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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. Happylucky1

    If I was the Commander in Chief there wouldn't be no Iran, on earth...I would wipe them off from this earth. i would nuke them to Hell....

    January 4, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • David

      Well thankfully you: 1) are not, and 2) never will be, and 3) hopefully are too stupid to attract a mate capable of producing a child to which you can pass off your views.

      January 4, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Observer

      David,

      Amen.

      January 4, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  2. Reality Check

    What country was Josh Foreman rasied in? He wants religion to be part of government? So many of these people want to return to the values this country was founded on, like what, slavery? Ask them to name a single value that is lost and I'll bet they are imagining some fantasy past. American self-reliance? I'm sure they've heard of the Homesteading Acts. Equal justice? That has always been a joke. I do suppose we have lost the right to discriminate freely and monopolies have lost the right to exist.

    January 4, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  3. David

    Evangelicals voting for Roman Catholics or Mormons is not an indicator of squat. It is not an indication of sophistication, nor one of ignorance. It is neutral. What is alarming, however, is that at the end of the day there are people who vote based on FAITH rather than on FACTS. They make decisions about the direction our country should take based on something that is by their own admission subjective, personal, and not founded on reason, or even good sense.

    "Their civic involvement is a cause for celebration." I'll celebrate when they participate as American voters, not evangelical ones.

    January 4, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • stainedglassreflections

      Faith vs. reason is a false dichotomy. I imagine that there are people who choose their beliefs arbitrarily or accept what has been handed down to them without question, but I know plenty of evangelicals who are thinking people. Just because you don't know any doesn't mean they don't exist.

      January 4, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • David

      I'm not accusing people of faith to be universally ignorant. My point is that democratic governance is a secular process, and that faith should be left out of it entirely. I do, in fact, know people of great faith that are incredibly intelligent, and they make a separation of, wait for it, church and state.

      January 4, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • David

      Also, I do, unfortunately, see a direct conflict between reason and religious belief, especially as reflected in studies that have shown an inverse relationship between education and faith. Simply (over-simply, perhaps) put: as reason increases, religious belief decreases. Please don't respond with a rebuttal from personal experience, I'm not interested as we could go back and forth like that forever, and, admittedly, this is not the proper forum for this conversation.

      January 4, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  4. frogprince

    Oh, Lord! If only there were more voting Buddhists in this country, CNN would not have censored my last three comments.
    Vote for someone looking secular!! or not at all. "The kingdom of God is within You." (Lk 17. 21) These are dangerous times.

    January 4, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  5. cosmicsnoop

    Whatever. This article says nothing at all. It seems like it was written so the guy could get a paycheck. Bottom line is religious voters are a minority that will get smaller every year. The majority of the electorate simply do not share their views so try as they might every time, someone running on the platform to outlaw abortion or make gay people bad, etc. will just not win in the general election, period.

    January 4, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  6. Terry

    At the end of the day, the Elderly, the Middle Class, the Poor, the Hispanics, the Latinos, and the Gay and Lesbian Community understand one thing very clearly, the Republicans are interested in regaining power in Washington, and they will walk over anyone who gets in their way. Millions of jobs were shifted offshore over the last twelve years in an attempt to destroy the unions that controlled wages in the manufacturing sector. The Hispanics currently working in the United States are working for the minimum wage or less. The Country Clubs that every member of the House and Senate belong to have illegal workers performing golf course maintenance. The 2012 Election is about greed and the Supreme Court. There are three seats that will vacate the court between 2013-16, and the Republicans realize that they have to throw many voters under the bus in order to gain control of Washington and the Supreme Court. The next ten months are going to be very ugly. If you are elderly, don't turn your back on a Republican.

    January 4, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  7. E. Dunwoody

    Ralph is as phony as a plastic apple. If he's a man of faith, I'm a grand piano.

    January 4, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  8. Rightster

    The wrong term (evangelical) is used. The correct term is "fundamentalist".

    January 4, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  9. Steve

    The problem isn't how evangelicals vote; the problem is what evangelicals believe. Stupid things such as, "Jesus wants me to be rich", "the Earth is 6000 years old and every human is descended from Adam and Eve", and "my ignorant beliefs should be imposed on everyone by the government, as long as I don't have to pay for it."

    January 4, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • Mat

      No one is a true christian believe the earth is 6000 years old or any such rubbish. Just because one believes in one true GOD doesnt make one dumb. You are making the same mistake as some so called christians who sit in judgement.

      January 4, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Snow

      "No one is a true christian believe the earth is 6000 years old"

      you got that wrong right of the bat, buddy.. True Christians believe bible to be the word of god.. so if it says god created light and then stars, thats what happened.. if it says an angel came down from way up in sky to impregnate a girl, thats what happened.. anyone who does not believe that or eat up every word of it is a heathen.. Haven't you learned that on your church days?

      January 4, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  10. Tim

    Perhaps not everyone of faith is driven by the GOP pretending they are more morally sound and faithful than Democrats, but a LOT are. Most of the "intense" religeous people I know of all talk about Obama being a "secret Muslim" bent on destroying America and other Fox News crazy propaganda. They think they HAVE to vote Republican if they love Jesus. Not everyone that's Christian believes that nonsense, but a lot of super right-wingers do.

    January 4, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Tim

      Or could these be informed people who actually see what Obama is trying to do to this country what with SOPA and his wanting to enforce martial law in America... Surely it isn't just religious people who see this... In fact, if you read news outside of CNN and Fox, you see just how bad Obama really is

      January 4, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  11. Engineer in Raleigh

    The "faithful" are stupid as chit. Maybe if you geniuses spent more time using the internet to, let's say, google "Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal", and less time playing in jeebus fairy-land make-believe land, you wouldn't be messing up the country so bad. Thanks for Dubya, by the way.

    January 4, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Whuteva

      Your hero, Obama, believes in God. Guess that make him stupid as chit. Thanks for him, and thanks for destroying your country.

      January 4, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • Snow

      well obama just believes in god.. but dubya bush talks to him everyday.. and look at the mess he created – 4 years later it still hounds people.. who is worse

      January 4, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  12. thegadfly

    Sophisticated, shmophisticated. They still vote on the basis of a logically indefensible worldview, and choose their candidates accordingly. How can they not be vulnerable to all manner of charlatan?

    January 4, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  13. Oh Yeah, I said it

    I'm sorry, but isn't our current president, and his family, Christians? Do they not have faith, and believe in God and the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior? If so, everything you morons say bad about believers on the right, you also must think of your loser president.

    January 4, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • MERLA

      You obviously dont know much about American politics do you? We live in a country that would never elect a non-christian (which says much about how much power christians have...hello theocracy) The argument is whether or not belief and opinion should affect policy. Republicans are ok with religion intervening and democrats are not. Just wanted to clarify since you seem in the dark with how everything works. If you dont believe me as God. I'm sure he'll tell you, I assume you two have talks on a regular basis.

      January 4, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  14. Fisherman888

    Sophisticated? Believing in fairy tales is not sophisticated, it's idotic. Raising from the dead? Right!! Tablets from aove but no others have these metings? Madness! Religion is a sign of being weak and dumb. Ralphy boy fits that description to a 't'.

    January 4, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Oh Yeah, I said it

      So you think Obama is weak and dumb then. Very well. Yes, he claims to believe all these things.

      January 4, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Observer

      It's entirely possible that Obama exaggerates his religion to appease the masses. Many presidents did that. Someone from the Bush administration said they did that too.

      January 4, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  15. bawana

    the evansuckuballs are a bunch of racist hypocrits,,,,,pandering from one to the other idiot repuke nominee after the other in hope of beating the anti-christ muslim that wasn't born here president ,,,hoping to make obama a 1 termer,,because the mighty white can not stand a black man in charge,,especially one that is smarter than them,,,,,,,,,,,and all the while losing there evansuckuballs ideology and principles they say the adhere to,,,,i think it is hilarious,,,all for their little god,,,,that by the way follows a similar script found in egyptian religion 2-3 thousand years before jesus and a persian one before the egyptian,,,religion is for the sheep and most repukes and teabags are just that,,,,,,, sheep,,,,ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

    January 4, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • Whuteva

      Wow, nice punctuation and grammer there brainiac. You make a great case for the uneducated, pot-smoking left. Keep up the good work.

      January 4, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  16. TheyNotHim

    Hello...anybody awake out there?

    Iowa doesn't decide anything...it's South Carolina where the nomination is won, in every single election. Just like New Hampshire for the Dems.

    As for the question of religion. All of the candidates were thumpers in one way or another so how can that be splintering?

    January 4, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  17. Erik

    If I was of age to vote I would support Obama, but what I heard Ron Paul tell CNN straight up meant a lot. He said something that no other candidate would say which was, in short, the military is for defense not unnecessary invasions or attacks. That's something that candidates typically shy away from because they are afraid of losing the war hawk redneck vote. Otherwise, I find Ron Paul's libertarian ideals a little to extreme.

    January 4, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Lindsey

      Erik: I suggest you study Ron Paul a bit more and I think you will find that he represents what the future of the United States has to be for it to survive as the greatest nation on earth. More young people are realizing this every day (I'm 54 and I finally have so hopefully it won't take you as long)! Please look into him- you won't be sorry!

      January 4, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Brian

      The man wants to get rid of the federal reserve and put us back on the gold standard. The man should try to find a time machine and go back to 1896 because he has no purpose in todays world.

      January 4, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  18. LouAZ

    Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha !!! Ralph Reed telling us how he the fox counts chickens ! Hallejulia Jeebus !!!

    January 4, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • Hawk

      YEAH, GOOGLE RALPH REED AND READ ABOUT HIS DECEPTIONS. WHAT HE IS IS A LIAR AND A THEIF.

      January 4, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  19. Ed Sr of Dallas Tx

    RELIGION should NEVER....NEVER....NEVER play a role in politics! They simply do NOT belong together in the same arena of life.....PERIOD!

    January 4, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • Oh Yeah, I said it

      So the president should be sworn in with his hand on what...the communist manifesto? you're an idiot, living in a fantasy world that will never exist.

      January 4, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • MERLA

      Again Mr.Said it,
      I suspect you never paid attention in government class. You also haven't read any communist manifesto. Reading is the cure to your lack of knowledge!

      January 4, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  20. jacob

    Nope, they aren't more sophisticated.

    January 4, 2012 at 8:44 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.