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. allie

    I'm a Christian and an Independent. I think Reed is a lunatic and while I have voted Republican at times in the past, I doubt I will this time. Romney and Huntsman are the only ones that deserve a closer look, imo. The rest are far too extreme and would be disasterous for our country. Reed's opinion that there is no evangelical vote and the far right are complex thinkers who are not influenced by political catch phrases is downright laughable.

    January 5, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • joebofett


      January 5, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  2. NJreader

    Crackpottery! If the evangelical vote is a myth, so is Mr. Reed.

    January 5, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  3. Reality

    Only for the "newbies":

    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 5, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • Dats right

      stfu already

      January 5, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • MarkinFL

      When the pro-life people become the pro s.ex-ed people, THEN, I may pay a little bit of attention to your argument.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • joebofett

      People might be able to take you more seriously if you actually learned how quotes are properly used, since you seem to love using them so much. It makes you look like a moron when you use them over and over again for not apparent reason whatsoever. This is, of course, aside from the dumb thing you actually had to say, which also makes you look like a moron.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • Reality

      "Facts on Contraceptive Use

      January 2008


      • 62 million U.S. women (and men?) are in their childbearing years (15–44).[1]

      • 43 million women (and men) of reproductive age, or 7 in 10, are se-xually active and do not want to become pregnant, but could become pregnant if they or their partners fail to use a con-traceptive method.[2]

      • The typical U.S. woman (man?) wants only 2 children. To achieve this goal, she (he?) must use cont-raceptives for roughly 3 decades.[3]


      • Virtually all women (98%) aged 15–44 who have ever had int-ercourse have used at least one con-traceptive method.[2](and men?)

      • Overall, 62% of the 62 million women aged 15–44 are currently using one.[2] (and men)

      • 31% of the 62 million women (and men?) do not need a method because they are infertile; are pregnant, postpartum or trying to become pregnant; have never had inte-rcourse; or are not se-xually active.[2]

      • Thus, only 7% of women aged 15–44 are at risk of unwanted pregnancy but are not using con-traceptives.[2] (and men?)

      • Among the 42 million fertile, s-exually active women who do not want to become pregnant, 89% are practicing con-traception.[2] (and men?)


      • 64% of reproductive-age women who practice con-traception use reversible methods, such as oral con-traceptives or condoms. The remaining women rely on female or male sterilization.[2]


      Percentage of women (men?) experiencing an unintended pregnancy (a few examples)


      Pill (combined) 8.7
      Tubal sterilization 0.7
      Male condom 17.4
      Vasectomy 0.2

      Periodic abstinence 25.3
      Calendar 9.0
      Ovulation Method 3.0
      Sympto-thermal 2.0
      Post-ovulation 1.0

      No method 85.0"

      (Abstinence) 0

      (Masturbation) 0

      More facts about contraceptives from



      Cont-raceptive method use among U.S. women who practice con-traception, 2002

      Method No. of users (in 000s) % of users
      Pill 11,661 30.6
      Male condom 6,841 18.0 "

      The pill fails to protect women 8.7% during the first year of use (from the same reference previously shown).

      i.e. 0.087 (failure rate)
      x 62 million (# child bearing women)
      x 0.62 ( % of these women using contraception )
      x 0.306 ( % of these using the pill) =

      1,020,000 unplanned pregnancies
      during the first year of pill use.

      For male condoms (failure rate of 17.4 and 18% use level)

      1,200,000 unplanned pregnancies during the first year of male condom use.

      The Gut-tmacher Inst-itute (same reference) notes also that the perfect use of the pill should result in a 0.3% failure rate
      (35,000 unplanned pregnancies) and for the male condom, a 2% failure rate (138,000 unplanned pregnancies).

      o Conclusion: The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the pill or condoms properly and/or use other methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.

      January 5, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Reality

      from the CDC-2006

      "Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

      And from:


      "Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

      Here's a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active "post-teeners": Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

      "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 's-ex.'"

      (See also the January 2012 issue of Consumer Reports about the epidemic of HPV in the USA and its association with or-al s-ex.)

      Obviously, Planned Parenthood, parents and educational system have failed miserably on many fronts.

      January 5, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • JeramieH

      Because abortion is the only topic in the country?

      January 5, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Reality

      Considering this year there will be 78 million members of the Immoral Majority ("moms and dads" of aborted children), yes indeed abortion will be a major topic in this election as will be the S-TD epidemic.

      January 5, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  4. McCain-in-4

    So nice of Ralph to provide us with facts "32% for Santorum, 18% for Ron Paul, 13% each for Romney, Gingrich and Rick Perry, 6% for Michele Bachmann and 1% for Jon Huntsman." Sounds like fishy statistics to me. Not meaning to malign the guy, but posting unsourced statistics to prove a wild theory is quite telling.

    January 5, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • Dats right

      malign him all you damn well want to. he is an i diot.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:10 am |
  5. StevenAK

    There should be an additional editor's comment: Ralph Reed is a convicted criminal and a big fat fake.

    January 5, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • taylor

      reed is like a bad penny, remember Abramhoff and the crooked bs with the indians, that is the same reed, he is
      still making money, by doing nothing, just a lowlife,

      January 5, 2012 at 7:26 am |
    • Dats right

      americans are sheep and will listen to any religious wing nut

      January 5, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  6. Jesus was a space alien

    Glad to see the bored again christians were not voting like sheep. Maybe there is hope yet.

    January 5, 2012 at 7:03 am |
  7. Thomas

    As long as they don't take our white women we'll be ok. lol

    January 5, 2012 at 6:47 am |
  8. Thomas

    I think sucessfull politics is simplicity at it's finest. Don't want gay marriage..don't be gay and don't get married. Don't want an abortion, don't have one. Don't like what they're teaching in public school, go to a private one or teach at home. What is so difficult about this?

    January 5, 2012 at 6:42 am |
    • Laer

      I'll try "don't be gay" when you try "don't be straight".

      January 5, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  9. Thomas

    I don't mind evangelicals nor their religion. Each person is free to believe or not to believe in the God of their choice. However they become dangerous when they try to force their religious beliefs on others through legislative means. What I don't understand is how Dr. Paul didn't recieve a majority of their vote. He's been married to the same woman for 50 years & never cheated. Two brothers are pastors. He's pro life, etc. I guess that's because Dr. Paul won't cowtow to their every wish.

    January 5, 2012 at 6:40 am |
  10. MissusPowell

    "A Myth is a story that never happened, that is happening all the time." as stated by Joseph Campbell, reknown in the study of Mythology.

    January 5, 2012 at 5:53 am |
  11. ouirv

    Nearly half of evangelical voters go for one guy — the most rabid conservative in the bunch — despite the fact that he is highly unelectable by every reasonable measure. So how is this a "nuanced and complex portrait" of "a more sophisticated bunch" Ralph. Since you are of the exact same extremist stripe as Santorum, you are obviously spinning it to make you're whole group look as though they care about anything other than abortion and gays. Nice try.

    January 5, 2012 at 5:09 am |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Alife bound in prayer seldom unravels

    January 5, 2012 at 4:51 am |
    • ouirv

      You never knew any prayerful people whose child died of cancer? What a load of crap.

      January 5, 2012 at 5:17 am |
    • Johan S

      And other living things? Ever seen a snake pray?

      Alright fine you may have a point .. After all, we see it on the 700 club all the time.

      January 5, 2012 at 5:28 am |
    • Craig

      Then perhaps you can explain the continuing series of child deaths in Oregon, all to members of a church in Oregon City that prays and anoints, but doesn't believe in doctors. Obviously something isn't working here.

      January 5, 2012 at 5:34 am |
    • CatS

      The odd thing about prayer – it doesn't seem to matter which god / goddess you pray to. Prayer and meditation works in ALL religions. All religions have miracles.

      January 5, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • Dats right

      stop drinking draino

      January 5, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • Larry L

      If your diety is all-knowing he/she would already know the outcome of every event. If the outcome is pre-determined why pray?

      If we're given "choices" to allow ourselves to determine the outcome the diety wouldn't get involved.

      If the diety was a kind and loving god able to control outcomes, why would he/she allow bad outcomes? If "begging" is required to get the god to give mercy that god is behaving just like a spoiled child with a hammer – looking down at an ant bed and judging which ants get smashed and which get to survive. The whole concept is illogical.

      January 5, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  13. Ronald

    While often mentioned together, the issues of abortion and gay marriage could not be further apart. A gay person will never face a personal abortion issue while an expecting hetro is unlikely to seek a gay marriage.

    January 5, 2012 at 4:36 am |
    • ouirv

      What they have in common is that the same group of religious theocons will rabidly follow their interpretation of their holy book on both of these issues. It's their two litmus tests, regardless of how much people like Ralph Reed try to deny it.

      January 5, 2012 at 5:11 am |
  14. Eric

    It many someday be possible to determine prior to birth if a child will be gay. What to do about that?

    January 5, 2012 at 4:14 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Big deal. Now if they ever develop a prenatal test for becoming Republican, that could be a problem.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  15. LA-CC

    Right. So I suppose we could expect evangelicals to also be voting for Democrats in numbers that would make their R/D difference statistically insignificant? Ha. The reason they are split is because all R candidates know there are certain required minimums – how many of these were pro-choice? None. Wouldn't that be why the abortion issue was not a big deal? Duh.

    January 5, 2012 at 4:02 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Exactly, the only "nuance" involved was which candidate fit a particular individual's right-wing ideology better than another. Some people care more about abortion vs. gay vs. immigrants vs public assistance vs. etc. etc.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  16. Lee

    Mitt's father was the first Mexican-American (born in Chihuaha) to run for President of the United States.

    Mitt has 10's of thousands of cousins (some still in Mexico) because a few generations had 12 wives each. Indeed one got shot by the husband of a woman that a Romney great grandfather was wooing (she was still married to another but since Romney's ancestral line goes to 1 of the original mormon apostles, he had god on his side till he got shot dead)

    However evangelicals and southern Baptists WILL vote for Mitt Romney over Obama because although they fear that mormonism is from Satan, Barack Obama is black and must be defeated.

    January 5, 2012 at 3:50 am |
  17. Lynn

    Maybe that's true for the "Evangelicals" in Iowa, but not for the bible belt. I happen to live in the Bible belt and my guess is the Evangelicals here will support Perry or Gingrich only because Michelle Bachmann is stepping down. What else are they going to do when they are short on candidates who align themselves with the Tea Party? If Gingrich wins, he will most definitely try to paint himself as the Tea Party supporting candidate.

    January 5, 2012 at 3:00 am |
  18. Joni

    I think people are still not voting for Mitt Romney because he is Mormon, and they don't consider him Christian. It's horrible that a Christian would tell another Christian person professing their belief in Christ that they are not Christian! (Pastor Jeffreys) Biased theological definitions aside, a Christian is someone who believes in Christ as the only way to salvation–as their savior and redeemer. This is Mormon doctrine. Mitt Romney is a Christian. That's a bonus to his highly-qualified resume. It shouldn't be the one deciding factor.

    January 5, 2012 at 2:41 am |
    • MarkinFL

      His finest quality is that a large portion of the far right thinks he worships satan.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  19. Bob

    Faith does mean the willingness to believe in the absence of proof. However, prudence dictates that this kind of faith be reserved for gods, not political aspirants. Job seekers should be able to offer some sort of proof of their personal integrity as well as logical arguments that prove the soundness of their ideas. Asking us to vote for them on faith is asking too much. I think Bachmann just proved that.

    January 5, 2012 at 1:46 am |
  20. The_Mick

    Mr Reed – your own numbers in this article 13% for Romney vs 25% overall, show that evangelicals are biased against Mormons and they don't care how good or bad someone is as long as they belong to one of the traditional Christian denominations.

    January 5, 2012 at 1:40 am |
    • morpunkt

      So true!

      January 5, 2012 at 1:53 am |
    • Dats right


      January 5, 2012 at 8:06 am |
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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.