Thursday, March 29, 2007

Democrats and Evangelicals

There is a debate occurring in political circles about whether Democrats have any hope of gaining the votes of Evangelicals. No one is saying that a majority of Evangelical voters will vote Democratic--the issue is whether Democrats can make gains with these voters. Stuart Rothenberg, one of the best political analysts to be found, is skeptical, based largely on the lack of any movement in the 2006 midterm elections:


"The GOP percentage among white evangelicals dropped by 4 points from 2004 to 2006, from 74 percent to 70 percent, according to exit polls. Meanwhile, the Democrats’ showing inched up to 28 percent from 25 percent.Given the strong Democratic year and the huge Republican advantage with white evangelicals, the Democrats’ gain was unimpressive. The 2006 midterm elections were so stunningly good for Democrats that all voter groups moved toward the Democratic Party last year."

Amy Sullivan of Red Letter Christian thinks that Rothenberg simply misses the point:

"In fact, the numbers suggest no such thing. The only numbers Rothenberg cites are the meager gains Democrats made nationally among evangelicals in November 2006. But no one - and certainly not the Democratic religion consultants he criticizes in the piece - has claimed that Democrats made great strides among evangelicals nationally last year. Indeed, it would be surprising if they had, given that the party made virtually no special effort to court evangelical voters.

"What Democrats like Mara Vanderslice and Eric Sapp (and, to be fair, me) have said is that in the states where Democrats spent a year or two establishing relationships with evangelical leaders and voters, candidates did make significant gains. In Michigan and Ohio, for instance, the Democratic gubernatorial candidates nearly split the evangelical vote. And, contrary to Rothenberg's assertion that evangelicals won't vote Democratic because they vote based on issues (which he defines narrowly as gay marriage and abortion), those winning Democratic candidates were pro-choice and pro-gay rights. . . .

Well, Vanderslice and Sapp may not be pollsters, but they are evangelicals, so they know a thing or two about the community. And they know that while a majority of evangelicals may decide to stick with the GOP in the hopes of changing the party from the inside, it's more than possible for Democrats to pick up enough evangelical voters to put them over the top. Republicans did the same thing courting socially conservative African-American voters in 2004. It works where Democrats have tried it. So why on earth would you hold up cases in which Democrats haven't tried it as proof that it can't work?"

I am with Amy Sullivan on this debate. When I ran for Congress in 1994, our polling data showed a surprising receptiveness among Evangelical voters to Democratic candidates. These voters are not all single-issue voters on issues like abortion and gay rights. The problem is that in election after election, Democratic candidates have either ignored these voters or expressed outright hostility and disdain for them. Indeed, I am doubtful if most Democratic consultants could even name the leading Evangelical pastors and churches in the district or state they are working in. It's no surprise that Evangelicals return the favor with their votes.

In light of this history, courting Evangelical voters takes work. but it can be done. In the Ohio Governor's race, the Democrat, Ted Strickland won as many Evangelical voters as the Republican, Ken Blackwell. And in Michigan, pro-choice liberal Democrat Jennifer Granholm won 35% of the white Evangelical vote. Given the results in Arizona, I would not be surprised if Governor Janet Napolitano similarly carried a large percentage of the Evangelical vote. This article gives some details about how these victories among Evangelicals were achieved.

Politics is a game of addition, not division. It behooves the Democrats to learn from the lessons in Michigan, Ohio and elsewhere, and aggressive court Evangelical voters.

UPDATE
After I published this post, I found an article in the Washington Post discussing the growing opposition to the war in Iraq among Evangelicals. Included in the article was the following very interesting snippet that supports my view that Democrats can win votes among the Evangelicals:
"Daniel R. Lockwood, president of Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary in Portland, Ore., said he has seen a "sea change" among his students, who are looking beyond conservative issues such as abortion and homosexuality to the environment, children with HIV/AIDS and the poor.

"'More and more, students are very interested in social justice and issues often associated with the middle and the left,' Lockwood said, "and the war is a piece of that.'"



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8 comments:

shrimplate said...

Issues concerning peace, justice, poverty, and healthcare, et., have always been there, and it's up to evangelicals to choose the party which has the best policies regarding these things.

Instead they vote for abortion and gay-marriage restrictions promised by the Republicans, who award their evangelicals with tax cuts for Tom Cruise and Paris Hilton.

Lather, rinse, repeat. It's worked since Saint Ronnie slid into ofice way back when.

shrimplate said...

"office."

Sorry. Sleep deprivation.

Chuck Blanchard said...

shrimplate:

A fair point, but I think the GOP game is over. The GOP has failed to deliver on abortion despite promises made for decades, and as a result I think many Evangelicals (not most, but many) are open to voting Democratic. I find it particularly interesting that younger Evangelicals in particular are becoming focused on issues like opposition to the war, protection of the environment, Darfur and world poverty.

Seems to me that it an ideal time for Democrats to once again engage with these voters.

Oh, and by the way, thanks for visiting from Tedski's site. Come back any time! Grin.

Logical1 said...

As a Christian with a pretty firm stand on the right side of the aisle, I don't think the Democratic side can overcome the obstacles in order to get a strong Evangelical vote.

I think what you will see is a continued movement to my earlier comment of love the sinner but hate the sin... I think you will see the Evangelical side come to accept abortion as an option that must be available. I am a firm pro-life, pro-choice person. Once you take the choice away, you invite back alley abortions and other unsfe methods to enter the mix. You will see us push for tighter restrictions and such, but I don't think you will see us abandon ship and jump to the left because the narrow-minded philosophy lost.

Regarding The Lockwood quote, Seminary students (actually all people)should be looking to help the environment, children with AIDS and the poor. It's the Christian thing to do, help one another. This doen't mean we have to abandon beliefs on other things such as abortion and homosexuality.

As far as the war goes... Using religion and Seminary school as a way of protesting the war is an old trick invented by the draft dodgers.

Chuck Blanchard said...

Logical1:

Thanks for coming by again! I don't expect a strong Evangelical vote, but I do think Democrats can get more Evangelical votes than they are getting now. And I think that this can occur without Evangelicals abandoning their principles (or Democrats abandoning theirs), and here is why.

The dirty little secret is that by and large issues like abortion or gay rights rarely come up in a real way at either the federal or state level. I think that even a fairly liberal Democrat can win Evangelicals who disagree with them on these issues, if they can convince Evangelicals that they will be with them on other issue AND show a respect for faith and a commitment to values.

Again, this is not true of all Evangelicals. An Evangelical, for example, who is also to the right on economic issues may have no reason to vote Democratic. But all of the polling that I have seen shows that Evalgelicals are a deiverse group of these other issues.

Again, thanks for visiting this blog. I love that I am getting challenged in the cokmment section.

azron said...

I have declared myself a 'red letter' christian - see my blog - radicaldiscipleship.blogstream.com

Ineresting stuff here. Chuck.

ron

Chuck Blanchard said...

Ron:

Thanks. I just subsribed to your RSS feeder. Lookin gforward to your posts.

Chuck

Anonymous said...

There may be some prospect of Democrats picking up a few evangelical votes, but I wouldn't count on too many. I have many evangelical friends who are single-issue voters on pro-life, who recognize but don't care that voting Republican is against their interest, and who don't seem fazed by the fact that their elected champions consistently fail to deliver on outlawing abortion. I think the more fertile ground is the libertarian-true economic conservative bloc. Chris