Slicing the evangelicals

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Posting on Christianity Today‘s political blog, Tobin Grant of SIU-Carbondale pooh-poohs the idea that anything significant happened with the evangelical vote for president last November, even as he acknowledges that the exit polls showed a geographical split, with Southern evangelicals more likely to vote for McCain than their Midwestern co-religionists:

The news, however, is that despite the economy, the war, and at least
some campaigning by Obama, evangelicals remained unmoved in their
support for the Republican candidate.

No, the news from 2008 is the emergence of significant internal divisions within the evangelical vote, not only geographical but also generational. The geographical one (on display in Ted Olsen’s cool interactive map) enabled Obama to carry Midwestern states (Ohio, Indiana) that had been beyond the reach of Democratic presidential candidates for a long time. The generational division was portentous, because it showed that among evangelicals, the young went from being the most enthusiastic Bush voters to the least enthusiastic McCain voters, while the old went in the opposite direction. Here’s what I wrote about that a couple of months ago:

Laurie Goodstein of the NYT was kind enough to make available some
number-crunching of the exit poll numbers on white evangelicals that
the pollsters, Edison/Mitofsky, did for her; and it’s pretty
interesting stuff. The margin among 18-29 year-olds went from 83-16 for
Bush in 2004 to 66-32 for McCain in 2008. Among 30-44 year-olds, the
shrinkage was from 86-12 to 76-23. Among the 45-64 year-olds, there was
essentially no change: 76-23 to 76-22. And among those 65 and older,
the GOP margin grew, from 68-32 for Bush to 72-26. So we’re
talking about swings toward Obama of 33 and 20 points in the younger
cohorts, and towards McCain of 1 and 10 points in the older cohorts.

The point, obviously, is that young evangelicals are the future of the voting bloc, and if they hew to their 2008 preferences, the solid 3-1 GOP majorities that evangelicals have turned in for the past few elections is in jeopardy. As with the Catholic vote, aggregate numbers can conceal more than they reveal.