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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. Enlightened4

    Evangelicals may have lost their first Love in Iowa, but that is NOT the case in the rest of the country. Who in their right mind would ever believe that 0.8% of the population of Iowa means anything significant? That's 99.2% of the population that didn't vote. What a sham the GOP put on and the News media didn't figure it out? Romney's attack ads render him unfit to represent the country. He's playing in Obama's backyard where values and ethics mean NOTHING. One thing he can't buy is character or class. Perry is the only man standing with both.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • haha

      Hahaha.. Hahahahah..
      Oh wait, let me collect my thoughts about how stupid your thoughts there are..
      Hahaha.. Hahahahah..
      Hahaha.. Hahahahah..
      Hahaha.. Hahahahah..

      January 4, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Observer

      Speaking of CLASS, Obama said he'd not make any personal attacks during the last campaign and kept his word. McCain and Palin didn't have that much class and current Republican contenders don't either.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Cawtton Tawp

      You are probably right.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • Jake

      Obama never made any personal attacks during his campaign. Sure he derrided Bush for his policies, but never once did he question anyone on their religion or whether or not their qualified to be president. That's what so-called conservatives did with their little "pass-it-on" emails. They called Obama the anti-Christ, Muslim, Keynian anti-colonial racist and everything else. Last time I checked, according to the Bible, slandering someone is a sin.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  2. anonymous

    I take what Ralph Reed says with a grain of salt.... he is one of the people who helped create divisiveness and extremism.... so, of course, he wants to portray evangelicals in a positive light....

    January 4, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  3. Observer

    We just had a president who "talks to God all the time". Based on the long list of Bush's failures, it doesn't look like it did much good.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  4. Ken in MO

    One more thing. The Pope said that Capital Punish is wrong and against God. I guess no true Catholic or Christian can ever vote Republican again. or for most Democrats for that matter. Choose to be people of God when it suits you, not when it comes to caring for the poor, elderly and children. Makes me sick!

    January 4, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • Rick

      And I guess you can never vote for anyone at all, because that would mean you have a brain.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Ken in MO

      Rick, I have to say that I do vote. But I vote according to what I believe is truly right. If the candidate talks about the poor, children and the elderly...I vote for them...within reason of course. If their only ideas are to oppress others and make the rich people richer, they wont get my vote. I am not saying that I am always right. I am not saying that I have the answers. I am just saying that God wants us to care for each other and ourselves. Nowhere in the bible does it say we should worship money.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Steve

      The Republican party bought the "Christian Churches" out. They give huge donations (bribes) so that "the flock" in turn will vote for them. Believe me, the Repubs care nothing about abortion.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  5. A.A.

    Do you people remember who Ralph Reed is? Do you remember the what he fought to do to people on the Mariana Islands? The fact that anyone takes this person seriously–that he even has a job, that his writing is still published by CNN–is absolutely ridiculous.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Ken in MO

      Amen!! You are so right!!!

      January 4, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Steve Clark

      I thought the same thing. How can anyone give him credibility is beyond me.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  6. Ken in MO

    I consider myself Christian. I vote for Christian values. I vote Democratic! Ralph Reed on the other hand is a lying theif and should be in jail. He prays on real Christians so he can hide and not be held accountable for all the things he has done. I am shocked that he is not a contributor and broadcaster on Fox News yet.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  7. lynn

    My dad liked to call himself a "born again", but he cheated on mom, was a poor provider and was downright mean to his two little girls. I have no respect for the phony born again's.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Reverend Right

      Please dont let yourself be influenced solely by one or even a handful of people who claim to be "born again." Everybody that's talkin' bout Heaven aint goin' ..... Call it judgemental or whatever.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Ken in MO

      I am so sorry your father did that. There are true Christians out there...but they are VERY few and far between. I pray for your father and your family. Don't have faith in men, have faith in God. Once you do that you will very quickly realize that many so called "Christians" are not Christians at all, just preditors. But there are true Christians...never loose faith in God.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  8. Bill G

    ...cough...bull$%&t

    January 4, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Bill G

      Its about time that we take the focus off of Iowa as some sort of weathervane for the rest of the country. Iowa is a horrible retard place, its inhabitants mainly deserving the fate of being rendered into monkey chow. Iowa and Mississippi just need to go away. Maybe plate tectonics can somehow be utilized to stretch all of the bordering states to erase these evangelical homelands. I will laugh and rejoice as the people are slowly smushed.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Ella

      Bill G sounds like Hitler.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • DCPam

      We voted a quaker into office way back when. Most people who vote really don't care about religion as much as the media would like us to think. People either vote their party or they vote for who they like. Its really not that complicated.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  9. FluffyBunny

    I envy the day and hour when the evangelical religious nutters no longer have influence in anything that affects me. The narrow minded fools with their ideals firmly rooted in the 15th century are not my idea of competent leaders.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Ella

      Then why don't you get up andvote for someone you beleive in, instead of posting insults and showing how stupid you are? No candidates fit the bill? Then don't vote. Or run for office yourself.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Ryan

      seriously, so true. what if it turned out a guy got elected and he believed that zeus was up on mount olympus, playing with our fates and whatnot... he'd be impeached, probably, for having gone insane. but it's mandatory that all our presidential candidates believe that there's a magic man in the sky watching and judging us at all times...? all religion is crazy-

      January 4, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Cawtton Tawp

      And I envy the day when phagz and left wing nutz dont have ANY say in MY Country! Viva Dixie Land!!!!

      January 4, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  10. Solex

    Everything I ever needed to know about voting and evangelicals came from watching exit polls during the presidential election of 2004. A woman was asked whom she voted for and why and her answer was:

    "I voted for the man of god – George W. Bush"

    After cleaning the puke off of my shoes I realized the religious people vote for the same reasons they go to church:

    "Someone will tell me what to believe, how to think, and what to do" – How easy is that?

    Being religious takes faith. Being informed takes effort. Being informed is harder, which is why people don't like it.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Snow

      Amen! 🙂

      January 4, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  11. IceT

    Let the religious faithful run your churches but let the unaffiliated reality based atheists run the country for everyone.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Ella

      Well, you don't have to vote for anyone with religious beliefs then. Your choice.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • scieng1

      Sure, we have that now. Massive poverty, waste, corruption, and economic destruction are the norm for such leaders. Let's get someone who values freedom, life, and liberty for the middle class instead–those are conservatives.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • pumpernickel1988

      The only "reality" that atheists are in, is the one that is allowed them by the God they refuse to accept.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • IceT

      At this point it's still not a choice, since politicians are too afraid to NOT claim a religious affiliation (even if they are atheist). For now it's just a wish of mine & again to vote for the lesser of the evils on both sides.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • IceT

      pumpernickel1988 ... you've reaffirmed my belief in my original comment.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • FluffyBunny

      @pumpernickel1988 See "Logic, circular".

      January 4, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Arbour

      Wow, is there a more subtler way to say that people who believe in God should have no voice in politics, only atheists do?

      January 4, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • IceT

      Arbour ... not subtle at all, believers can be involved as much as anyone .. just keep your politics atheist.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  12. glonq

    "Evangelicals aren't suckers, according to evangelicals". I haven't heard anything so hilariously self-delusional since that other news organization declared themselves "fair and balanced"!

    January 4, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Reg

      And you think CNN is fair and balanced??? hahaha

      January 4, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  13. Dan Halen

    Little Ralphie, you're really fooling yourself if you think you and your pathetic minion of bigots are entering into the mainstream. Far from it. Whatever happened to "What's His Name"? Huckabee? Remember him, Ralphie? You and your likes will be crawling back under your hate mongering rocks soon enough.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Chuck88888

      What hate is coming from Ralph Reed in this article? The only hate I see is coming from your comment.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Dan Halen

      Apparently you don't know Ralphie. Just keeping it real. Keeping it real. He can fool some small minded sheeple such as yourself but not the masses. Get back under your rock shep.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • pumpernickel1988

      I agree with Chuckee-baby!

      January 4, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Vicki

      Ralph Reed was caught up in the investigation of Abramoff. He does not speak for Christians. The right wing extremists who watch Fox News do not speak for Christians. Christians are people who are humble, speak reasonably, do not lie every breath and want to work toward the best for everyone. Republicans continue to think that the GOP is Christian. It is not. Of course many Christians are republicans but they are not only for the rich, not only for the greedy, only for war, only for taking away rights and only for hateful behavior.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  14. PaulC

    The insults, offensove usernames, and recycled jokes against Christians are well deserved. The religious zealots make themselves targets with their hypocritical, 2 face, holier than thou practices. Sit in the pew and hold their hands on high on Sunday then Monday pass laws controlling what people do in their bedroom. Unfortunately all religious people, regardless of their religion, are obsessed with pushing their beliefs on others by any means necessary.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Ella

      But do you think that maybe the majority of the body of religious in general (religious being the majority of the planet, and about 85% of the USA) are decent folk, and not like these politicians, and that maybe you are offending a lot of good people. Maybe you people didn't think of that, did you?

      January 4, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  15. Onan

    Gee, Ralph Reed doesn't have an agenda, does he?

    January 4, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  16. JustAO

    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.

    So they vote more for candidates who would put policies in place that hurt the needy and poor the most. How's that jive with WWJD. I don't think welfare is a policy that JC would disapprove of.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  17. burnliberalsalive

    I want a leader whose supreme joy would be to live to witness the greatest human suffering in history, massive pandemics, cataclysmic natural disasters and the most brutal worldwide war ever so the savior of my leader and I can arrive and raise us to heaven where we can peer over the balcony and laugh while we watch those who don't believe like us(liberals) be burned alive, mutilated and otherwise eternally tortured. I want a leader who despises science, reason, logic and non biblical education and knows it is a fact the universe is 6000 years old and the Egyptians had trained dinosaurs for pets. Enough of leaders trying to make Earth a better place: let's get Armageddon going. Vote for a fundamentalist christian(muslim, jew, or morman might do) so we may arrive at the glorious balcony of eternal entertainment.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Stan

      You're just another hater/hypocrite. Why must the religious believe what you believe? Why are you right, and we're wrong? Because you say so? lol And where do you come up with that bullshi t about the universe being 6000 years old?? Where exactly is that explicitly stated in Christian/Muslim/Jewish text? I bet you have no clue. Why, because it's just another recycled insult/joke made by other haters, posted on the internet, and copied by yourself. The more I read the jokes/insults from all these atheist haters, the more I realize how intellectually challenged you guys are.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Chuck88888

      @Stan, this person is obviously a troll. Pleases don't feed the trolls.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Jeepers

      Stan, my mom believes the world is 6000 years old. But you're right about one thing. I have no idea where she got that crazy idea. Of course, she also believes that she needs to have a cement vault around her casket when she's buried because her body needs to be as intact as possible for when Jesus comes and raises the dead. Apparently, it will be a zombie apocalypse in my mom's version of the second coming.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Jake

      The Earth being younger than the radiometric age of 4.5 billion years old is based on the Young Earth Creationism religious belief. Depending on which Christian "authority" you listen to, according to predominant traditional Christian belief, Earth is either 4,000, 6,000 or 10,000 years old. Technically there were two starts right? An initial boot and a reboot. Because God flooded Earth and except Noah and his family in what is clearly not a sea-bearing boat, killed everyone, including "innocent" babies (which of course begs to question the whole idea about the Bible being against abortion and all even though it doesn't explicitly say anything against abortion though the method for aborting fetuses, e.g., forced miscarriage, already existed in those days. Besides not all zygotes become fetuses, thus conception is NOT the begining of life. In fact millions of zygotes routinely die every year...aborted by God?) technically Noah's family somehow repopulated Earth with very dark-skinned folks, very light-skinned folks and everyon pigment in between, some blond/red/black nappy-haired, blue/green/brown/slanted-eyed folks, very short to tall and large/small/long-nosed folks and told them to go to the places where dark-skinned were exposed to sunlight and light-skinned weren't, all without evolution. See the problem? No disrespect to Christians or those that believe in the literal translation of the Bible, but there are some logic issues there. Unfortunately, my Baptist pastor father used to answer issues regarding the Bible I thought were questionable with the old "you're questioning the Bible, therefore God" to which I would reply "no, I'm questioning your interpretation of the Bible". Of course when he couldn't answer he would just refer to the default "it was a miracle". Indeed.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  18. stevie68a

    Tell the "evangelicals" that we are in a New Age, like it or not. Religion brainwashed most of them as children, and their faith is
    bogus. Teach ethics instead. It is the religious right that will create hell-on-earth, if given the chance. Run from these people and their imaginary gods.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Ella

      You are bogus

      January 4, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Chuck88888

      Some atheists have created just as much "hell-on-earth" as anyone else in this world; Mao, Lenin, Stalin, Pol-Pot, Castro come to mind. Should I run away from atheists too, like you suggest?

      January 4, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • scieng1

      "Ethics" without a religious basis, does not exist.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • pumpernickel1988

      There are no sustainable ethics without the religion that provides them. You can call it ethics if you like. But what it comes down to is fundamentally being nice to other people. Kinda like what Jesus did and said we should do.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • IceT

      pumpernickel1988 ... Ethics & morals come from human psychology & society not God, unless you realize that God is a human psychological concept.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • lol

      @pumpernickel1988..logic fail.. read closely, you are saying jesus advised people to be atheists..

      January 4, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  19. Paul

    Ralph Reed , you lack so much confidence in your own beliefs that you need to write an article to try to convince yourself you are right? Yes, that's true social conservatives are real suckers ... you just voted for Santorum. Did yo try googling Santorum?

    January 4, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Ol' So So

      I don't think I would care to "google" Santorum or anyone else.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  20. Stan

    All you hypocritic atheists just don't seem to get it, do you? It doesn't matter why I vote for a particular candidate. Maybe part of my decision is because they share the same religious beliefs. Maybe it's because they always wear green ties on a Tuesday, and I love that. The point is, we all get our vote. It's the law. Cry all you want, but the person with the most votes wins. It's that simple. It's called Democracy. And by the way, all the insults, offense usernames, and recycled jokes against Christians just continues to demonstrate how intellectually incompetent you bunch actually are.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Obama 2012

      I agree!

      January 4, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Zayden

      As an atheist I agree with you, but only with respect to the posters on this article. They are very offensive, but we are not all like this, I assure you.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Tr1Xen

      Atheists take a lot of heat from Christians and so naturally some of us are going to come back swinging occasionally. I agree that your vote is your vote and I personally don't take issue with why you choose to vote for one candidate or another. I don't appreciate your labeling of all atheists as hypocrites and intellectually incompetent, though. It sounds like you've got a case of tunnel vision!

      January 4, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Tr1Xen

      @Zayden Exactly!!

      January 4, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • MERLA

      @Stan
      Aren't Christians supposed to be graceful? empathetic? humble? You know all those things Jesus is said to talk about? You come out swinging and insulting in your coward round about way and dont realize the hypocrisy in your comment. Sad that you are the face of christians. Thank God I'm an Athiest.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Jake

      As an atheist-leaning agnostic I agree with you Stan.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Houndhelper

      After the 2000 and 2004 election I believe it's not a guarantee that every vote counts. The more religious a politician tries to comes across the less I trust them. They usually seem to be lacking in logic, especially when it comes to issues concerning separation between Church and State. Also why is it so important to be Christan? The thing politicians overlook is this country has people of many faiths and they all should be of equal importance.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
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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.