January 4th, 2012
12:10 AM ET

My Take: Iowa caucus results puncture myth of 'evangelical vote'

Editor's Note: Ralph Reed is founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

By Ralph Reed, Special to CNN

(CNN)–One of the most important sub-plots in the Iowa caucuses was which candidate would win the support of Iowa’s evangelical voters, who comprised 60 percent of the vote in 2008, and according to the CNN entrance poll, comprised 58% of the vote Tuesday night.

In the media’s instant analysis, a “splintering” of Iowa's evangelical vote among numerous candidates made it difficult for them to influence the selection of the Republican presidential nominee.

But this narrative is based on a caricature of evangelicals and other voters of faith. Consider this: 61% of self-identified evangelicals who attended a caucus Tuesday night in Iowa voted for a candidate who is either Roman Catholic (Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum) or Mormon (Mitt Romney, who won the caucuses, besting Santorum by eight votes ).

Here's how the evangelical vote broke down: 32% for Santorum, 18% for Ron Paul, 13% each for Romney, Gingrich and Rick Perry, 6% for Michele Bachmann and 1% for Jon Huntsman.

This suggests a more nuanced and complex portrait of voters of faith. They are often crudely portrayed as voting based solely on identity politics, born suckers for quotes from Scripture or “code words” laced in the speeches of candidates appealing to their spiritual beliefs.

Evangelical voters, it turns out, are a more sophisticated bunch, judging candidates on a broad continuum of considerations from their personal faith and character to leadership attributes and electability.

There is a story out of Iowa - a story about a faith community that has matured beyond voting for the “most evangelical” candidate as a “statement” and takes seriously the responsibility of electing someone to occupy the Oval Office at a time of great national testing.

The same is true of Tea Party voters, women voters, or other subgroups within the electorate. None is breaking overwhelmingly for a single candidate, primarily because so many candidates have made credible appeals for their support, and because there is no single consensus front-runner.

The truth is that evangelical vote has never been monolithic. Pat Robertson won strong support from his coreligionists in Iowa in 1988, catapulting his candidacy to national prominence, but still lost the caucuses to Bob Dole, and lost the evangelical vote to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in South Carolina.

George W. Bush won a third of the evangelical vote in Iowa in 2000, splitting that vote with Steve Forbes and more explicitly social conservative candidates like Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes. These voters march to their own drummer. They don’t bleat like sheep or move in herds, and they rarely respond en masse to endorsements.

This point is underscored by the entrance poll, which found that 42% of caucus-attenders list the economy as the number one issue in determining their vote, and 34% cite the budget deficit; only 14% listed abortion.

This is not to suggest that social issues are unimportant. No candidate can be competitive in Iowa (or beyond) without conservative credentials on the cultural agenda. Indeed, Santorum’s surge was in part a response to his deftly weaving the economic and social agendas together, arguing that it is impossible to have a vibrant economy without strong families.

It does suggest, as Kimberly Strassel recently observed in The Wall Street Journal, that evangelicals are embedded in the social and economic mainstream of American life and, as such, are motivated by a broad range of concerns, including jobs, taxes, the debt, and national security.

So when commentators prognosticate about the “evangelical vote,” we might want to ask them, “which one?” For there are there are many evangelical votes, many candidates who win their support, and a multitude of motivations for their engagement in the rough-and-tumble of American politics.

This is all to the good. It demonstrates that their civic involvement is a cause for celebration, not alarm, a sign of the health of our political system, not that it suffers from an anti-democratic or sectarian impulse.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ralph Reed.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Iowa • Opinion • Politics

soundoff (987 Responses)
  1. YeahRight

    Get real, Ralph. It's just obvious to evangelicals that none of the candidates is really one of them. They were forced to pick based on other characteristics this time. That doesn't mean they're done being sheep.

    January 4, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Jesus

      Their expected choice for evangelicals was supposed to be between Santorum, Perry, or Bachmann....all bible thumpers. The evangelical vote broke down to 32% for Santorum, 18% for Ron Paul, 13% each for Romney, Gingrich and Rick Perry, 6% for Michele Bachmann and 1%. The big winner was Paul who didn't kowtow to evangelicals as much as the others and still got a hefty note tally. Romney played the family values card bigtime, bringing in his wife and kids to campaign and it worked! Perry was the big loser here. The real question is, how will these GOPers do in the South?

      January 4, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  2. Guinness

    "Evangelical voters, it turns out, are a more sophisticated bunch....." Really? With Santorum getting 32% of the vote? Most states this guy would finish dead last but the fact that he got 32% of the vote because he's a self-described "family values" guy says a lot about what's important to evangelicals. So when the Euro crashes and drags our economy down further what's he going to do as president – blame the gays in Greece?

    January 4, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • OrthodoxGuy

      Family values are important. They help to show the type of character someone has. Newt Gingrich, for example, really cannot call himself Christian without being a complete and utter liar. He's been divorced what now.. twice? Married 3 times? In the Church, you can get married once. Period. Anything other than that is Adultery.

      I don't know if Santorum has ever cheated on his wife. He's a politician, so probably. I'm looking at Ron Paul as the real answer.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • pat carr

      Family values are important.. Too bad the GOP doesn't have any (except for hypocritical posturing)

      January 4, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  3. PoBoy

    Rarely believe anything that Ralph Reed says, but he is dead on with this one. People vote their self-interest first, and everything else second. You might say that for Christians that should be their religion. True, but you can't eat or pay bills with religion!

    January 4, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Doug

      You can if you're the church. People give money to you.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Innocent

      Yet you can feed the soul, calm your heart, and create a foundation that allows you to weather the wiles of the world with a strong sense of self and destination. I know few religious people who stay poor for long, and fewer still who do not pull themselves up with the aid of Christ or whomever they hold to be their sacred trust. Religion spawns from the same place within each of us, it is the recognition that there is something more than what we see with our eyes, a sensation that there is more to life then the carnal realization, something greater that lies just beyond reach that we will ultimately obtain.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • ChestnutMay

      I agree that people get strength from their faith, but the idea that most religious people pull themselves out of poverty is simply wrong. This country is full of the working poor who are religious. Many Hispanics working for minimum wage are devout Catholics. Many African Americans, again working for minimum wage, are devout Baptists.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  4. JOE

    I guess Ms. Bachmann finally realized that blatant bigotry and racism will only get you so far in America. She stood a better chance telling the American people what she has to offer rather than discriminating against and disrespecting our President. And to make things worst, she started having dinners with that Hitler youth Donald Trump who started putting more Arien ideas into her tiny little nutshell of a brain. Good to see you go Ms. Bachmann.

    January 4, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  5. Drobatin

    "None is breaking overwhelmingly for a single candidate, primarily because so many candidates have made credible appeals for their support, and because there is no single consensus front-runner." Maybe it's more like this: Primarily because when everyone sucks, it's hard to choose who sucks the least.

    January 4, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • OrthodoxGuy


      My vote at this point is Ron Paul. He SEEMS to be the least insane of all the nutjobs.

      January 4, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  6. OrionStyles

    Heh, if any of these voters knew the basic tenets of the Mormon religion, they would run in the other direction.

    I mean some of the stuff is beyond whack job crazy, even by religious standards.

    January 4, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • OrthodoxGuy


      Religious standards aren't necessarily bad. What's bad about "love each other, look out for each other, help each other?"

      January 4, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • OrionStyles

      You don't need religion to understand that being selfishly-altruistic (win win) is the best way to improve your lot in life.

      You definitely don't need to teach kids to fear being judged by Joseph Smith in order get them to follow the herd, even when in conflict with the above.

      January 4, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • OrthodoxGuy

      Spirituality is the basis for values. Without it, the people had no values. Admittedly, the majority still do not, but those of us that try everything we can to live up to the example Jesus left, we do.

      January 4, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • ronbry

      The tenets of any religion can be "whack job crazy" if you don't understand them in the context and perspective of their basic beliefs. Would you exclude anyone who is religious?

      January 4, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • deserttripper

      The "Christian standards" being discussed may have something to do with the prevailing belief in mainstream Christianity: the belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie who is his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and drink his blood, and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat fruit from a magical tree.

      Mormons aren't too much further out than that. Their main thing is that, instead of supplicating before God/Jesus for eternity, you get to become gods of your very own own world upon death if you give a life of service to the church and perform temple ceremonies. Not a bad afterlife if you ask me...

      January 4, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • OrthodoxGuy


      Please stay on topic. This is not the place or time for vitriol.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • HellBent

      @deserttripper – if you're Catholic, there's nothing symbolic about drinking blood or eating flesh.

      @OrthodoxGuy – I don't see any vitriol. Pointing out the absurdities of a particular belief is not hateful.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Innocent

      Actually the tenets of belief in the Mormon faith are fairly interesting. Imagine if you will given enough time, what is man kinds ultimate potential? Imagine what the world will be like, the solar system, the universe as we unlock the mysteries of life and create a process by which we can never die. What would you describe a being who lives forever, figures out how to manipulate time, space, and the like, can conceive and create life, biological or otherwise etc... Yes Mormons believe that in time they will grow to be like 'God' but is not the human race on that pathway anyway?

      January 4, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • OrionStyles

      See, this is actually the problem... "spirituality is the basis for values".

      Religion has everyone convinced that without faith in something untrue, mankind is one step away from nihilistic self-annihilation because, in such a case, what's the point of life?

      Now we are in a very bad position, because most of the values in Religion are incompatible with progressing as a species and are scientifically incorrect. There is also a social rift looming as the religious try to dictate what morality is to those who are outgrowing the usefulness of religion.

      From a democratic perspective, this is a big problem when leaders flog religion for votes because they are either 1) True believers or 2) False believers pretending to be true believers

      In both cases, we end up with people who are unfit to lead, because they are either flat out wrong about the human condition, or they are completely unethical.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  7. OrthodoxGuy

    When it comes to the elections, I don't honestly believe that ANY politician has faith in anything other than their ability to make money and snowball the public. I don't consider their supposed religious beliefs because I know they don't live by them. They committ adultery, they committ fraud, they lie, they cheat the system... You name it, they do it, and it's against God's laws. Not to mention man's laws, which God said to follow. I'm not entirely certain our method of leadership selection even works anymore.

    January 4, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • rob

      Amen bro no truer wodrs wer ever spoken!

      January 4, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  8. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Praying works.
    God loves us.
    He loves me more.

    January 4, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Al

      What? You think that spreading around religious ignorance is good? Imagine how much farther along we'd be if it were not for mythology holding us back through the centuries. Funny how the more secular societies have fewer police, fewer jails and a better quality of life.

      January 4, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • LivinginVA

      See, it's the "He loves me more" that causes problems. What arrogance it takes to make that statement.

      January 4, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Joe Rioux


      January 4, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Doug

      Are you implying that my two children, two cats, and two dogs are unhealthy?

      January 4, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • deserttripper

      As a nearly-recovered product of the evangelical Christian (Seventh-Day Adventist) Bible mill, I must assert that the opposite is true. A number people I know who are former Adventists have major psychological issues associated with the endless brainwashing that is part of the evangelical upbringing. Evangelism and fanaticism are not good for one's mental well-being.

      And pray, pray, pray... I like George Carlin's description the best: There's an all-powerful, all-knowing God with a master plan for the universe. Along comes you, a tiny speck in His mighty creation, asking him to change his plan, just for you!

      An even more logical explanation for prayer: Answers to prayer are about in line with random chance.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  9. Roland

    Poor Ralph Reed... still struggling for relevance... still pretending that bigotry and hatred are actually "Christian Love".

    January 4, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • rob

      There is something so SNEAKY in his smile. I always thought Ralph Reed was hiding a DIRTY little secret!

      January 4, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  10. OrthodoxGuy

    I don't care what Hitler said. He was not a true Christian, otherwise instead of murder and mayhem and war, he would have given peace, charity and unity. There was nothing Christian about Adolf Hitler.

    January 4, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Roland

      And if American Evangelicals were true Christians they would seek to change the world by being examples of peace and tolerance, rather than through war and legislating morality.

      January 4, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • leciat

      hitler a christain? yeah that's why he declared nazism the state religion and had the bible was replaced by mein kampf in the schools

      January 4, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • rob

      Not so fast OrthodoxGuy: Remember the devil can quote scripture

      January 4, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • BHL

      Ten Steps to Sun Day – read it 🙂

      January 4, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • HellBent

      @OrthodoxGuy – you're committing the No True Scottsman fallacy.

      @leciat – references? I'm happy to provide plenty of quotes from the man himself stating that he was, indeed, a xtian.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • deserttripper

      What about the Catholic Church during the dark ages? The Crusades? The Spanish Inquisition? The persecutors of Galileo and other scientists, holding back technological advances for centuries? The "padres" who subjugated and enslaved Native Americans? All those people bore crosses and declared themselves Christians. Christianity has been responsible for many more deaths through its history than Hitler caused.

      But the Christian genocides were done "in the name of God..." so that makes them okay.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Aaron

      Gott mit uns.

      January 4, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  11. Portland tony

    If it wasn't for the press coverage, Iowans would just be known as "voters", not radical fanatical religious zealots which they are not.

    January 4, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Bob

      58% are evangelicals, so yes that makes the majority of Iowans religious nutjobs.

      January 4, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • anchorite

      Santorum said he would ban birth control and attack Muslims just because they're Muslims. The fact that he could get any votes at all in the GOP primary means Iowans are religious fanatics.

      January 4, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • stainedglassreflections

      Bob, stereotype much? As an evangelical about to earn a Ph.D., I can personally attest to the fact that most of caricatures of evangelicals in popular culture are completely untrue. There are people who spew vitriol on every side of an issue, but most Christians I have the honor to know are decent and kind people. I'm sorry if your experience has been otherwise.

      January 4, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • leciat

      so true

      January 4, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Doug

      I am so ashamed of my fellow Iowans that I will not admit that I actually live there....

      January 4, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Doug

      stainedglass – Considering I live near a lot of bible pounding christians, I can say you're interpretations and understandings are only due to your view coinciding with theirs. Try having a differing opinion..... You'd change your tune quickly.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  12. Bob

    Speaking of "puncturing myths", what was that evidence that you said you had for the existence of your nasty, eternal-torturing Christian sky fairy again?

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Be free of religion in 2012.

    January 4, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Bram

      Nice straw man argument Bob, no points for you. Name calling and poking fun doesn't convince me you can give a constructive, thought out case to support your view either. But what should I expect form someone rattling his jaw behind his computer in the comments section?

      January 4, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Doug

      Well, bram. Do you deny it? Do you mean to say your god provides limbs for amputees? Do they get restored function? Call it whatever name you want, the fact stands. God hates amputees.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  13. Dixie AZ

    I sympathize with the death of Santorum's son, but anyone who takes a dead body home to his children creeps me out.

    January 4, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • LostNomad

      Read "As I Lay Dying" by William Faulkner.

      January 4, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Rstartzel


      January 4, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  14. Cee Lo Green

    I enjoy doo doo being tossed in my face.

    January 4, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  15. hippypoet

    faith should not play a part in choosing the leader of a country such as ours. What kind of message does that send – we are a country of religious tolerlence but yet can't seem to elect any other religious belief or lack there of to the sit of power... we are a country of fronting masked morons who express tolerlance to your face then when at home are nothing but intolerant of outside things and ideas including you and yours! I think its high time for all who believe in a god should all walk backwards where ever they go.. they being @ss backwards people anyway – this way they get to walk like they talk....and its a new experience for them! yay for learning. 🙂

    January 4, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • JulieMS

      For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  16. WOT

    Oh, get real, what is 8 votes(other than a win)NOTHING!

    January 4, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  17. Reality

    Why the Christian Right no longer matters in presidential elections:

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country "ain't" going to help a "pro-life" presidential candidate, i.e Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Newton Leroy Gingrich, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum, in 2012 as the "Immoral Majority" rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The "Immoral Majority" you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the "Stupid Majority"?)
    (The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.)

    January 4, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • Doug

      forget that... abort 'em all!

      January 4, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  18. JohnR

    So I'd like to see how many of the Christians with persecution complexes will say that CNN has an openly anti-Christian bias in article selection after this piece by Ralph Reed.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:32 am |
  19. Media Customer A-320430B23382C65408P

    I feel the need to say just one thing here:
    I hate Ralph Reed. It's like giving Osama binLaden article space.
    You can do it, as we can see right here, but it makes CNN look like a POS media conglomerate that has no professional ethics. Like FoxNews.
    But I'm guessing the feeling is mutual at times, so enjoy your lulz, CNN, just like any random jerk would enjoy them.

    January 4, 2012 at 1:59 am |


    January 4, 2012 at 12:46 am |

      Not really. He was really his own brand of mystic/pagan/semi-Christian, and it really played no role in his atrocities. Similarly, Stalin's atrocities had almost nothing to do with his atheism and everything to do with his paranoia and his need for total political control. While Hitler had far more religious victims than all of Communism, the Jews were seen in racial terms for more than in religious terms.

      How about we dump Hitler and Stalin from the debates here, because they are both fraudulent arguments.

      January 4, 2012 at 3:34 am |
    • Sampson

      Nazi fascism was very religion-based. Just because Hitler -may- have been devoutly Christian, pagan, or atheist, does not change the fact that almost all of his followers and soldiers were devout Christians themselves.
      The Catholic Church actually helped Hitler in many ways, and helped hide many Nazi war criminals after the war.
      The whole history of persecution the Jews experienced in the last 2000 years is dominated by the Catholic Church's use of anti-Jew propaganda and subsequent pogroms, massacres, mass "conversions" under threat of death and torture, the Inquisition, the Crusades, and so on. The Catholic Church's anti-Jew agenda was behind the Nazi anti-Jew ideology.
      Hitler, a Catholic, used that in his attempts to conquer Europe. Germany wanted to spread German Catholic and Lutheran Christianity across Europe. The Aryan-supremacist ideology fit very smoothly into the religious dogma of German Christians, with the help of the Catholic Church and the Lutheran "Brotherhood" thanks to the melodramatic and clearly distorted accounts of the "Jews" all swearing to accept the "guilt" for the taking of "Jesus'" life.
      No one is going to say such stupid things, much less a whole crowd, nor could they represent their "race", yet they are still viewed as "Christ-killers" by many Christians. The lies are in every Bible.
      Very few if any knew what was secretly behind Hitler's motivations. But he didn't contradict anyone who hated Jews, most of whom were Christians, so it is probable that he would have given his "Christian" support to any agenda, as most of Germany was Christian at the time.
      Here we run into the problem of someone claiming to be a Christian many times in his life. Without a way of proving that they are lying about "believing", they can pretend and do all the right things. No one can measure sincerity, as it is easily faked.
      Thus, even the Pope could be a secret atheist, running his criminal organization from within Italy, the old seat of the Roman Empire. The Catholic Church has, as one of its tenets, "god's" own command to conquer the Earth with Christianity.
      When Nazi Germany furthered these aims, who cared about a few million "Christ-killers" that had been the death-target of the Church for so many centuries?
      The Pope during WW2 said nothing...not a damn thing..against Nazi Germany during the war.
      Now what does it matter the actual belief of the people involved running the show?
      Not much. They let the religion do most of the work. And that religion was Christianity and nationalism.
      The soldiers were robots. Sheep. They had stylish uniforms and thought Jesus favored them against his "killers."
      The Reagans used astrologers to tell them their fortunes. Kind of pagan, right?
      Christianity often allows such "minor" deviancy from the orthodox. Hitler could have done that too and remained devout, or he could have been worshiping Odin the All-Father in a back room between signing anti-Jew orders to the troops and attending Mass in his private chapel.
      So, yes, we could avoid talking about him, but that would be sticking our heads in the sand.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:16 am |
    • derp

      "and it really played no role in his atrocities"

      Really? So when Hitler said......

      "The personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew."

      Or when he said.....

      “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

      his religious beliefs had nothing to do with his massacring millions of jews, because they were evil incarnate based on his Christian religious beliefs.

      Hitler executed Jews, gays, immigrants, muslims and atheists. The only people he did not summarily execute were white christians.

      But no, of course not, religion certainly played no part in that.

      January 4, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • JulieMS

      You are deceived and believe in a lie.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.