Spiritual hunches vs. math: How not to predict the outcome of an election

According to Glenn Beck and David Barton, those who are “spiritually attuned” were calling the race for Romney. Something was obviously off there. This is a great example of how wishful thinking can bias one’s attributions.


In addition to the outcome of the election, this helpful Christianity Today summary of evangelical/born again voters demonstrates that the hunches were off. Evangelical vote for the GOP moved up slightly in some states and declined in others. On balance, it doesn’t appear that all the effort made much difference. In the past, I have questioned the politicization of local churches on theological grounds; now I think there is reason to question it on pragmatic grounds.

On another note, David Barton compares his partnership with Mormon Glenn Beck to the George Whitefield revivals before the Revolutionary War. Somehow I can’t see Whitefield partnering with the heterodox beliefs which characterize the LDS church.  While he was kind in his criticisms, Whitefield clearly and publicly confronted what  he considered to be error (e.g., this letter to John Wesley).

In my view, Barton confuses political movements with spiritual movements. He compares the GOP coalition working for Romney to the religious revivals of years gone by. Those were spiritual events which had as their aim personal salvation. Any political benefits were secondary. What Barton works for is the use of the church for political ends.

Barton was right about one thing – he said at 9:45 into the clip that the night was not going to go long before calling a winner. However, Beck and Barton called it at 320 or 330 electoral votes for Romney. My point is not to fault them for being wrong. A lot of smart people were wrong. However, it is the way one makes attributions that I am highlighting. I got a lot closer to the correct outcome by following the math (polling data). Many others discounted the clear polling evidence and were biased by what they wanted to happen. Going forward, I hope those leading the GOP will look at the numbers (e.g., exit polls, electoral math, erosion of support for divisiveness on social issues) instead of engaging in wishful thinking.


"John 3:19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved ..."

Fact and Fiction in Ravi Zacharias’ ..."
"Yes, that's pretty much what I'm talking about."

Fact and Fiction in Ravi Zacharias’ ..."
"Its because we get in there and find out what makes ourselves tick. And we ..."

Fact and Fiction in Ravi Zacharias’ ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Bernie

    Funny, I felt “spiritually attuned”, and I called it right. With the exception of Bachmann, I don’t understand what happened there. I must be losing my touch in my old age, LOL!

  • ken

    “those who are “spiritually attuned” were calling the race for Romney. Something was obviously off there.”

    Or maybe it means the voices they were hearing weren’t actually from God.

    I was a bit surprised the Fox News actually called the election for Obama before CNN did. Although, Karl Rove was arguing about why they gave Ohio to Obama with only about 51% of the vote in.

  • James Ferguson

    Like so many pundits they simply chose to ignore the statewide polls. They just kept looking at the national tracking polls, and wishing Romney would pull it out in the end. It was closer than I thought, but I had the states pretty much right.

  • Lynn David

    I just watched Beck on his TV show, The Blaze. He specifically point out how wrong he was, of course. But then he went on to talk about the election in spiritual terms stating that ‘half of America is in darkness.’ The whole hour was less about politics and more about a spiritual response. Though I guess if you’re the loser you have to buck up your spirits. But Beck was putting those who backed Obama on the side of the devil – although not in those terms. Politically-wise he did mention that he thought it was time for the tea party (teavangelists) to separate themselves from the Republican party. Beck was somewhat dismissive and derisive of people like Karl Rove and other Republican pundits. And he seems to think that a far-right, almost-dominionist group as he hopes the tea party should be can draw more votes in America than a party which appeals to the center. He said he was discussing that with the folks at Freedom Works.

  • JCF

    But then he went on to talk about the election in spiritual terms stating that ‘half of America is in darkness.’

    Romney’s “47%” on Satanic steroids! :-X

  • Richard Willmer

    Isaiah 55 : 8

    (It applies to all of us, of course – not just the hapless Barton. Those who take this fragment of scripture seriously are on the first step towards “spitirual attunement”.)

  • Boo

    “Metatron acts as the voice of God. Any documented occasion when some yahoo claims God has spoken to them, they’re speaking to me. Or they’re talking to themselves.”


  • Richard Willmer

    Warren says in his post:-

    “In the past, I have questioned the politicization of local churches on theological grounds; now I think there is reason to question it on pragmatic grounds.”

    “Quite rightly” and “I agree”, would be my responses. And I would go further: the ‘politicization’ of the wider Church is also something ‘to be questioned’; so much wrong has come of it down the years – from wars (“God is on my side”) to child abuse (“we should not question or challenge the actions of our priests / elders / ecclesiastical authority figures”) to oppression and exploitation (religious ‘justification’ of such disgusting evils as slavery). The principal ethic of the Church must surely be Service (the meaning of the Greek word that gives the word ‘liturgy’ in English).

  • Lynn David

    Warren…. as a psychologist this should interest you:


  • Given George Whitefield’s role in legalizing slavery in Georgia after it had been abolished some decades earlier, I’m not sure I would want to compare myself with him…but I’m not David Barton.

  • Patrocles

    May I correct two misspellings?

    Dear Dr. Throckmorton,

    as I understand it, you think that personal salvation shouldn’t have anything to do with politics.

    Do you want to say that personal salvation has nothing to do with private life (if I’m reborn or not, that doesn’t lead me any way when I decide about my private way of life)?

    Or do you want to say that private life has nothing to do with politics (how I want to live that shouldn’t lead my way of voting)?

  • The Official Line is likely to be that Romney really did win – but there was electoral fraud. It’s the only possible explanation for the results – in their minds.

  • And meanwhile… to punish those who voted for same-sex marriage… and their supporters…

    During the call, one participant cited Starbucks, which endorsed gay marriage legalization in Washington, and General Mills, which spoke out against the proposed gay marriage ban in Minnesota. The participant asked what could be done “to stop the wave of corporate sponsorship of gay marriage.”

    “Their international outreach is where we can have the most effect,” Brown said. “So for example, in Qatar, in the Middle East, we’ve begun working to make sure that there’s some price to be paid for this. These are not countries that look kindly on same-sex marriage. And this is where Starbucks wants to expand, as well as India. So we have done some of this; we’ve got to do a lot more.”

    We’ll see even more firebombings and lynchings.

    I’d never actually believed the rumours of links between NOM and the more militant arm of the RSS, let alone Islamist groups. Silly me.

  • Richard Willmer

    @ Patrocles

    I take the view that ‘politicization’ is not the same thing as ‘polity’. Of course, as a Christian with a Catholic understanding of the (core principals of the) Faith, I see the ‘personal’ and the (in the broad sense of the word) ‘political’ as being being profoundly intertwined.

    The problems arise when the Church becomes a vehicle of power politics, and people’s consciences are being ‘overridden’ by a ‘party line’. When this happens, the principles of Christ can so easily be replaced by those of the concentration camp.

  • Patrocles


    Of course, I don’t want genuine Christian concerns be “overridden” by a party line.

    On the other hand, I suppose that most of us would accept that abortion or gay marrriage are genuine (even if perhaps misleaded) religious concerns which tend to override the Republican Party, not the other way round.

    And I suppose that Dr. Throckmorton’s problem is just this: How far may even genuine religious concerns be impressed on national politics? He stems from a line of Christianity which lacks the Catholic intellectual tradition and has to struggle through that without much help from his church – we may help him just by asking the hard questions!

  • Whitefield “partnered” with the notoriously deistic Ben Franklin [who was his admirer, friend and publisher]. The Barton/Beck thing seems to be in the same zone–it’s hard to see Whitefield objecting.


    “Benjamin Franklin became an enthusiastic supporter of one of America’s great evangelical ministers, George Whitefield,“the most popular of the Great Awakening’s roving preachers.” Franklin did not subscribe to Whitefield’s theology, but he admired Whitefield for exhorting people to worship God through good works. Franklin printed Whitefield’s sermons on the front page of his Gazette, devoting 45 issues to Whitefield’s activities. Franklin used the power of his press to spread Whitefield’s fame by publishing all of Whitefield’s sermons and journals. Half of Franklin’s publications in 1739-1741 were of Whitefield, and helped promote the evangelical movement in America. Franklin was a lifelong friend and supporter of Whitefield, until his death in 1770.”