“Is it possible to revive the evangelical political movement into the potent voting bloc it once was?” That’s how Karen Tumulty and Tia-Malika Henderson begin their article in today’s WaPo, “Republicans hope to spark political revival among evangelicals for 2012 race.” And then they go on to say:
Today’s is a far different political landscape even from 2004, when the
bloc that would become known as “values voters” turned out in record
numbers for George W. Bush, supporting him for reelection 4 to 1.
But what exactly is so different? In 2008, evangelicals were actually of more importance to McCain than than they’d been to Bush in 2004, constituting 38.5 percent of his vote as compared to 36 percent of Bush’s. And they actually increased their share of the total popular vote, from 20 percent to 23 percent. Yes, Obama picked up a few percentage points among evangelicals overall, winning nearly one-third of the youngest even as his percentage of the oldest dropped, for a total of…26 percent.
What about 2010? Well, we don’t have a good picture of that because most of the state exit polls didn’t ask about voters’ religion. However, we do know that the God gap–the tendency of more frequent worship attenders to vote Republican and of the less frequent to vote Democrat–remained as robust as ever. The idea that evangelicals have ceased to be the potent voting bloc it once was is, not to put too fine a point on it, nonsense.
What’s different about the political landscape is that the attention of political reporters has turned away from “values voters” and toward the Tea Party and its economic agenda. That there aren’t the marquee figures like Falwell and Robertson and Dobson to solicit quotes from is also different. But not to fear, Ralph Reed is back, this time with his Faith and Freedom Coalition–pushing (as he did in the early 1990s) an agenda that melds social and economic and economic conservatism.
To their credit, Tumulty and Henderson call attention to the fact that the current GOP presidential field has several candidates (Palin, Bachmann, Pawlenty) with built-in appeal to evangelicals (in contrast to 2008, when Mike Huckabee scooped up the lion’s share with ease). Now if only the pollsters would allow us to see who’s doing best with them.