(CNN)It’s an axiom in American politics, duly repeated every four years: Evangelicals are the country’s biggest and most powerful religious voting bloc, especially during the GOP primaries.
Like many political axioms, though, it papers over a complex reality.
Yes, evangelicals represent a large slice of the electorate, especially in states that vote early in the campaign calendar. In 2012, 57% of people who participated in the Iowa presidential caucusesidentified as “born again” or evangelical. This year, evangelicals are again predicted to make up a majority of GOP primary voters in a slew of states that vote by early March.
But evangelicals rarely vote as a bloc, especially in the primaries. They disagree not only on the candidates but also on more basic principles like how active Christians should be in partisan politics.
“The problem is that many secular people think that all evangelicals are alike, when there are multiple streams and theological and generational divides within evangelicalism,” said Russell Moore, a leading Southern Baptist.
With the help of experts, we counted seven ways evangelicals approach politics. How well the GOP candidates court each camp could determine their fate in the primaries.
1. Old guard like Dobson — Cruz
2. Institutional like Warren — Rubio
3. Entrepreneurial like Paula White — Trump
4. Arm’s length like Piper and Keller — Rubio
5. Millennial like Johnnie Moore — undecided
6. Liberal like Jim Wallis — Democrat
7. Cultural, who don’t attend church — Trump
There is something of value here, though not rooted in social scientific evidence but in impressions on the basis of writing about this group for years, and Burke fits the bill. I would add two comments, but welcome your contributions:
1. Evangelicalism is best split along lines of South vs. North. Southern evangelicals, and those shaped by Southern evangelicalism, are more politically conservative and more inclined to be cultural warriors. Northern evangelicals are more diverse, less cultural warriors, and more inclined to mixed political orientations.
2. That #6 is more substantial than Burke lets on. There is an increasing number of evangelicals — in name, in church attendance, in Bible reading, in theology — who are more liberal in politics. And this number is growing significantly. They are social justice, globalization evangelicals.