The Republicans' Evangelical Problem

Almost immediately after Mark Foley's resignation, Newsweek's Howard Fineman publicly speculated about the potential ramifications of the scandal, noting that it could have seriously negative effects not only on Republican turnout but also on the Republican turnout machine, which relies heavily on religious conservative activists as its foot soldiers. Judging by data from the latest Pew poll, Fineman appears to be correct in his assessment, as Alan Cooperman reports for The Washington Post.

Even a small shift in the loyalty of conservative Christian voters such as Sunde could spell trouble for the GOP this fall. In 2004, white evangelical or born-again Christians made up a quarter of the electorate, and 78 percent of them voted Republican, according to exit polls. But some pollsters believe that evangelical support for the GOP peaked two years ago and that what has been called the "God gap" in politics is shrinking.

A nationwide poll of 1,500 registered voters released yesterday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of white evangelicals are inclined to vote for Republican congressional candidates in the midterm elections, a 21-point drop in support among this critical part of the GOP base.

Even before the Foley scandal, the portion of white evangelicals with a "favorable" impression of the Republican Party had fallen sharply this year, from 63 percent to 54 percent, according to Pew polls.

In the latest survey, taken in the last 10 days of September and the first four days of October, the percentage of evangelicals who think that Republicans govern "in a more honest and ethical way" than Democrats has plunged to 42 percent, from 55 percent at the start of the year.

As if this trend were not already bad enough for Republicans, the Mark Foley story does not appear to be going away any time soon. What's more, if we are to believe the statement of Foley's lawyer that his client will speak publicly following the culmination of his stay at an alcohol rehabilitation clinic, Foley's first public appearance since the scandal broke will occur during the last week of the campaign -- further reminding the GOP's religious base why it is unhappy with the party.

But this is not the only worrisome event pertaining to Evangelicals coming up for Republicans during the lead up to the election. The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire, via Hotline On Call, notes that another former administration insider is set to publish a book calling into question the Bush administration's commitment to issues central to the agenda of many conservative Christians.

Late October Surprise?

Caught on the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire:

MORE FLAK: Former White House official David Kuo will publish a book this month slamming administration's commitment to "faith-based" programs. A person familiar with book's content says it will characterize centerpiece of Bush's compassionate conservatism as "big talk, little action."

How will The World, Christianity Today, Charisma, CBN, et. al. cover it?

While I have long believed that religious voters' role in reelecting George W. Bush in 2004 has been overstated -- according to exit polling, Bush's share of the vote of those who attend church at least weekly increased by only 1 point from 2000 to 2004 while his support among those attending church less than once a week increased by 3 to 4 points -- it would nevertheless be a major problem for Republican candidates if their base simply failed to show up on election day or if their core supporters opt not to volunteer for GOTV efforts. Without that manpower, can the GOP's much vaunted 72-hour program really work?

Tags: Evangelicals, House 2006, Mark Foley, Republicans, Senate 2006 (all tags)

Comments

20 Comments

Re: The Republicans' Evangelical Problem

What I'd love to see from this scandal is a wedge between the actual evangelical voters - whose beliefs are honestly held, even if I strongly disagree with many of them - and their leadership in the "Religious Right," the Ralph Reeds of the world who care not a whit for Christianity but care a lot about their own political power.

It's become clear in the last week that many Religious Right figures have no interest in condemning the actual bad guys (other than Mark Foley, because he's gay and icky) in this scandal.  The reason is that they care about Republican power, and by extension their own power, above any other consideration.  And I'm hoping, probably in vain, that some of these evangelical voters will wake up and say "Hey, wait a minute, what the Republican leadership did is disgusting... why does everyone refuse to condemn them?"

It's probably just wishful thinking on my part, but if you sell out your followers enough, sooner or later they're going to catch on.  You can't fool all of the people all of the time.

by Steve M 2006-10-06 09:11AM | 0 recs
GOP Wishful Thinking?

The Washington Post article I linked to in Breaking Blue, "House Republicans Move to Back Hastert" seems to indicate that the GOP's ostrich-like behavior has metastesized from the House leadership ignoring Foley's predation to the House leadership ignoring their leadership problem:

Republicans are calculating that the smartest way to survive the Mark Foley sex scandal is to rally around House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and hope that no new evidence surfaces before Election Day that shows GOP leaders could have done more to prevent the congressman from preying on young male pages, according to several GOP lawmakers and strategists.

The White House and top House Republicans remain deeply nervous that the scandal will hurt them politically, and that additional information will come out contradicting statements by Hastert and others that they were unaware of Foley's sexual messages to underage boys, the lawmakers and officials said.

For now, they said, it would be politically disastrous for Republicans to oust Hastert because it would be viewed as akin to a public admission of guilt in the scandal, as well as a pre-election victory that would buoy Democrats and help their turnout efforts....

Several GOP lawmakers in tough races said voters are not reacting as harshly to the scandal as they first feared, buying Hastert even more room to save his job.

So, no one's had their campaign HQ firebombed, it must be OK.

Finally, their willful denial has become a force for good.  While I'm still with Chris that Hastert's resignation would be an admission of guilt, and would be better for us, there's no denying that if willful denial is the reason for sticking with him, the denial itself is a gift that will keep on giving in form of a continued deepening disconnect with both swing voters and their base.   What's more, their suppost for Hastert appears to be conditionally based on a counterfactual:

"Calls for resignation are just inappropriate," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.). "I would be absolutely shocked if the facts led us to that he knew more than he says he knew."
So, they could well turn around and call for his resignation if things get much worse--as they are likely to do, causing yet more difficulties for those stalwarts still fumbling for their moral compasses two or three weeks from now.

Honestly, we really could see a 50-seat swing out of this election.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-10-06 09:24AM | 0 recs
Re: GOP Wishful Thinking?

I was struck by the same thing. What were they expecting, folks with pitch-forks? Wait 'til they try to gin up a GOTV brigade in a few weeks ... then they may have wished they did things a little differently.

Could it really be as bad for them as it appears?

by BriVT 2006-10-06 09:45AM | 0 recs
why are evangelicals so sacred?

There's a good post on Religious Left Online today about all of this fretting about the evangelical vote.  They are a fairly stable demographic in terms of voting patterns, and a shrinking one in terms of size, so why should we all be obsessing about how they will vote?

The one justification I can think of is that evangelicals may be the "new seniors" - a highly reliable voting group, who will vote come hell or high water, and therefore how they vote matters disproportionately to their size.  I'm not sure I buy that theory, but at least obsession over evangelical voting should be coupled with some explanation.

by Shai Sachs 2006-10-06 09:26AM | 0 recs
Re: why are evangelicals so sacred?
      Yes, and also, why do we seem to accept the idea that Christian conservatives are any less blindly partisan than any other part of the Republican machine? These people aren't a cross-section of Christians, they're a subset that seems to reject or ignore major portions of Christian teaching ("Judge not, lest ye be judged", "Blessed are the peacemakers", "Blessed are the poor", "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone") while using their narrow, cramped view of religion as a justification for their politics of hatred and division.
     It's a proven fact that the economy performs better during Democratic administrations than during Republican ones. Does that cause the rich and the corporations to abandon the Republican party? No, because they're part of the Republican team, and their greed for power outstrips their greed for money. It's the same for Christian conservatives. Power tends to corrupt.
by Ron Thompson 2006-10-06 10:02AM | 0 recs
Potential: reverse of "Reagan Democrats"

What I see is a large group of voters with middling incomes who should be interested in such issues like the stability of Social Security, student aid, health care, and whose attention can be diverted with issues like abortion and gay marriage.

The truth is that GOP can deliver very marginal changes on gay rights and reproductive rights, so most of what they could do is to offer rhetoric assuring evangelical voters that "they represent our values".  However, corruption of power is not particularly Biblical as a value, torture is questionable, and gas prices are rather painful if you commute a long distance in an SUV to your favorite mega-church.

So there is a potential that a segment of the population will return to Democratic Party.

by Piotr 2006-10-06 12:15PM | 0 recs
The GOP's about to go on a gay Repub. witchhunt

http://nationaljournal.com/about/njweekl y/stories/2006/1005nj1.htm

by Hesiod Theogeny 2006-10-06 10:20AM | 0 recs
Re: The Republicans' Evangelical Problem

I don't know if I can extrapolate from my own fundie extended family, but theirs is a system that runs on denial.  They manage to hold on to their beliefs in the face of a reality-based world, and this requires a certain degree of filtering and/or ignoring factual information.

So, the Ralph Reeds aside (i.e., those for whom it is about personal power and career), I would say this supports the idea of a suppressed turnout.  I just keep having this image of some bad sci-fi robot trying to process contradictory information -- "DOES --- NOT --- COMPUTE" and its head explodes.

I'll bet this is the point some of my relatives would be at, if they allowed themselves to think about such things -- "Republicans ... GAY? ... Pedophiles? ... Cover-up? ...  DOES --- NOT --- COMPUTE ---"  So, rather than having their heads explode, they will choose to ignore the whole thing and watch Seventh Heaven reruns instead of going out to vote.

Of course, that's just my family ... many of them live in Idaho; go Larry Grant!

by Ms Bluezone 2006-10-06 10:20AM | 0 recs
Would they ignore and STILL vote?

I guess that is the question.

The other rationalization is "Hastert did what he could, and they got rid of that pervert Foley".  

Denial is powerful, after all.

by jc 2006-10-06 12:44PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republicans' Evangelical Problem

""Hey, wait a minute, what the Republican leadership did is disgusting... '   ah!! ??Leadership?  THEY didn't do it.......  Don't worry-- the liberal media bias is getting us Evangelicals even MORE juiced.

by tedbaxter 2006-10-06 11:29AM | 0 recs
percentage is irrelevant

"Bush's share of the vote of those who attend church at least weekly increased by only 1 point from 2000 to 2004"

Yes but - how much did the total number of these voters increase?
As a percetage of the electorate, how much this this group's representation increase?

GOTV was MUCH better in 2004. Improvement in Bush's total was not necessary when EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM voted.....

The point is: how did Bush and Rove get all these good people to vote AGAINST their person economic interests? This is the question we should be working to answer and overcome.

by Patrick Thompson 2006-10-06 02:03PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republicans' Evangelical Problem

When you look at this stuff closely, it becomes more complicated. Many people who say they're born again are hardly fundies or hard core evangelicals in the way that most center left (and secular Right) people think of them--think Jimmy Carter & Bill Clinton.

Pollers and most journalists are too secular to really do a good job of parsing the dead enders among the "evangelicals" who'll always vote and always vote Republican. Until they do, we won't really know who among the "evanglicals" are turning their backs of Bush and whether these are people who vote.

The MSM is pretty clueless about how the electrorate is segmented--soccer moms, office park dads, NASCAR fans, etc. They and probably many political operatives know nothing about these people, who they really are, and how to identify them.

We need to assume that some unquantifiable "core group" will turn out and that's the group, we need to turn out to counter and we shouldn't care if it's big or small.

by rich 2006-10-06 02:18PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republicans' Evangelical Problem

Robert Byrd, too.  Totally born again.

by Steve M 2006-10-06 02:58PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republicans' Evangelical Problem

one of my friends is born again evangelical (strike that three of them are) and they are cool not only with my sexuality but with the idea of civil unions. they are a rarity, and some of this I think is more about a brand of christainity taking over a larger brand called borna gain

by bruh21 2006-10-06 03:18PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republicans' Evangelical Problem

i am just hoping that our side will do so much GOTV that their turnout rate won't matter.  they are pros at field work; we can't just sit back and enjoy their getting caught in hypocrisies and scandals, we need to win by such a landslide that even their election-stealing tactics won't work.  obvious, i know, but important.  

by chiefscribe 2006-10-06 06:44PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republicans' Evangelical Problem

Nice thought, but I'd just as soon assume the worst....that they Religious Right will come out in droves.

If I'm wrong, I won't kick myself.

by Bush Bites 2006-10-06 07:05PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republicans' Evangelical Problem

I'm in a district in North Carolina that votes democratic in the cities and republican in the rural areas.  The NC 6th is almost 3:2 non-republican by registration ...almost 60% Non-Republican. It is roughly 30% unaffiliated, 30% democratic, and 40% republican.  Most of the unaffiliated were formerly democrats by registration.

Evangelical churches are big here ...and the republican party relies on them for voter turnout.

The incumbent, Howard Coble has not been seriously challenged in years.  He is a 75 yo. confirmed batchelor and a Presbyterian. He was first elected in 1984 and reelected in 1986 by only 81 votes.

The democrat is Rory Blake, a 55 yo. retired pharmacist and small businessman with a wife and 2 kids.  He is making headway, but has little money.

The Foley thing, on christian radio (which is really cheap to advertise on, here) might be just the thing to keep the evangelicals away from the republicans ...and maybe one or two will tell their friends and the democrat may get a vote or two.  

Anyway, this could be a seat that can be picked-up for little or no money.   Google congressman Coble...the guy is a piece of .......work!

by bubbleboy 2006-10-06 07:37PM | 0 recs
Re: Foley's rehab
I wouldn't be surprised if the Republicans somehow sucker Foley into doing something like...
when Foley comes out of rehab in a month to make his statement, he'll talk about how, after a lot of prayer and help from the Lord, he has been able to combat his alcoholism and is fighting the disease of homosexuality and whatever, and all the conservatives will remember just how important it is to cure/punish the gays so we gotta elect those Republicans!
by Fran for Dean 2006-10-06 07:42PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republicans' Evangelical Problem

VA has a marriage amendment on the ballot.  That will increase the vote for republicans as the churches will GOTV.  

Does anyone know if other states have a vote on gay marriage or abortion?  Those things always help republican candidates.  

by Denton56 2006-10-06 08:03PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republicans' Evangelical Problem

Colorado I think has two separate referenda.  I think one is to ban gay marriage, the other is to grant some sort of domestic partnership benefits.

by Fran for Dean 2006-10-06 09:20PM | 0 recs

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