Some folks are taking the Alabama Senate election results as another way to damage evangelicals’ already dented reputation. (Some people refer to this jumping on the bandwagon as confirmation bias.) Once the 81 percent voted for Trump, evangelicals have no chance of walking back from their objectionable 2016 performance. John Fea is pithy in his observation about Doug Jones’ defeat of Roy Moore:
In my view, the “values voters” in this election were non-evangelicals and African-American evangelicals. The embarrassment for white evangelicals continues.
But since most aspects of human existence are complicated, why can’t evangelicals be that too?
W. James Antle III recognizes that evangelicals have had conflicted motives in their political strategy:
The so-called religious right has always had a variety of competing motives for its political involvement. Some view politics as a defensive, to protect their freedom. Others have sought to moralize, even Christianize, the culture. Still others are concerned with transcendent moral issues, like protecting unborn children from abortion.
In the past, those differing motives could coexist easily. The same political movement could protect Christians’ religious liberty and defend Christianity’s special place in American culture. Now if there is not a conflict, there is at least a tension, especially as conservative Christians’ freedom of conscience begins to clash with discrimination laws as they are applied to new protected classes.
At the same time, evangelical voters did not have an obvious choice in voting for Doug Jones. Jake Meador writes:
But there is also a message here for the Democrats: You trotted out a relentlessly pro-choice candidate to run against a pedophile. And you won. But one of the main reasons you won is because principled pro-life voters couldn’t bring themselves to support Moore. If the GOP trots out anyone besides Roy Moore, this isn’t a close election.
Even the Roman Catholic pro-Democrat op-ed writer, Michael Sean Winters, admits the choice between Moore and Jones was a some-brainer:
The idea that Alabama would elect a man who had been credibly accused of child molestation would strike most people as preposterous. The idea that Alabama would elect a pro-choice Democrat was almost equally preposterous. Yet, that was the choice. As Chuck Todd noted on “Meet the Press” Sunday, if Jones had been a pro-life Democrat, like Gov. Jon Bel Edwards in nearby Louisiana, this race would not have even been close: Jones would have been ahead by 30 points.
Democrats continue to misunderstand the abortion issue: Last night, Tom Perez continually referred, negatively, to “single issue voters” but abortion is not just one issue. It is a signpost for an entire worldview, and it is such to both liberals and conservatives. Look at this essay by Jessica Winter in The New Yorker. Could a commentary be more tone deaf to the moral concerns many of us hold about abortion? For example, she states: “It is now beyond cliché to point out that, as espoused by the Republican Party, the pro-life position is more precisely described as pro-birth.” Pro-birth? Is anyone opposed to birth? Does Winter not know any couples who have struggled to have a child and wonder how this clunky hyphenated expression would ring in their ears?
In Alabama, Moore held a small edge among white women with college degrees and a roughly 25-point lead among white men with college degrees. Moore led by almost 50 points among white women without degrees and by 60 points among white men without college degrees.
The divide is notably stark, but Jones still did not prevail among any of these four groups. In 2016, the national exit poll found Hillary Clinton won white women with college degrees by a 51 to 44 percent margin, despite losing to Trump in the Electoral College.
Why not age?
Alabama voters ages 18 to 44 supported Jones by a roughly 20-point margin over Moore, marking a stark shift from 2012 when Mitt Romney won voters under 45 by a small margin.
Moore led among older voters, especially seniors, who favored him over Jones by about 20 points.
And then, there’s abortion:
A slight majority of Alabama voters said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, and Moore garnered more than 7 in 10 votes among that group. Jones won more than 8 in 10 votes among the roughly 4 in 10 voters who said abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Granted, voters (religious and otherwise) weigh candidates differently depending on factors. But the scholars who analyze the data do not possess so finely calibrated a scale. Trump is bad. Yes. Moore is bad. Yes. Evangelicals vote for Trump and Moore, therefore evangelicals are bad. Never mind that the candidates on the other side of the ballot are bad. Never mind because that’s impossible.
When it comes to evangelicals and their critics, only black and white are possible. After all if Amy Davidson Sorkin can write this about Republicans, imagine what she’d do with evangelicals:
The corruption of the Republican Party is not, or is not simply, one of tolerating candidates with personal flaws. (The Democrats have a measure of that, too.) It has been ideological. Doug Jones, with his hard-fought campaign, saved the Republicans from having to sit next to a gaudy incarnation of the present-day G.O.P. in the Senate chamber. But the ugliness is still there, and the Republicans can choose either to confront it or to debase themselves further.
That’s the sort of analysis that James Dobson and Pat Robertson used to offer.