of this is by way of saying that even if you assume that not a single conservative evangelical votes for Obama, he still stands to shift millions of votes into his column by working hard for evangelical support. He need not win over those who view Democrats as anti-Christian and pro-terrorist; he just needs to win those who dislike Bush, want bigger government and consider themselves moderate.
How hard can that be?
In my next post, I’ll discuss what he needs to do to attract them.
*Wonky footnote: the Pew survey used a different methodology than the 2004 exit polls. Specifically, they talk about membership of evangelical churches, which may include some African Americans (though most were classified as being in historically black churches)

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