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?