The Impact of Religious Conservative Voters

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Impact of Religious Conservative Voters

Many news sources have reported that Democrats cut the GOP's advantage among weekly churchgoers to 12 percentage points in the 2006 election, down from 18 points in 2004.

But there's more to the story. Although Focus on the Family's James Dobson claimed that evaneglical voters "simply stayed at home" this election, the fact is that white evangelical Protestants turned out to vote just as heavily as they did in 2004.

This data offers an important lesson in electoral politics: getting conservative evangelicals to the polls in strong numbers isn't always enough.

Two examples.

First, evangelical conservatives don't vote solely on the GOP's so-called values issues, especially when issues like congressional corruption and the Iraq war are front and center. It's clear that a significant number of evangelical conservatives were as disgusted as I was with the failure of Republican leaders in Congress to question or challenge the administration's policies in Iraq.

Second, in most cases, there are enough moderate voters to lessen the impact of evangelical conservatives at the polls.

Consider the states of South Dakota and Kansas. In presidential terms, South Dakota and Kansas are among the reddest states of all -- neither has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964. Yet South Dakota voters rejected the nation's strongest abortion ban, and voters in Kansas defeated an incumbent GOP attorney general who had conducted high-profile investigations of abortion clinics.

On some issues, the sheer passage of time seems to take some of the wind out of the sails of conservative evangelicals. Although seven more states passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, the margins were generally tighter than in the 11 states that had adopted similar bans two years ago. And one of those states, Arizona, rejected such a ban.

Not a great result for gay people and their allies, but not so bad considering that Gary Bauer and other religious conservatives were pointing to the New Jersey same-sex marriage ruling as sure to fire up their supporters and maximize turnout.

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