Monday, November 10, 2008

The Christian Right

Diving in headfirst again...

I was wondering this weekend if the election last Tuesday was a sign of the beginning of the end of the Christian Right's influence in power. According to some Exit poll numbers from the Associated Press (and stolen shamelessly from the Dallas Morning News):
Worship service attendance is considered a marker of religiosity that is generally tied to conservative politics. People who say they attend worship services more than once a week voted for President Bush over John Kerry 64-35. This year, John McCain still won those voters, but only by a 55-43 tally.

Mr. McCain took an overwhelming percentage of the born-again evangelical vote. But his tally of 73 percent was a drop from the 2004 election, where Mr. Bush beat Mr. Kerry with 79 percent of that vote.
So among regular church goers, Obama gained 9 points and among "born-again evangelicals" (whatever that really means), the president-elect gained 6 points.

I think this data and the election results can be read a few ways.

1) The Christian Right never really supported McCain.

In my listening to conservative talk radio and talking to my friends, people were not incredibly excited about McCain. It was only when Palin came on board that many on the Christian right really came out to support McCain (I say all this anecdotally, of course). However, the Christian right might not have been able to convince enough of those voters to either vote McCain or vote against Obama, which would seem to indicate some eroding support.

2) The Anti-Palin vote.

I know several people who like McCain. They especially liked the McCain who ran back in 2000, who thumbed his nose at Christian leaders like Falwell and Dobson and Robertson (calling them "agents of intolerance" in 2000). They were dismayed by what they perceived as McCain's pandering to the Religious right (by speaking at Falwell's Liberty University, for example), seeming to sell out in order to get their support. And when Palin was chosen, this seemed to further his entrenchment with the Christian Right. But what it also did was drive moderates and centrists away from him. According to a CNN exit poll, those that considered themselves moderate voted 60-39 for Obama, which was 44% of the respondants. Now I believe that McCain would lost by even more votes, if he HADN'T chosen a Christian Right conservative like Palin, because the Christian right would have stayed home or gone for a 3rd party candidate. It would have been similar to what happened in 1992 when many of them voted for Perot, sapping support from Bush Sr. and giving Clinton the White House. So McCain didn't have much choice from that standpoint. But it also didn't help that Palin basically became a punchline on most comedy shows almost immediately, even by using her own words.

3. Rejection of Fear Tactics

I wonder finally if many people just decided to reject the Christian Right's propagation of fear as a campaign tool. Now, as I've said, I think the Left used fear as well, particularly in its promotion of McCain as the Third Term of George Bush (a nightmare for many people on the left). However, there were some pretty egregious examples of the Christian Right using fear to try and sway voters, especially the Letter from 2012 from Focus on the Family. I think people got tired of that and tired of similar tactics, and whether they voted for Obama to spite the Christian Right, or because they actually supported Obama, I think those votes were a rejection of those tactics. Even going to the buzz words of the 50s (socialist/communist) and the new racism that's ok (Muslim) didn't seem to work.

Now it's the interesting part for the Republican party. Do they read these results as a rejection of the Christian Right and move more center or do they read these results as a reject of McCain and his more centrist policies and take this as a hint to move more to the right? I suppose we'll wait until the midterms to find out.


Adam said...

This is a brilliant and insightful analysis Phil. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. Well done.

Eric Livingston said...

Barna Group just published some more detailed statistics as well.

Brian said...

Diving in headfirst again...where angels fear to tread (or is that swim), anyway, Go Phil.

Re Palin: She certainly attracted all the conservative mothers and the men who had one or more eyes, which statistically is a reasonably large group. What is the likelihood that she was chosen for these reasons alone?

I was appalled by the "Letter from 2012". It was shameless fear mongering of the type that hinders the kingdom, not advances it. It supports the premise that Christians "check their brains at the door" and only respond from an emotional position. Unfortunately, the primary emotional position is fear (as was pointed out in "Bowling for Columbine")

Re: the beginning of the end of the Christian Right's influence in power. What if it indicates the beginning of the end of the Christian Right (not just its power), or even Christianity as a dominant group? Are the statistics reflecting the fact that church attendance is decreasing, and that Christianity is being replaced by secular humanism?

Anonymous said...

"Re Palin: She certainly attracted all the conservative mothers and the men who had one or more eyes, which statistically is a reasonably large group. What is the likelihood that she was chosen for these reasons alone?"

Using some of your own words, I am appalled by the shameless gender bias you display that certainly hinders and does not advance the kingdom.

Absolutely disgusting.

Anonymous said...

Like Rush has said, "conservatism wins everytime it's tried." The Republican party has got to get back to more conservative principles. This will probably happen at the mid-term elections. We have only ourselves to blame. McCain was not a conservative. Obama won on tax cuts for 95% of the people. We know that's not going to happen but the masses believe it.

Justin said...

What you fail to realize, anonymous, is that "conservatism" that has been tried and has won elections over the past 25 years is NOT what conservatism is today. Its why I can't listen to Rush without getting angry anymore. Conservatism used to be about distrusting government, now its just distrusting democrats, and supporting policies that just ten years ago, the party would have been incensed about. Prescription drugs, iraq war, spending spending spending. Sure isn't conservative.

Anonymous said...


There was a little war in Vietnam as I remember. As to spending, I'm sure Obama will do his share with all the entitlements he wants to enact. One thing that scares me is his idea of a civilian national security force that's "just as powerful, just as strong and just as well-funded as the military." Does anyone know what that means?

Justin said...


The democrats started the war in vietnam. Democrats started the war in Korea. Democrats entered a war in Bosnia. Democrats, for the last 75 years have been the ones who looked to intervene in other nations conflicts. If you remember, President Bush ran on "no more nation building". There is no way to argue that Iraq wasn't about nation building.

As to the national civilian service thing, it scares me to. But Bush did similar things, and actually activated a combat brigade for domestic use in September when the financial crisis became noticable.

We've got two parties that are exactly the same. Its a shame that no one seems to notice.

Brian said...


I'm glad you agreed with my other two paragraphs.

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