About that evangelical political shift

0060836962 01  SCLZZZZZZZ How many pieces have we read in recent months about how evangelical Christians are falling over themselves in a mad rush to support presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama? Every discovery that evangelicals care about more than just the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage is met with hopeful accounts about how the Republican Party is losing these voters to the Democratic Party.

Now, it may be true that presumptive Republican nominee John McCain has failed to get many folks, including evangelicals, excited about him. But given all the coverage to the contrary, I was somewhat surprised to see the results of a new Pew study that indicates that Obama is getting slightly fewer — that’s right — fewer white evangelical supporters than John Kerry was at the same time four years ago.

Does that match with the media coverage we’ve been reading?

Take this story from Wednesday’s Waco Tribune-Herald. Reporter Terri Jo Ryan begins her piece this way:

For more than 20 years, evangelical Christians have been viewed as a monolithic voting block, and that rock belonged to the Republican Party.

But the 2008 election has seen more younger and politically independent evangelicals telling pollsters they back Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama

Have they? She cites no evidence — other than anecdotal — that evangelicals are, in fact, backing Obama. The story is long and does quote a professor throwing water on the supposed inroads with evangelicals. But if you’re going to claim that polls show increased evangelical support — provide the data. That Pew poll, released later this week, doesn’t support Ryan’s lede.

Twenty-six percent of white evangelicals supported Kerry at this time in 2004. This year, 25 percent of white evangelicals support Obama. Some migration!

But the media seem to have decided that the story of this campaign will be the movement of white evangelicals from the Republican Party to the Democratic. And they’ll probably just beat that horse until it happens.

Take, for instance, the headline and subhead to this story in U.S. News & World Report by Liz Halloran:

Obama Campaign Is Making Progress With Evangelical Voters
McCain leads with the group but the Democrat is doing all the right things

Doing all the right things? Gah! Way to editorialize there, USN&WR! Anyway, if you read the story, the only “progress” is anecdotally supplied by Obama operatives. Here’s the breathless beginning:

Randy Brinson says he “almost fell out of my chair” when he heard that expected Democratic nominee Barack Obama had chosen Zanesville, Ohio, as the setting for a recent speech in which he embraced the concept of using faith-based groups to help carry out government social service efforts.

It wasn’t that Zanesville struck Brinson as an odd locale. Quite the opposite. It was that Obama had clearly figured out something that Brinson already knew.

“Zanesville is Ground Zero for conservative evangelicals in Ohio,” says Brinson, who, as founder of the voter registration organization “Redeem the Vote,” knows a thing or two about where to find conservative Christians.

Brinson is somewhat well-known as one of the evangelicals that the GOP is losing. Not that this is explained in the story.

Actually, that U.S. News & World Report story was so fluffy that it reminded me of this week’s epic story on Obama coverage from The Onion, headlined “‘Time’ Publishes Definitive Obama Puff Piece:”
small obama image

Time managing editor Rich Stengel said he was proud of the Obama puff piece, and that he hoped it would help to redefine the boundaries of journalistic drivel.

“When the American people cast their vote this November, this is the piece of fluff they’re going to remember,” Stengel said. “Not the ones by Newsweek, Harper‘s, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Economist, Nightline, The Wall Street Journal, or even that story about lessons Obama learned from his first-grade teacher we ran a month ago.”

Many folks may have difficulty making fun of Obama but it’s pretty easy to mock the mainstream coverage of him thus far.

There were two Associated Press stories and a Los Angeles Times blog post that were better than those mentioned above. AP’s Mike Glover had an accurate angle with his look at how evangelicals aren’t terribly revved up about McCain. It’s just a well reported, interesting and straightforward look at the obstacles McCain has to overcome to get people more excited. Because there’s little indication these evangelicals are going to Obama, there isn’t much discussion of that aspect:

In the ongoing AP-Yahoo News Poll, only 10 percent of white evangelical Christians say they are excited by this election, compared with 20 percent of Americans overall. A third of these evangelicals said they were interested in the election, but half said they were frustrated by it.

Nevertheless, they support McCain over Obama by 62 percent to 18 percent. Although the AP-Yahoo News Poll is of all adults, not the smaller, more energized group of likely voters, McCain’s figures lag behind Bush’s showing among white evangelical Christian voters in the 2004 election, when exit polls indicated 78 percent supported him.

Here’s the beginning of that Los Angeles Times blog post:

Democrats like to say that, this year, they finally will dig into the Republicans’ traditional advantage among evangelical voters. After all, social conservatives are skeptical of John McCain, and Barack Obama seems so comfortable talking about his faith (at least when his former pastor isn’t involved).

But a new analysis from the nonpartisan Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, finds that Obama is doing just as badly among white evangelical voters as his party’s 2004 nominee was at this point.

mccain45Again, it makes sense that Democrats are going to push the story that they are making great inroads into the evangelical community. But it’s the job of the media to check whether that version of events is true.

AP’s Eric Gorski also had an interesting story about the great pains being made by Democrats to welcome religious voters. It begins with a great anecdote about how atheists are asking to take part in an interfaith service that will open the national convention in Denver next month.

The article details the efforts Obama has made to incorporate faith themes and outreach into his campaign, how those efforts complicate outreach to nonbelievers. Much of the piece profiles Leah Daughtry, an experienced political hand in charge of planning the Democratic National Convention who is also an ordained Pentecostal minister:

Leah Daughtry has married faith and politics, holding positions in the Clinton-era Labor Department, working on the 1992 Democratic National Convention and heading her party’s outreach to faith groups, Faith In Action. And she continues to lead her own House of the Lord Church of 20 or 30 people in Washington, D.C.

Daughtry considers it all “ministry – a way to give of yourself.” Several of her party’s positions, though, put her at odds with most evangelical Christians. That includes her support for abortion rights.

“Theologically, we believe that in the greatest decision of our entire lives – whether to follow God or not – God allows us to choose,” she said. “If God is big enough to allow that choice, then who are we to dictate choices to other people? Your choices have consequences, but you should be allowed to make those choices.”

Gorski quotes Democratic platform committee member and evangelical author Tony Campolo as saying that party language pointing toward “abortion reduction” is necessary to woo other evangelicals. And he included the Pew survey results showing that no more white evangelicals support Obama now than they did Kerry at this point in 2004.

It’s a start.

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  • MJBubba

    Mollie, I can only say (anecdotally) none of my evangelical friends have any thought of voting for Obama. The best way to characterize any shift in these parts would be to say that some evangelicals are so disappointed by the Republicans that they won’t help the McCain campaign this time around.

  • Alan Johnson

    I think we will see a rush away from Obama once folks consider the implications of his so-called “faith based initiative.” Obviously, he borrowing from the President here in hopes to confuse voters, but look at the details. He says he favors allowing faith-based groups to secure gov’t funds for services it provides so long as their hiring and services don’t discriminate against gay men and women. For example, you can provide Catholic adoption services as long as you first give up being Catholic.

    The upshot isn’t that he’s opening the door to faith based services to help them. He’s doing it to destroy them.

  • Dave

    OK, that’s one political comment on evangelicals, one political comment on Obama, and none on journalism.

  • Daniel

    Also anecdotal evidence – While many evangelical Christians–myself included–are not enthused about McCain, we are absolutely horrified by the implications of an Obama presidency…Freedom of Choice Act (supports), Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (opposed), 100% NARAL rating, ridiculous tax hikes, NOT TO MENTION the scary messianic aura around this political candidate…It just goes on and on.

    Call me a fundamentalist, but I don’t see how a thinking, informed Christian could POSSIBLY support Obama.

  • newscaper

    Obama’s moves are as transparent as Hillay’s old “safe, egal and rare” about abortion. The proof (or lack thereof) in the pudding wrt her was that the Dems actually consistently opposed *any* laws or regs that, at the margin, might have affected the “rare” part, in terms of areas such as partial birth bans, parental consent for minors, waiting periods, etc, changes supported by varying majorities of Americans, even those who support 1st trimester abortion as a private matter. Obama’s game is no different. I’ve actually opposed Bush’s well meaning “faith-based initiatives” because the tax money *has* to come with strings attached, and is therefore alluringly corrupting.

    Funny thing on the abortion front — I recently had a vasectomy, complete with signed consent by my wife and a waiting period (all of which I actually agree with for married couples). The double standard for abortion is incredible.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Please, people. Focus comments on MEDIA COVERAGE of this issue, not the political issue itself.

  • Alan Johnson

    newscaper:

    vasectomy: “signed consent of my wife”….”a waiting period” Seriously? What state? Where can I look online to confirm all this? I would love to make your point to others, but I have to verify what i’m talking about.

  • http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/SusannahCox SusieQ

    I think much of the media coverage on evangelicalism is badly informed to begin with. Opposition to Obama’s political philosophy is bound to be conflated with racist attitudes, red-neck lifestyles, etc., and many journalists, I’ve noticed, tend to correlate those things with people they broad-brush as “theocrats.”

    And then, liberals (and journalists are mostly liberals) tend to have a confused, emotion-laden approach to the world in general.

    I read an editorial just today (written by a journalist) in the Sunday Washington Post that puzzled over why an Ivy-league educated black couple are apparently still “feared” after they have proven their merits in the same academic world that white candidates routinely inhabit.

    A journalist who assumes right off the bat that political opposition to the Obamas is phobic in nature is not going to be concerned with nuances of belief, theology, etc. and how they could possibly inform one’s vote/political activity.

    Tony Campolo’s illogic really bugs me, by the way. It bothers me to see him highlighted as an evangelical, when he has so little in common with orthodox theology.

  • Harris

    The news story continues to be the relative openness of the Obama campaign to the Evangelical community. If there is a flaw in the coverage, it is in taking the rather linear next step: “oh, they must be trying to win the votes of Evangelicals.”

    Different analysis would suggest that it may be to neutralize the Evangelical politicization (a less active community would be a plus for Dems), or what one analyst (forgot name) calls a “bank shot pander:” meeting with one group validates the candidate for another.

    So the odd coverage may in fact be a failure to properly ascertain the Obama strategy.

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  • Chris Bolinger

    “Zanesville is Ground Zero for conservative evangelicals in Ohio,” says Brinson, who, as founder of the voter registration organization “Redeem the Vote,” knows a thing or two about where to find conservative Christians.

    Um, Zanesville is in the middle of nowhere. (I grew up 30 minutes from there.) Saying that it is Ground Zero for anything indicates that Brinson ain’t from those parts. But feel free to parachute folks into Ohio from now until early November…the state can use any economic boost that reporters and political operatives are willing to supply.

  • Dave

    The MSM are running their old dichotomy. When Obama talks to evangelicals he’s “doing politics.” When he talks to a reporter about this faith he’s “doing religion.” I guess it would take too much work for them to assume that he is consistently “doing Obama.”

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  • astorian

    I regularly see Leah Daughtry cited in articles that claim Obama is making huge inroads among white evangelical Christians. But somehow, none of these articles get around to telling us who she is, or what her background is. Does the article tell us, for instance, that she is neither Southern nor white?

    Those of us who grew up in New York City are very familiar with Ms. Daughtry’s family. Her father, Reverend Herbert Daughtry, was the leader of an Afrocentric church in Brooklyn. He usually dressed in pseudo-African garb, and was known as a militant, left-wing, would-be rabblerouser in the mold of Al Sharpton.

    I’m prepared to believe that Leah Daughtry is smarter, more savvy, more moderate and more diplomatic than her Dad. She may be an absolutely wonderful person. But when you know that this highly touted “evangelical Christian” clergywoman is a Northern, African-American from a radical family, it becomes less surprising and FAR less impressive that Obama has won her support.

    And it becomes equally clear that she is a very pooor choice to be a liaison to more conservative, Southern white evangelicals.

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  • http://contrapauli.blogspot.com Pauli

    Um, Zanesville is in the middle of nowhere.

    LOL. Amen.

  • Renee Zettek

    I am a strong pro-life advocate.I spend countless hours investiagting Obama, his politics voting record, religious & family ties. Both with the U.S & Kenya. I have been investigating all the facts & myths concerning Mr. Obama.And can say with NO DOUBT or reserve that this man is 100% dangerous for this nation. We MUST rally together and make sure to vote against Obama. The evangelical vote is extremely important. And what I found to be very important is the fact that Mr. Obama is thee MOST RADICAL left wing voter in the U.S. Senate (at least when he is there to vote), His Faith Based Programs are nothing more than a way to win Evangelicals votes.

    He has the best handlers working for his campaign. He is making great efforts in winning every vote possible. He is tarketing EVERYONE. We, the Evangelicals are being LIED to. If everyone would take some time to simply investigate Mr. Obama they would be shocked to find what I have found. The facts speak for themselves.

    The worse part of all this is the fact that he is trageting our young. They have very little experience with politics and in many cases how our government really works. It is all of our responsiblity to educate our young on his record since mainstream media will not. His voting record alone on ABORTION is staggering. He is for every stage of Abortion. He has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood. And has recieved thousands in donations from Planned Parenthood. He was the 1 of 4 U.S. Senators that voted against the “Born Alive Baby Protection Act” and even wrote legislation for the state of Illinios against saving a baby born alive and breathing. A LATE TERM ABORTION. It is the most barbaric thing he has voted against and inhumane.

    Please everyone educate your friends & families about Mr. Obama before you go to the polls in Nov. Your nation depends on it. Don’t be fooled by this man in sheeps clothing. There are many sites that will give you the truth & sites that deal with ONLY facts about Mr. Obama. May God Bless all of you!!!

    P.S. Check out what the New York Times has done to McCain concerning Iraq and Obama. It is sickening. We should have a huge Boycott.

  • Dave

    Renee Zettek writes:

    [Obama] has the best handlers working for his campaign. He is making great efforts in winning every vote possible. He is tarketing EVERYONE.

    O, Lordy! Obama is (gag) (splut) a… a POLITICIAN!

  • Dave ll

    No, Dave, not “just” a politician…

    A PANDERING politician…the worst kind!

    The kind most intelligent and honest people will be able to see right through, upon closer inspection.

    Obama and his handlers though don’t count on you doing THAT…and neither does the media!

  • Jim

    Obama lost the white evangelical vote when Rev. Wright showed up. Evangelicals are more comfortable with Mitt Romney’s version of Christianity (LDS) than Obama’s.

    His voting record makes Kerry look conservative. McCain may not know (or care) if he’s Episcopalian or Baptist, but most evangelical voters will find him preferable to Obama.

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  • Delwyn X. Campbell

    25%:26% is a statistical dead heat. it also fails to factor in the issue that your posters will be ill at ease discussing. Any vote by whites for Obama is a vote outside of their normal comfort zone. That fact that he is even at approximately the same percentage as Kerry speaks hugely.

    John McCain is in the unenviable position of running as a Republican in an election cycle in which Republicans are frowned upon. In addition, he is, to be frank, boring. Obama actually is more newsworthy, both because of his status, and the impact that he is having. You might not like it, both that is the reality that McCain must deal with. If he offers little more than the usual Republican mantras of “Government is the enemy,” “taxes are bad,” and “look out for the liberals,” there is very little distinction between him and the current President, who is well on his way to replacing Jimmy Carter as the most disliked President in U.S. history.

    As a person who voted for the Republican candidate in every election in which I have voted, I can tell you that I have no interest in voting for McCain. The party should have given Huckabee better treatment than it did. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” For the Republican Party, it’s harvest time.


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