Which religious group should be blamed for the election results?

Well, everyone, we made it through another presidential campaign year! Congratulations to the winners and condolences to the losers and all that.

With the election over, we’re now in the stage of the airing of grievances and assigning of blame.

It’s usually much easier to do this than this year, where the campaign wasn’t about big issues. Or as it was put in this fantastic Washington Post piece explaining how Obama won:

The campaign bore almost no resemblance to the expansive one Obama waged in 2008 — by strategic choice and by financial necessity. Without the clear financial advantage it had last time, Obama’s campaign relied more on the tools of micro-marketing than on the oratorical gifts of the nation’s first black president.

Gone were the soaring speeches that clarified Obama’s candidacy four years ago. Instead the president focused on Romney. Meanwhile, his campaign spoke early and often with “persuadable” voters, selected for targeted e-mails and doorstep visits through demographic data unavailable last time.

“We turned a national election into a school-board race,” a second senior Obama campaign official said.

Before the effort to define Romney began, before they even knew for certain Romney would be the opponent, the Obama campaign laid the groundwork for victory in a race that would be won in the margins of a polarized electorate.

The lack of big issues led, perhaps, to an obsession with polls. That obsession continues as journalists look to exit polls for meaning. The New York Times has a great interactive page with election information. It begins with the note:

Most of the nation shifted to the right in Tuesday’s vote, but not far enough to secure a win for Mitt Romney.

Weird, right? Most of the nation shifts to the right but the big story is that the right lost. Big time. How to make sense of that? The first thing I might suggest is caution. Whether it’s on election night or the first few heady days after, people are desperate to make sense of things. But sometimes it takes a while for actual vote totals to come in or good local data that explain particular elections.

Just for instance … I really enjoyed this Denver Post/Eric Gorski piece about the Pew data, which mentioned:

The initial speculation and preliminary evidence was white evangelicals and other conservative Christians might not enthusiastically support Romney, either for theological or other reasons, [University of Akron political scientist John] Green noted. Ultimately, though, exit polls showed nearly eight in 10 white evangelicals supported Romney, an improvement over John McCain’s 73 percent in 2008 and on par with George W. Bush’s 2004 numbers.

Perhaps more interestingly, Romney received less support from his fellow Mormons than allegedly skeptical white evangelicals – although it was just 1 percentage point less.

That’s fascinating, no? The evangelical voters increased their support for the GOP candidate in 2012 over 2008 and 2004? And Mormon support was below that of white evangelicals? Crazy! (The piece also has great discussions on the “nones” and why Obama lost seven points among white Catholics — Green suggests the “religious liberty” issue was a factor.)

But what we also need to know are whether those percentages reflect changes in the actual voters. Meaning, did some evangelicals sit out the election this year? And did Mormons come out to vote more than usual? Both of those things could have happened as well. Or not. We’ll have to wait a bit to find that out. Going back to that New York Times map mentioned above, it shows that the country went more Republican everywhere with a few exceptions. One of those areas was the South. Is that partly a religion story? I don’t know. (There’s some great analysis on these questions here.)

One interesting approach taken by Religion News Service was the piece headlined “What’s next for religious conservatives?” Even though the Romney campaign was laser-focused on the economy at the expense of getting out the vote over social conservatism or other issues Americans care about, the piece suggests that the problem lies with … social conservatives. It includes lines such as:

The electorate today is increasingly Latino, and younger, and both those groups are turned off by anything that smacks of righteous moralizing.

I only wish that young people were turned off by anything that smacked of righteous moralizing. But the ratings success of Glee would suggest otherwise. As for this claim that Latinos are all turned off by, um, “anything that smacks of righteous moralizing” … I’m not quite sure how to respond to it. I mean, maybe it’s true. Maybe Latinos were turned off of Romney (and the GOP) not because of his comments about self-deportation, or his lack of outreach to them, or this (from ABC/Univision):

Nationally, 74 percent of Latino voters said that Romney did not care about Latinos or was outwardly hostile to them, with a whopping 56 percent believing the latter. Compare that to what Latino voters thought of President Obama: 66 percent said he truly cares about Latinos.

But maybe RNS is right and the failure to crack 35 percent of the Latino vote — which one analysis says would have changed the outcome of the entire election — had something to do with social conservatism. Journalistically, though, it would be better to substantiate claims such as this about youth and Latinos rather than just assert it without any evidence.

This was an interesting election and one that, despite how narrowly divided the country is, had some decisive results with serious implications for religious adherents and the issues they care about. But it’s always good to proceed with caution when trying to make sense of why voters made the decisions they did.

Note: Please keep comments focused on media coverage as opposed to personal political preferences, etc.

Recriminations image via Shutterstock.

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  • FW Ken

    I’ve complained a couple of times about media obsession with religion and politics. They write the same story over and over: evangelicals “have problems with” Mormonism, it’s a cult, it’s not Christian, whatever. These stories all seem to end the same way: the evangelical will indeed vote for Gov. Romney. Incomprehensible!

    American Christians are largely able to integrate our faith values into our political choices without rancor. We don’t all agree about theology or policy. So what?

  • sari

    Most articles I read ignored religion entirely, preferring instead to concentrate on race and ethnicity and the divide between densely populated and less populated regions. Urban vs. rural doesn’t really cut it, since areas like S. Florida are really aggregates of small communities, not megapoli like NYC.

  • deacon john m. bresnahan

    I have seen no really good stories delving into how many people did NOT vote for Romney because of his Mormon religion. Was the anti-Mormon vote bigger or smaller than any anti-Black vote?? And was that 7% drop in the Catholic vote for Obama caused by just a drop in Obama’s vote among white Catholics while the vote for Obama went up among Latino Catholic???. And was there a big difference between the vote for Obama among Latino Evangelical Christians and Latino Catholics???
    With the negative attitude toward Romney among all Latinos–could a future huge and growing block of traditional “Values Voters” have been hidden in the statistics??? It is clear the mainstream media is using the election results as a means of haranguing the Republican Party into becoming a carbon copy of liberal Democrats on the social issues based on arguing that liberalism ( which only a decade or two ago would have been called extremist, but the media has done a good job of propagandizing) is the wave of the future on social issues.

  • deiseach

    Huh – I’d read headlines saying that Obama won because he picked up Catholic swing voters, but your reference is saying he lost Catholic voters?

    Unless he lost white Catholics but gained more non-white Catholics to make up for it – and now I’m confused as to whether Catholics are to be blamed/congratulated for Four More Years or not?

  • CarlH

    I don’t think that trying to “blame” any demographic (whether religious, ethnic, or anything else) helps the nation in the long-term. It only exacerbates the divisiveness that is truly a cancer to the well-being of the nation.

    That being said, focusing on “exit polls” misses another important point altogether. One of the graphics at the New York Times site linked by Mollie–the “President Map” has an option to shows voting shifts from 2008 to 2012 by county, using red arrows to show a higher percentage of Republican votes and blue arrows to show higher Democratic percentage. By scrolling over the arrows, actual vote totals are displayed. Say what you will but given what is pretty consistently a shift toward the GOP across the country, including in the very UN-red states, there is a pretty clear indication that a lot of Southern GOP voters just plain didn’t show up at the polls.

  • FW Ken

    Ted Seeber –

    Read my comment in context. It’s about the conflict that journalists often assume preclude civil relationships. Its why I, as a Catholic, can vote for, campaign for, and work for, a Mormon, with whom I have significant theological differences. Whether I should vote for, campaign for, or work for, any particular Mormon, is another matter, not germane at this site.

  • John M.

    CarlH–I was gobsmacked to learn today that Romney garnered fewer votes than McCain. His improvement in terms of percentages was because turnout was down. It looks like a lot of people sat this one out.


    • Mollie

      Actually, it’s always good to wait a few days until all the votes come in. Sometimes that means millions of outstanding ballots. FWIW.

  • Will

    Meanwhile, here Dan Halloran lost his bid for Congress. Has anyone brought up the “religion ghost” in a case where it is Democrats who make an issue of it?