Interesting, wasn’t it, that during the run-up to the midterm election we saw Tea Partiers bellowing from behind their placards rather than Jerry Falwell raging from the pulpit. We heard Sarah Palin’s warnings rather than D. James Kennedy’s jeremiads, or James Dobson’s stern pronouncements. As some of the lions of the Christian right pass and others fade, there was a sense that evangelical leaders may had abandoned politics and returned to the relative safety of their megachurches and denominational headquarters.
Election results suggest that instead only the style and strategy have changed. Exit polling showed that not only did the Republican wildfire spread throughout country but that the coalition of white evangelicals and Catholics that powered prior conservative success (before the youthful senator from Illinois split the alliance) fueled the 2010 inferno.
According to the results of an election-day survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for the Faith and Freedom Coalition, self-professed evangelicals and social conservatives made up the largest single voting bloc in the elections, casting 29 percent of the votes. Evangelicals had their highest turnout in history, up 5 percent from the previous high in 2006.
Fifty-two percent of voters who said they were part of the Tea Party movement also identified themselves as evangelicals.
Among all white voters who describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians — a group that includes Catholics and members of other faiths in addition to Protestants — 78% voted Republican in 2010, compared with 70% in the last midterm election, according to Pew Research. Churchgoers of all kinds tended to support the Republicans:
Voters who attend religious services regularly continued to support Republicans at much higher rates in 2010 than voters who attend worship services less often. Six-in-ten of those who attend religious services at least weekly voted for the Republican House candidate in their district, compared with 44% Republican support among those who attend religious services less often. Though changes in the exit poll question about religious attendance make direct comparisons with previous years impossible, previous analysis shows that frequency of worship attendance has been a remarkably strong and consistent predictor of the vote.
Among the 80 new Republicans headed to the House (includes all non-incumbents), American voters elected an estimated 70 new social conservatives. In the Senate, 10 of the 12 new Republicans heading to the US Senate will vote social conservative.
For those who have been yearning for evangelicals to expand their focus beyond the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage, this election may have shown that the expansion of government is an equally virulent issue.
Here’s the bottom line, says CBN’s David Brody:
Conservative Evangelicals see fiscal issues as moral issues. Does that mean the abortion and traditional marriage issues are a thing of the past? Hardly. It just means the focus right now is on runaway spending.
Thirty percent of voters said that abortion “affected” their vote, according to a poll conducted by the polling companyTM inc. Of that category, 22% of all voters voted for pro-life candidates, while only 8 percent of all voters voted for pro-abortion candidates. That gave pro-life candidates a net pro-life advantage of 14 percent. This is the kind of advantage that is invaluable in tough races. National Right to Life PAC supported 285 federal candidates nationwide. Of those, 82% (235) won their races. In the most competitive races, National Right to Life PAC actively worked in 122 federal races nationwide. Of those, 74% (84) won, and nine elections are still undecided. The PAC did this while being vastly outspent.
Pro-life candidates also made a massive sweep of U.S. governor’s races. Pro-life-endorsed candidates picked up 12 governorships, and retained control of 9 governorships.
Some of the damage to Democrat fortunes among Christians may be self-inflected, says Democrat strategist Eric Sapp, who in 2008 co-founded the Eleison Group with Clinton staffer Burns Strider. Sapp explains that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee decided to make faith outreach a key component in the 2008 election. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton expanded on the work as Democrats swept into office by huge margins. Sapp says:
“Once Democrats took power, instead of building on our success, we went back to the political strategies that had failed us in the past,” Sapp observed. “Funding and staff were routed away from faith-and-values work and directed almost exclusively into base turnout. And the results were disastrous.” Compared to 2006, Sapp said nationally this year Democrats saw a 14-point drop in white Protestant support, another 14-point drop with white evangelicals and a 20-point decline with Catholics.
Electoral victory doesn’t assure that the wishes of Christian conservatives will be taken seriously, of course. And many if not most of the Republicans who have been swept into office have little knowledge of the full range of issues of concern to evangelicals. If we could conduct a survey of new members of congress this morning, most would cite the recalibration of economics as the reason voters sent them to Washington. Fewer would mention pro-life or other issues of concern to social conservatives. And fewer still would understand the full agenda of evangelicals and many Christian conservatives, which include balanced but effective environmental policy, opportunity and fairness for the poor, involvement in making clean water available around the world, slowing the advance of AIDS in Africa, and even a compassionate immigration policy.
There will need to be a strong effort to bring a robust Christian agenda to the attention of the new Congress. According to the polling of those who swept Republicans back into power, the evangelical bloc deserves as much of the attention of lawmakers as anyone, including the Tea Party.