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There's No Reason to Expect Dems to Win Over Evangelicals


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August 21, 2006

There's No Reason to Expect Dems to Win Over Evangelicals

By Peter Brown

One of the hardy perennials of politics is the Republican Party effort to recruit black voters each election because the GOP believes there is a new generation of African-American voters who might be ready to shed their Democratic allegiance.

Despite GOP leaders' best efforts to attract African-American voters, Democrats still get almost 90 percent of the black vote.

That is worth considering as we are deluged with political efforts by liberals and their academic supporters offering books about how large numbers of Evangelical Christians, who have become the most reliable GOP voters, might be ripe for the picking by Democrats.

Mark me down as skeptical. My reasons are very similar to why the Republicans can't make much progress among black voters:

Even though it goes against our national vision of a country of individuals unbound by class or culture, the truth is that demographics still control political destiny to a large degree.

Blacks are overwhelmingly Democratic because of history and perceived self- interest. In the 2004 presidential voting, African Americans were 11 percent of the electorate and gave Democrat John Kerry 88 percent of their votes.

Democrats are the party of government and it was the government - spurred by the civil rights movement, not the private sector -- that was responsible for the advances that have improved the lives and well-being of African-Americans.

The growing black middle class, many of whose members are fervent church-goers, may have a lifestyle might more open to the Republican philosophy of less government and family values.

But that hasn't changed their voting behavior and few in the politics business think that will change anytime soon, if ever.

The same is likely the case for white evangelicals. Black evangelicals are almost as Democratic as African-Americans overall, because even though they share many Republican view on family values, it has not changed their voting behavior.

White evangelicals were 23 percent of the electorate in 2004 and they gave President Bush 78 percent of their votes. High turnout among conservative Christians was a major factor in Bush carrying key swing states like Ohio and Florida.

Since then, Democrats/liberals have been trying to figure out how to attract more white evangelical voters. Now that we are now in the middle of the political season - not just because of the approaching off-year elections, but the run-up to the 2008 voting - we seem to be inundated with books about evangelicals and politics.

Most of these books come from the Northeast, where evangelicals are considered a species to be studied, rather than the folks who stand in line with you at the supermarket.

Perhaps the best of the bunch comes from Mark Pinsky, the Orlando Sentinel's religion writer, whose book, A Jew among the Evangelicals, A Guide for the Perplexed" is meant as an explainer to northern liberals.

Pinsky, himself a northeasterner by birth, is a friend and former colleague who has spent a decade covering evangelicals in the South. He makes the point that generational change is coming in the evangelical community as new, less dogmatic leaders replace the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons.

He notes that John Green, a well-respected University of Akron political scientist and pollster, had found that on a number of environmental issues evangelicals agree more with the consensus Democratic position than the Republican one. A poll by the Pew Center for the People and the Press found that evangelicals strongly support stem-cell research funding, the opposite position held by President Bush.

Yet, the idea that these differences with Republican orthodoxy make evangelical Christians likely to change their voting allegiance is as flawed as the notion that just because millions of black voters oppose abortion they will vote Republican.

Voters, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, make their political choices based on their overall comfort level with the views and values of a candidate.

Blacks, as a group, favor larger government programs, social safety nets and economic polices that value larger government spending over tax cuts. That is why they vote Democratic.

Evangelical Christians favor traditional social values, tend to be skeptical of government and fond of the military. That is why they vote Republican.

The idea that voting behavior will change because younger evangelical leaders are softer-spoken and less tied to the Republican infrastructure than their predecessors, or because evangelicals are worried about the environment, sure looks like wishful thinking.

Peter A. Brown is assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. He can be reached at peter.brown@quinnipiac.edu


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Actually, for a very large number of Americans, Evangelicals do not represent a palatable choice either. Not because we're anti-Christian. Far from it. Evangelicals only represent a single facet (and to many, wrongheaded) of the faith. Further, the Evangelical agenda of molding government to fit its ideological needs is disquieting for many of us who flocked to the Republican party for its agenda of economic freedom. We certainly didn't do it to exchange our liberal masters for our masters in the pulpit.

The sad truth is that both parties have been taken over by the lunatic fringe. All you have to do is witness Joe Lieberman's problems in Connecticut. Essentially, the Democratic party in that state knifed a courageous public servant, thereby guaranteeing their party's defeat in November. Meanwhile the Republicans continue paying obesiance to the Pat Robertson's of the world. However, it is the center that dominates the political thought of the voters, and we are faced with a terrible choice in the ballot box. Heck, I voted for Bush twice, but I was not happy with my choice either time.

So if you actually want the Republicans to win, here's your platform.

1) We are for a strong foreign policy. The world is too dangerous a place to indulge in wishful thinking like our counterparts across the aisle.

2) We are for reducng the scope of government with a priority on reducing the tax burden for Americans. We think it is morally unconscionable to indulge in more spending on projects designed to do nothing beyond funnel cash to our own constituencies.

3) We are for letting individual Americans pursue their own religious faith without actually promoting it. That means we will support your puttng your inner city child into a faith-based school. However, we also understand that the very language of prayer is denominational in nature, thereby we believe the wisest course of all is to keep our public schools as religiously neutral as possible.

4) We will stop supporting nonsensical stunts such as putting the Ten Commandments in courthouses. Because Protestants and Catholics cannot even agree on a version, let alone the Jews, it would be impossible to put the Ten Commandments up without implicitly endorsing one faith over another.

5) We will stop worrying about what people do in their own bedrooms on Saturday night. While we do not support homosexual marriage, we also will not introduce legislation outlawing the purchase of sex toys and other nonsense. It's just not our business.

6) Abortion is wrong. We will shout that from the rooftops. We also recognize that it will be impossible to outlaw. Therefore our public policy should be towards reducing unwanted pregnancy in the first place.

7) Render unto Caesar, etc. etc. We are in the business of governing. We are not in the business of fulfilling some flake's eschatological vision. We will do whatever possible to keep the two separate, because when faith is married to politics, then faith is always the one that suffers.

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