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. mike from iowa

    Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting "Jesus Christ," so that it would read "A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.
    -Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom

    January 4, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • JennieOrbien

      .my buddy's ex-wife makes $76 an hour on the laptop.Follow the instructions at Online Income Solution and set up your account.. http://goo.gl /mCtvT

      January 4, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  2. mike from iowa

    Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State.
    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802

    January 4, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  3. mike from iowa

    Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.
    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

    January 4, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Steve from Wisconsin

      Mike from Iowa... You rock!

      January 4, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  4. mike from iowa

    History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.
    -Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, Dec. 6, 1813.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • JennieOrbien

      my buddy's ex-wife makes $76 an hour on the laptop.Follow the instructions at Online Income Solution and set up your account.. http://goo.gl /mCtvT

      January 4, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  5. mike from iowa

    We are a people of different faiths, but we are one. Which faith conquers the other is not the question; rather, the question is whether Christianity stands or falls.... We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity... in fact our movement is Christian. We are filled with a desire for Catholics and Protestants to discover one another in the deep distress of our own people.

    -Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Passau, 27 October 1928,

    January 4, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Ted

      Quoting mad men?

      January 5, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  6. saw123

    So is Ralph Reed supposed to provide an unbiased view of the evangelicals? The evangelical vote split because none of the options were good in this group of GOP candidates. Huntsman may be the only reasonable candidate of the bunch, but has not even been on the GOP map because he is reasonable.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • Janie

      Huntsman is in favor of civil unions for gays. I know, in the conservative world, separate but equal is still in fashion. He will never see the light of day.

      January 5, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  7. goodbelief322

    As an evangelical christian myself, I cannot agree with those statements given by the interviewed people. We do need freedom from church and a liberal society in my opinion and we do need to seperate politics and religion in my view.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  8. MrHighMighty

    Dragging God into the realm of politics is a blasphemous insult to the Almighty. Politicians who claim their faith as a reason to vote for them are really stomping on Scripture instead of living by it. Jesus said, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's".

    January 4, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  9. mickey1313

    Anyone who votes based of there faith not facts should not be alowed to vote. We need an IQ test for our voteing card in this nation. If you are to stupid to know what is going on, you should let those with some grasp of the facts do the voteing.

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

      Says the guy who can't spell. Too bad you won't get to vote under your new rules.

      Also, they already tried testing before you were allowed to vote. It was called racism in the Jim Crow south.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  10. Jeff B

    And what about evangelicals — like me — who support Obama? Heal the sick, help the poor, feed the hungry, work for peace — isn't that what Jesus advocated?

    January 4, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Matt J

      Work on Peace? Obama has been just as war mongering as GW Bush. Finally out of Iraq, but more troops in Afghan, war in Lybia, but le the Syrians die? Troops are being moved to Africa as we speak. Wanting to fight IRAN. Obama isn't about peace! None of the GOP candidates are about peace except for Ron Paul.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • Egyptian-American male

      Kill babies?

      January 4, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      Matt J, on one hand you lambast Obama for being in Afghan, then in the same breath fault him for not being at war in Syria. Anyway it was Bush who put us in Afghan, we can't just pull out overnight – duh. And on Iran? I believe Obama is using diplomacy and sanctions, not war. So Matt, do you hate Obama first and make up excuses to justify it? I'm no Obama fan, but I do deal in reality. I guess that is a difficult concept for people who believe in fairy tales and espouse killing in the name of their God of Love and Salvation. The Republicans - America's Taliban.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Observer

      "Obama has been just as war mongering as GW Bush."
      Matt J

      Obama got us out of the war in Iraq that the Republicans started.
      Obama got bin Laden after Bush didn't care.
      Obama got Qadafi without the loss of ONE American life.


      January 4, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  11. The Jimster


    January 4, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  12. iBELIEVE

    A "Evangelical Voter" caucusing for Mitt Romney, kind of defeats the whole purpose.....

    January 4, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  13. Debbie

    LOL Iowa hardly a state that represents much of anything due to small population.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  14. Gerold

    Part of the problem is the Republicans think they are the only Christians in the U.S. Just about everyone I know is an Evangelical, but they vote democrat. To think that democrats or "non-evangelicals" don't know what is best for America is just another arrogant character flaw of many Republicans.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  15. kd

    Ralph Reed says??? RALPH REED?!? Puh-LEASE. That guy has been lying since he's been out of diapers.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  16. Benjamin

    As an atheist who believes in secular government (which is what our country was actually founded on, not 'Christian' values; First amendment and all that), the quotes provided from evangelicals still come off as the caricature the article denies. I don't want my president to 'fall back on faith' for the most important decisions, I want my president to fall back on facts, pragmatism and the obvious morality that no religion can claim a monopoly on.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Kevin

      Where do you get the idea that this nation was not founded on Christian values. Look into older history books, not the PC garbage that rewrites history in print today.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • RLDESQ

      And just what is the "obvious morality" for you Benjamin? If there is no standard higher than man (i.e. no God) to live our lives by, then anything goes... there is no "morality" except however we as individuals want to define "right." And my definition is not any greater or less than yours, only different. Uh oh, but what if our definitions conflict?

      January 4, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • MERLA

      Hey "Kevin" I know you think you are right, but you aren't. Sorry Dude. Mike form Iowa shared with us this very OLD NON PC excerpt of a letter saying " Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law." -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

      January 4, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  17. CRG

    Calling these reactionary, fear, war, hate mongering evangelicals, people of faith is a misnomer. They are true believers and there is a huge difference between faith and belief.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • mickey1313

      sorry bud, but faith and belief are the same thing, you are spewing double-speak now, and that is the only weapon the faithful have to combat truth. Lies are the only weapons religon has to keep itself afloat in the 21st century.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  18. dave

    Why does CNN give this bigot a forum? And are they cynical enough to believe that the American people don't remember who this "Santorum" really is? A hateful Bible pimp.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  19. Steve Clark

    Ralph Reed is the biggest SCAM artist. He was involved with Abramhoff scam years ago. CNN you lost credibility printing anything he has to say. Ralph Reed is a POS.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  20. SNAPPA

    I find these people to be mentally unstable without question. They are no better than those we are fighting in Afghanistan somehow they see themselves as the "right" religion and therefore what we do is "gods" work. That is THE most dangerous thought line you could imagine. Osama Bin Laden honestly thougth he was doing "gods" work the Taliban think they are doing "gods" work, Where and what is the difference between these groups? There is none and they are THE most dangerous cult groups in the world.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Egyptian-American male

      Is your view the "right" one?

      January 4, 2012 at 7:30 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.