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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. burnliberalsalive

    I apologize for offending you Stan but you are obviously not a christian fundamentalist if you do not know where the Earth is only 6,000 years old stuff comes from. Google christian fundamentalism, creation science or the Creation Museum for ideas. Yes, there is a multimillion dollar hugely successful christian museum with life size models of humans living alongside dinosaurs and the proprietors are planning a similarly themed amusement park. Stan, do some research because this is not a joke. I apologize if my satire seems hateful but that is due to my belief that fundamentalism in government brings evil and that includes non-religious forms such as pure capitalism, communism, fascism and so on.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • magic mormon underwear man

      Kooky, bro.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Mike H

      When you are dealing with people so out of touch with reality that they believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old you might as well be dealing with the mentally feeble. Pandering to these true believers makes a mockery of democracy, because unlike the truly mentally challenged, there are millions of fundamentalists that are incapabale of rational thought. Your ballot should have a skill-testing question on it "How old is the universe?" with a choice of 6,000 years or 13,700,000,000 years. 6,000 years = spoiled ballot.

      January 4, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  2. rcflyer8410

    The problem is that if you look at the values of the candidates they support, they are anything but typical Christians. I can just imagine Jesus taking from the poor to give to the wealthy; applauding and celebrating the death of an enemy; advocating no health care for millions; having extramarital affairs...could go on and on. They don't practice – or understand – what they supposedly believe. All the right candidate has to do is get up there – sound more like a preacher than a politician – or intelligent human being for that matter – and he won the evangelicals – hook, line, and sinker – just like GW did.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • magic mormon underwear man

      Might the political pandering in the name of Jesus be considered blasphemy?

      January 4, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  3. Dan613

    In my personal liking (from Canadian perspective) I prefer a Republican in the Oval Office (and I completely dislike Obama), but what I see from the Republican candidates is just scary....

    January 4, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • magic mormon underwear man

      anyone but that uppity black man....eh?

      January 4, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  4. magic mormon underwear man

    Bishop Romney....to the rescue!!

    January 4, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • morpunkt

      You must be a whiner from the Salt Lake area, with an axe to grind with Mormons.

      January 5, 2012 at 2:04 am |
  5. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Pray without ceasing in 2012

    January 4, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • magic mormon underwear man

      Are you for real??

      January 4, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • what?

      I cant believe I have to breathe the as air as you.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Observer

      God told 3 candidates to run for president. Two of them are the first two to drop out and the third is "reassessing" whether what he should do. God apparently didn't want them to win.

      Palin said before the last election that "God's will will be done".

      Guess if you are religious, God wants you to vote for Obama.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  6. Rich

    The poor uneducated need something to hold on to so they listen to fairytales their pastor who is to lazy to get a real job tells them.No need for schools just listen to a seventh grade drop out and you'll be fine.......Make sure you support the rich...sad

    January 4, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • magic mormon underwear man

      Religion is the best tool the powerful 1% overlords have.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • plus sides to both

      Its not that simple. You can't just categorize several hundred million people as being stupid. To think something like that is stupid. If it doesn't make sense to you, maybe you should look into it a little more. Put your scientific method to good use.

      January 4, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
  7. koga

    This is nonsense. there is no intelligence or nuance to a person of faith. no matter the IQ, job, standing or position in life, the idea that you believe that a magic man who lives in the sky will make you immortal if you just blindly obey whatever he says automatically makes you a moron.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  8. Trolleyfish

    The main cause of the splintering of evangelical voters is that all of the GOP candidates were equally terrible fools who used their religious beliefs to pander to voters. It's no coincidence that Santorum pandered the most and received the most votes as a result.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  9. Mike H

    Religious nut jobs vote Republican so that they can deny evolution and other proven sciences and try to force their twisted (im)moral values on the rest of the U.S., regardless of what this story is about.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  10. nowaywewj

    Yeah, Ralph, you're really sophisticated guy. You're a 'born again' Christian who takes gambling money and represents gambling lobbyists. Funny how your Baptist Jesus doesn't like that. I thought the wages for all sin was death? You complex person, you!

    January 4, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  11. Ella

    I find this hard to believe. I was absolutely appalled when I visited an evangelical church just before the 2008 election and found a huge stack of "voting sheets" telling the congregation how they should vote. I will never, ever forget that. Sheeps.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  12. JMR

    Ralph Reed says

    January 4, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  13. Trolleyfish

    Evangelical voters are "sophisticated"? There's a laugh.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  14. David, CA

    The "evangelical" vote = people so batsheet crazy they though god was going to come and whisk them all away, naked as can be in May 2011, errr October 2011, I mean sometime soon.

    And that these people probably have a drivers license is just scary.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Mike V

      The funny thing is that Christians will undoubtedly point this out as a straw man (albeit likely in other terms), yet they'll continue to hold onto beliefs that are every bit as ridiculous or more.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  15. bluemax77

    Fruitcakes, everyone of them...!!

    January 4, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  16. benji

    Funny how these "conservative Christians" never say anything about the racist rhetoric of their politicians

    January 4, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • David, CA

      and they never seem to have a problem when a gay teen is bullied into suicide. To them that's their duty.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  17. kevinb

    What a piece of shiattt reporting this is.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  18. Neo

    religious people are dumb

    January 4, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  19. John Stamos

    Organized religion sucks. Islam sucks (unless you like woman who can't vote, read, learn, and look like a ghost in a sheet), Obama sucks. The USA is in trouble.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Observer

      If "Obama sucks", where does that put Bush?

      January 4, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  20. the_dude

    Holy smoke CNN are you just figuring out this?

    January 4, 2012 at 7:32 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.