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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. g

    keep hate alive!

    January 4, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  2. John

    The posts to this story that seem the most vitriolic and closed minded are those bashing Christians for their worldview. Those posts lump all Christians together and indicate that they have no ability to make a decision for themselves. Many of the posts claim Christians should not be allowed to even state their opinion on a subject, much less be able to cast a vote. Others make fun of their beliefs as being less than juvenile. Any time people believe it is ok to make such sweeping generalizations and negative stereotypes about a grouping of people it becomes tantamount to hate-speech and should be denounced by all rather than cheered on by those with similar views. It is my experience most people are intelligent, compassionate, and independent thinkers irrespective of their worldview. It would be nice to see evidence of that belief reflected in the posts to this story.

    January 4, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • JOsh

      Have your opinion. However, do not prostheltize and recruit others to your cult.

      January 4, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • noya

      It should also be considered hate speech (by your logic) when christians judge others based on scripture. Its ok to judge individuals because of a made up bunch of jibberish written in the bronze age but when individuals judge based on logic and free thought it becomes 'hate speech'? You have just demonstrated the hyprocritical nature of religious beliefs beautifully.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • DrewNYC

      Just as there are rude, obnoxious, and irrationally hate filled Christians, there are the same with non-believers. With the majority of mature and respectful Atheists, like myself, if you are a Christian and talk respectfully, we do the same. It's when the hell fire spewing evangelicals come where non-believers retaliate. Most of us try to do it respectfully and intelligently, while others are simply rude. I can't fully blame them since when most people hear that you're an Atheist, you're automatically deemed evil and horrible. I'm a good person, I don't need any sort of god or super natural being to direct my life, I can do it on my own. If you do, then open your eyes and realize that not everyone has the same needs.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • John

      @JOsh & @noya – You have made assumptions about my worldview and then made additional assumptions on my behavior associated with that belief. You are erroneously reading quite a lot into a single paragraph. To be clear, I believe that it is wrong for anyone to impose their beliefs on anyone else and I have called out Christians and non-Christians alike for failing to abide by this fundamental principle of our society. I hope you will do the same.

      @JOsh – You indicate that it is wrong to “prostheltize [sic] and recruit others to (my) cult”. As noted above, I have not indicated what my worldview is or how I act in relation to that, but my question to you is, “Have you ever stated your belief to provide others an opportunity to see how your beliefs are the proper way to view the world?” I believe that you should be able to do so as long as you allow others to choose whether to accept or reject them as their own? I would presume that you have done some investigation and read different opinions in order to come to your beliefs. Couldn’t it be said that these materials were attempts to proselytize you?

      @noya – I have studied many worldviews including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Atheism to name a few. At some point they all require some level of faith. Even atheism doesn’t answer every question based purely on logic and free thought. Your derision that Christianity is based on “jibberish written in the bronze age” seems to indicate that you have reviewed those writings and determined that there is nothing of value in them. I would politely suggest that you respect the right of others to make their own choice. As to the “hypocritical nature of religious beliefs”; well considered religious beliefs are not any more or less hypocritical than well considered atheistic beliefs. Typically hypocrites are defined as those that act differently than they believe. I have done no such thing in anything that I have written which is all you know of me. Can you claim that all of your posts on this topic have been based on logic?

      @DrewNYC – In your post you intimate that you are superior to Christians, Muslims and anyone else with a different worldview than you because you “don’t need any sort of god or supernatural being to direct (your) life.” Was that an intended slight? Is it your view that only Atheists can do good of their own free will?

      @Josh, @noya & @DrewNYC – My post was intended to point out that we all view things from our own perspectives and that everyone should be allowed to make their own choice as to their worldview without being stereotyped and then disparaged based on those stereotypes. I also found it interesting that the vast majority of the posts that were derisive in nature were from people espousing a view they seemed to believe was more tolerant than the stereotypical Christian. Consider if this had been a story based on the voting patterns of Muslims or Atheists. Do you think the posts would be different?

      January 4, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Between The Hammer And The Anvil

      This is how Hitler started.
      No thank you.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • John

      @Between The Hammer And The Anvil - Please explain how you connect my posts to Hitler.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  3. JOsh

    I think Stained Glass has apparently volunteered to take in and support all of the unwanted kids that we will have if Abortion is outlawed. Who will pay for this? Government? Using tax dollars? What tax dollars? There are none, but you'd rather absorb more costs and have kids whose parents don't want them anyway. People will get a abortions. Simple fact. Might as well keep it legal so a back alley does not turn into a medical office. Will certainly be a result of the Santorum Ministries, if Pastor Rick wins. I suppose you are for the death penalty as well?

    January 4, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • shut_up

      we have an express lane in Texas for those that murder Texans. If you come here and kill someone, we will kill you!

      you want abortions, you pay for it and the blood is on your hands, but dont come crying when you finally realize it was wrong and God will punish you!

      January 4, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • JOsh

      Hey shut-up, I agree to pay for the Abortions. I would view as my civic duty and a gift to society. Now, if your train of thought prevails, will you take in and pay for all of the unwanted children? Put your money where your mouth is, especially nowadays.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  4. Michael in Citrus Heights

    In any other context, a person who communicates with and steadfastly believes in an invisible man in the sky would be considered mentally ill. As members of any organized religion, they are considered sane. Illogical, nonsense.

    January 4, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • JOsh

      We should change the name Jesus to Dr. Seuss and the bible to Cat in the Hat. It is equally as true and verifiable.

      January 4, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  5. Charlotte

    well, if nothing else, they have managed to distract our gullible and mind-numbingly tenacious media moguls, at least momentarily, from their obsessive coverage of (should I even say her NAME??) Caribou Barbie. Been kind of nice, hasn't it? 🙂

    January 4, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  6. Mr.Butters

    How does any of this make sense? Does the bible say "Thou shalt have a small government?" nad how are "main things" in politics abortion and gay marriage, shouldn't it be about diplomacy and economy? It's fine to want to share beliefs, or want them to follow the bible. But seriously. Some of those people need to get their votes taken away.

    January 4, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • jsl123

      When I vote, it wonlt be for a pope, preacher, deacon, pastor, rabbi, or church of any name. I vote for a government position, period.

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

    "The United States was not in any sense founded on the Christian religion"

    Written by G. Washington's presidency, signed by John Adam's.

    What else ya got?

    January 4, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Jared

      You are talking about the Treaty of Tripoli. Now as a Native American descendent I have to ask you how many US treaties were factually accurate?

      January 4, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  8. TRH

    "Evangelical voters, it turns out, are a more sophisticated bunch"

    A sophisticated Evangelical is an oxymoron.

    January 4, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • MartinT

      HOW TRUE!

      January 4, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • shut_up

      an oxymoron maybe, but a moron that votes for this moron muslim that is in the whitehouse.
      Pull up youtube where it shows that obama himself was talking about his muslim faith? that is either correct or he is the dumbest pile of dog grunt that was ever born when he misspoke! LOL LOL

      January 4, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • TRH

      Shut_Up....

      Apparently the word "sophisticated" doesn't apply to you either.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  9. tamago sensei

    32% over 18% is dominant. There are a lot of savvy evangelical voters...just not enough to balance out the crazies. Too many nuts in the pie.

    January 4, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  10. Leucadia Bob

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9E3eY94Gu0k&w=640&h=360]

    January 4, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  11. Leucadia Bob

    There is NO GOD – There is only BACON!
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9E3eY94Gu0k&w=640&h=360]

    January 4, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Mmmmm.....bacon.

      January 4, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • The all potent one

      If I only had thumbs!

      January 4, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • TRH

      ...and Joe Pesci...!

      January 4, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  12. JOsh

    Can we write in Bill Clinton? Seems the only one in the last 30 years who "gets" it.

    January 4, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Jesus occupied!

      Yeah sure he gets it alright. Thanks for repeal of Glass Steagall...

      January 4, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  13. Darth Cheney

    Ralph Reed is a political spinmeister disguised as some sort of religious authority. Spin, Ralph, spin!

    January 4, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  14. Alex

    ... I don't buy this argument. A more plausible one is that there aren't any standout candidates, so the evangelicals aren't aggregating to any one person. Two points: 1) evidenced by how volatile the polls have been and 2) if you had to randomly choose between several bad apples, the result would be sporadic, but evenly split on average.

    January 4, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Jared

      Yeah, there really wasn't a strong candidate in the Iowa field. Huntsman didn't campaign there. I hope he does well in NH so that I might have the chance to vote for a decent candidate. Romney is a distant second, but I think I can vote for him without puking, maybe.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  15. Ole Codger

    I still have to figure out what religion has to do with anything political. Since politicians must steer clear of religious matters, so too should religion stay out of politics. Religion is unable to keep its' own house in order and has no right to interfere anywhere else.

    January 4, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • stainedglassreflections

      Please see my reply to Josh below. Every American has the right to vote according to personal conviction.

      January 4, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • sam

      @stained – well, DUH. The point is, it's a bad idea to put folks into office who then intend to make their beliefs become legislation. Get it?

      January 4, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • nopolifan

      The thing is Sam, is everyone who gets elected intends to put their beliefs into legislation. Beliefs are always based on some philosophically/spiritual-based thoughts regardless of religion, so to say that others can put their beliefs into law but Christians cannot is not only discriminatory but totalitarian. That's why we vote, so we, as a people, can choose which beliefs best represent us.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • JOsh

      Thanks Sam. Good to see someone here can read on at least a high school level and properly understand English. I do not appreaciate Stained grossly distorting what my post says.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  16. Reality

    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 4, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  17. Patrick Williams

    I think the Evangelical voters have changed in the years and will no longer voe for a candidate simply because he/she says, "I believe in God" and "I am a conservative". Hopefully, they are looking beneath the rhetoric and sound bites and looking at a person's character by the way they have actually LIVED their lives. Words are sooooo easy to say...but a person's action tell yuo who they really are and what they are really about. In that respect, I think the Evangelicals have "woken-up" and are no longer letting politicians use them for their votes.

    January 4, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • Dennis Pence

      Patrick – Correct – now if only the others that are being misled by their politicians would "look at their fruit" – perhaps we could get back to the work of fixing our country. Being a Christian is living like Christ, obeying God and that's what matters. I can stand in my garage and call myself a car – but it doesn't make me a car. Anymore than calling myself a Christian and not living (and voting) like one.

      January 4, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  18. JOsh

    Why would a country want some holy roller running this? Not sure how people feel Abortion is bad, but death penalty is ok. Hypocracy. The quotes from people above sounds like they need the Pope to run. This is the US. Religion has ZERO place in government. They should look closer when they say this country was founded in "Christian" values. People can have opinions, but when the personal religious beliefs are used as a standard of governing people need to read the history and find out why people came here in the first place. These people are scary insane. At least Bachman the freak is gone. She should stick to deep throating corn dogs because it appeared she is a natural deep throater. Santorum must go next because he too is a religious zealot wacko. Hopefully, Romney will win so the government can at least hopefully operate like a government, and not some Santorum TV ministry.

    January 4, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • stainedglassreflections

      We know why they came to America. Some of them came to make money. Many of them, though (Puritans, Quakers, Catholics, etc.), came so that they could freely practice religion, not to be free from religion. America's freedom comes not from excluding religious perspectives, but from including every perspective to arrive at common goals. American evangelicals pay taxes, own homes, teach in public schools and send their children to them, run business, and provide health care and other services. You may not like our principles, but we have a right to promote them in public policy and to vote for candidates that support them. You have the right to speak and vote against those principles, but kindly knock off the name calling. It doesn't make your position look any stronger.

      January 4, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • sam

      @stained – listen to you. 'Our' principals.

      January 4, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  19. Maywood

    It is not often that I can agree with political statements by Ralph Reed. As a Christian who considers myself evangelical, I was offended by the category posted last night on the results. Christians, evangelical or not have a variety of views and opinions and can not all be placed in a box or categorized as a certain type of voter. Obviously from the responses, there is a very stereotyped view of evangelical Christians, which is the point Reed is making.

    January 4, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • JOsh

      He is a wacko just like you. Reed is who you look up to? If so, this country is certainly finished.

      January 4, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  20. Rational

    What I can't understand is the number of Christians who have actually convinced themselves that this is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles, by Christians, and deny that the establishment clause means that our government must remain secular.

    ...and in agreement with an earlier post: They consider faith issues to be more important than what's trashing this country? No wonder we're in the mess we're in...

    January 4, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Dennis Pence

      Are you blind sir? Just look at all of the sessions that opened with prayer and all of the written, carved, pictorial and other evidence that abounds in the buildings. Endowed by our Creator – who do you think they were talking about? Many were evangelicals and pastors themselves – so yes, we are a Christian nation, founded on Judeau Christian principles by men guided by the Bible (for the most part). If we were not, we would never tolerate all of the other "religions" – Wicken, Islam, Hinduism, Buddahism, Satanism, Atheism (yes – it is a religion). Any other countries do that – that you can name?

      January 4, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Rational

      Our Creator? That'd be mom & dad.

      Most of the founders were deists, not Christians. The principles this country were founded on may be shared by many Christians; that does not make them solely Christian principles or all Christianity to claim provenance for them.

      Thanks for your "tolerance" of other religions. That's very Christian of you.

      Atheism is not a religion. Atheists aren't a group that share similar values, other than the fact that they universally agree that there is no evidence a deity exists.

      Any other countries I can name... Sure, although, this map probably says it best: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Religiousfreedom.png

      January 4, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • More Real

      "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible" –George Washington
      "That book, sir, is the rock on which our republic rests" –Andrew Jackson
      "So great is my veneration for the Bible that the earlier my children begin to read it the more confident will be my hope that they will prove useful citizens of their country and respectable members of society..." –John Quincy Adams
      "I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong" –Abraham Lincoln

      Sorry that watching trash TV has blinded you!

      January 4, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Really?

      "so yes, we are a Christian nation, founded on Judeau Christian principles by men guided by the Bible (for the most part)."

      If the U.S. was founded on the Christian religion, the Constitution would clearly say so–but it does not. Nowhere does the Constitution say: "The United States is a Christian Nation", or anything even close to that. In fact, the words "Jesus Christ, Christianity, Bible, Creator, Divine, and God" are never mentioned in the Constitution– not even once. Nowhere in the Constitution is religion mentioned, except in exclusionary terms. When the Founders wrote the nation's Constitution, they specified that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." (Article 6, section 3) This provision was radical in its day– giving equal citizenship to believers and non-believers alike. They wanted to ensure that no religion could make the claim of being the official, national religion, such as England had.

      The Declaration of Independence gives us important insight into the opinions of the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson wrote that the power of the government is derived from the governed. Up until that time, it was claimed that kings ruled nations by the authority of God. The Declaration was a radical departure from the idea that the power to rule over other people comes from god. It was a letter from the Colonies to the English King, stating their intentions to seperate themselves. The Declaration is not a governing document. It mentions "Nature's God" and "Divine Providence"– but as you will soon see, that's the language of Deism, not Christianity.

      January 4, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • sam

      Dennis...you fail at history. And proved Rational's point.

      January 4, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Dennis Pence

      @ Rational – Sorry – but study your history – most WERE NOT deists. It is quite evident that you are young and educated in the ways of the secular world, but to deny what is so evident in history makes you a product of the "progressive one world order" – whether you will admit it or not. Mom and Dad didn't "create" anything – simply the vessels to transport the creation. Creating essentially comes from God and nowhere else. More Real gave you a couple of quotes from Washington and Jackson – now please respond with quotes from at least 2 of the "many" deists you claim helped found this country. I can provide you a list of the Founding Fathers and what their affiliations were – if you would like, or you can simply look it up on the web. BTW – What is "trashing" this world is a lack of following Christian principles. No moral compass (Bible), – no morals, no ethics, no responsibility and no accountability. Anarchy will soon rule if we stay on the path we are on. You probably haven't served your country, but I have and I have seen what anarchy, dictatorships and rule without Christian principles results in.

      January 4, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Rational

      "The United States was not in any sense founded on the Christian religion"

      Written by G. Washington's presidency, signed by John Adam's.

      So, basically, you are going to use the circular argument that just because you say so, it must be true.

      You also assume I am young (I am not).

      You also assume that I have not served, and that morality derives from religion. You also presume that your service (thank you BTW) makes you some kind of authority on this by throwing up the straw man that non-Christian nations are anarchist or dictatorships.

      I'll make an assumption as well: You are a deluded fundamentalist. Although, your commentary above actually provides evidence for that assumption.

      January 4, 2012 at 3:58 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.