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Evangelicals – Love Romney or Hate Obama?

Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:30 am, November 1st 2012     —    2 Comments »

In the WSJ, Daniel Henninger points out, as we have noted previously, that Evangelicals are coalescing behind Romney.  It must be remembered that Evangelicals were supposed to be Romney’s problem, and now they seem poised to deliver to him the key Midwestern swing states.  Henninger examines why they have made this move and comes up with three reasons:

Perhaps Mr. Obama concluded that the evangelical vote was his 47%. It’s generally thought that the president burned any remaining bridge to them with the gay-marriage decision that Joe Biden made for him.

[...]

The president of Ohio Christian University, Mark A. Smith, says, “The intensity of voters in the faith community is as high as I’ve seen it in the last 12 years.” The driver of that intensity is religious liberty. “We took a direct hit with the Affordable Care Act,” he says. Evangelicals watched the Obama administration’s big public fight with Catholic hospitals and charities. What they concluded is that the health-care law was a direct threat to their own private outreach programs.

[...]

Mr. Smith and others I spoke to this week cited one more reason for their enthusiasm: Paul Ryan. Steve Scheffler, a longtime GOP activist in Iowa, says it was “the best possible choice” Mr. Romney could make for the ticket. “It galvanized evangelicals.”

OK, the first reason makes some sense to me, but the last two are about Catholicism?!  We remarked back in August that the Ryan pick marked a change in the “balance of power” amongst various religiously motivated voting groups, that Catholics really had taken the lead.  But I do not think that explains the apparent inconsistency between behavior in the primaries and now.  How can a group that worked very hard to prevent Romney from getting the nomination be ready to support him in record numbers now?  After the nomination my worry was that Evangelicals were going to sit this one out, and that they were spent as a political force.

I do not think animus at Obama explains all of this.  Reuters has a piece today about “hardcore” conservatives in Ohio and their GOTV efforts.

Conservative group American Majority Action trains volunteers such as Lewis and Becker to target “low-propensity” voters, or people who are not very interested in politics. They use Gravity, a mobile get-out-the-vote app that aims to filter out regular Republican voters and those who have already voted.

“I’m not doing this for Romney or the Republicans,” said Chris Littleton, who is training some 50 volunteers to use the app. “I’m doing this because I’m against Obama.”

When I read that I think the real reason for Romney’s “surge” amongst Evangelicals came into focus.  As you read the Reuters piece, this is a pretty limited group of people, and it is those limits that define the difference.

Much of the problem revolves around how ill-defined the term “Evangelical” is, and the rest of it revolves around the old standby, news media bias.  In one sense, “Evangelical” is about the broadest brush you can use to describe Christians.  It is a movement inside denominations (including Catholicism) and it is a label used to describe most congregations that operate independently  This very breadth makes it a label that can pretty easily be applied to almost any Christian that does not stand up and say “I am not an Evangelical.”

And so, the press uses the term quite loosely.  It must be remembered that primaries are small affairs – only the very politically active pay attention, and even only a subset of they actually vote in the primaries.  Therefore, in the context of the primary, “Evangelicals” are generally religious people that are deeply committed politically and religiously.  That deep commitment produces, to some extent, the internecine bickering that the press has come to exploit.

But in the general election, the definition broadens dramatically.  It now includes just about any Christian voting – most of whom lack the sort of deep convictions that mark the primary.   These are the people that are as Henninger notes, “one major voting group that’s fallen off the map since the primaries.”  You see the press wants to talk about “Evangelicals” when they are the deeply committed, bickering, on-the-edge-of-a-little-looney, hardcore types.  But when the pool expands, and “Evangelicals” are what they really are, reasonable, mainstream, heart-of-America types, they do not want to talk about it so much.

This effect is particularly pronounce in this election because these more broadly defined Evangelicals voted for Obama in large numbers last cycle, but are leaving him as far behind as possible in this one.  It is their very reasonableness that has made that true.  As the truth of Obama’s governance has vastly contrasted with the now apparent misrepresentations of his campaign rhetoric, reasonable people must turn in a new direction.

As Romney sewed up the primaries, we declared Evangelicalism spent as a political force.  That was and is true for the bickering types of the primaries.  But the general restored the more broadly defined and reasonable Evangelicals of the American mainstream.  Mike Huckabee may represent the pinnacle of a long-term cycle where average Evangelicals, just wanting to live their lives, have allowed the fringes to speak for them.  Such extremes will continue to operate around the edges and the press will continue to hold them up, but smart Americans now realize that we need to be a bit more judicious about who we let speak for us.  New media will prevail – again.

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