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. Buckwheat

    I absolutely REFUSE to cast my vote for ANYone who is not a Pastafarian! Just wouldn't be right! The Flying Spaghetti Monster is REAL and He will have his REVENGE on all you infidels. Just you wait!!! Just you wait!!!

    January 4, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Alfalfa

      He'll strain you forceably through the colander of hell!

      January 4, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  2. jay

    Thank you for exposing these nut cases for what they are.

    January 4, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  3. Jimbo

    Did CNN write this article to make the people they interviewed look really ignorant to the rest of the country? If so, they did a pretty good job.

    January 4, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  4. Lindsey

    That's because Santorum makes a good imitation "born-again". He knows what to say, how to say it, and his beliefs are pretty much identical to born-agains except for his veneration of Mary. That's about it, dude.

    By the way...Santorum wouldn't be able to win a general election if he were the only one running. Just sayin.

    January 4, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  5. Vader

    Very scary.

    "We shouldn't have separation of church and state. We shouldn't have freedom from religion, like a lot of people think, but freedom of religion."

    Pack your bags and move to Iran. What you describe is a theocracy, not a democracy, and is an anathema to the principles of the Founding Fathers.

    And by the way, "freedom from religion" IS a form of "freedom of religion", and exactly WHOSE religion? Yours? Ahmed's down the street? Levi's?


    January 4, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Buckwheat

      Well put, brother...well put indeed!

      January 4, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Steve

      Dead-on right

      January 4, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Jimmy Swaggart

      Francis Swaggart (yes, the wife of the Notell Motel Evangelist himself) is waging an hysteria campaign against the alleged imminent imposition of Sharia law in this country.

      Yet, I'm guessing, she would agree (with no apparent sense of irony) with the proposition "...We shouldn't have separation of church and state..."

      January 4, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  6. Chuck

    Uh, I believe this mentality is quite prevelant in the Middle East. Things don't seem to have been going very well over there until recently as the public has opened their eyes and began to understand that religion doesn't belong in politics. What about this don't these people understand? Oh yeah; they are christians. Not perfect, just forgiven. Right!

    January 4, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Godless

      Religion in its entirety has always been man made. If you really read the Bible its the most hypocritical pieces of crap ever written. Therefor Christians are just stupid people who have ruled the world for the past couple thousand years. I cant wait until they all go away.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  7. js

    "The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ralph Reed."


    January 4, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  8. Truth and light

    This is wonderful.
    Go Rick Santorum.
    We now have somebody that will take back our country form the socialists
    and the gays.
    Put prayer back in school, and stop this evolution nonsense.
    Maybe he can set up a treatment program for the gays,
    and work with Michelle and make them all straight.
    There is a reason why its called the white house.

    Santorum/Bachman 2012 !!

    January 4, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • White House indeed!

      Welcome to the Invisible Empire of the Teutonic Knights of the Klu Klux Klan of Georgia!

      January 4, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Reverend

      Evolution nonsense? It's called science...

      January 4, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Ah, ah, ah! Be careful!

      Michele will be baking sugar cookies and casseroles where she belongs.

      There's a reason her campaign faded quickly among evangelicals once male expositors of the theos arose.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • John

      troll post?

      January 4, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  9. Jimbo

    Faith, bla bla bla, god, bla bla bla, abortion, bla bla bla, gays are evil, bla bla bla, I'm glad these people really care about the economy and jobs. What a bunch of tards.

    January 4, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  10. Buckwheat

    Rick Santorum and the Boogey-Men in the sky share one thing in common–they both need to disappear...permanently

    January 4, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  11. nrog

    The evangelical vote seems to be primarily obsessed with fetal worship, which is a strictly contemporary notion of "Christian values". If you want to derive Christian values from the Bible, shouldn't you start with the Sermon on the Mount and the 10 Commandments? All of these jokers would fail on most of the important ethical messages from the Bible.

    January 4, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Michael P

      Evangelicals represent a spectrum of voters in the United States. Like it or not their votes impact the Primaries (arguably less so in the election process after the primaries because of the representative democracy) and therefore the general election. I believe we would be better off understanding their values and motivations and reserving judgement of their beliefs to a higher power than ourselves. Freedom of religion and expression in this country present the opportunity for both the far right and far left. Let's work to embrace this freedom and use it to enhance our acceptance of different viewpoints instead of name calling.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  12. Toughlove

    Liberals will just got all huffy and spit out sarcasm, more statements of caricature and shallow challenges against the Christian faith in general. All so overplayed. All so narrow minded. All so expected.

    January 4, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Christ

      I cannot justify my faith with any evidence, so I will just sling mud on anyone who opposes it. "The fool has said in his heart there is no god" – as long as I believe that is true, then it is absolutely the case that they are fools.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • nrog

      I'm afraid that your use of the term "liberals" is itself a caricature, which makes you out to be a hypocrite.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Buckwheat

      You know, I'm a Pastafarian, and I absolutely feel you 100%!!! Just because these people do not believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster does NOT give them the right to deride my beliefs! They will all rot in meetball-hell!!!

      January 4, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Toughlove

      nrog...well said. Maybe the term is "God-hater"? "Devotee to the Religion of Atheism"? I think they're pretty easy to identify on this thread.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Toughlove

      See? They're all out in DROVES. 🙂

      January 4, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Secularlove

      Christians will just get all huffy and spit out sarcasm, more statements of caricature and shallow challenges against humanism in general. All so overplayed. All so narrow minded. All so expected.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Secularlove

      "nrog...well said. Maybe the term is "God-hater"? "Devotee to the Religion of Atheism"? I think they're pretty easy to identify on this thread."

      See? They're all out in DROVES :->

      January 4, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  13. Brian

    "What I don't need is someone telling me what to believe or go to hell."..............................."I believe in the True Religion" – all 324 of them." – Mark Twain

    January 4, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Options

      If you end up in hell, you converse with H.L. Mencken, Huck Finn, and Sigismund Freud.

      Otherwise, it's Ned Flanders and Kate Smith.

      Your choice.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  14. Jason K

    I guess over 32% of Iowans identifying themselves a "evangelical" are "born suckers".

    Santorum was recently listed as the most corrupt senator in congress. Homeschooling his kids in VA with PA taxdollars. He has an $89k shanty somewhere in PA where he's even admitted to living less than a month out of the year.

    Romney is a joke, I don't understand how anyone can vote for him. He has no real position on anything. He's changed his mind so many times I'm starting to think he's schizophrenic.

    Gingrich...do I even need to go there? He was brought up on ethics charges while speaker of the House! His personal relationships are deplorable.

    Then you have "Nutty Uncle Ron". This guy has nothing bad on him except some newsletters from when he wasn't even in congress and was working at his private practice. While I think its not politically the best move to not say who wrote them, if someone can look up and find them, I'm sure they could dig up who wrote them too. Most evidence points to Lew Rockwell, but Paul doesn't much care to press the issue because its very obvious that racism isn't in his or the libertarian character.

    None of these men are exactly the picture of Jesus Christ, but at least Ron Paul doesn't wear his religion on his sleeve. He keeps it in its proper place in politics, at home with the family.

    January 4, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  15. sarahfalin

    Yeah I want a president that prays to the magic man in the sky..right!

    January 4, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Ol' So So

      Jesus doesnt exactly "live in the sky." The Bible makes no such statement. Jesus said:"I go away to prepare a place for you..."–St. John ch.14.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  16. Heather

    Wait, so politicians and the media have broadly simplified a group of people and made false assumptions? My mind is totally blown.

    January 4, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  17. Screeny

    I think Santorum won Iowa voters over because, speaking of welfare, he "doesn't want to make black people's lives better by giving them other people's money." Never mind that welfare is mostly given to white people (34% to caucasians, 22% to african-americans). That's when they knew he was their man. Nationally, that's going to embarass the Republican party even if it sells in Iowa.

    January 4, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Jason K

      Maybe that's because there's more deadbeat white people than black people. Most black people I know in my area work 50+ hours a week. But I live in a town filled to the brim of "white trash" hoping they get fired so they can collect for 2+ years.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  18. Leaf on the Wind

    Reed claims that among evangelical voters, "None is breaking overwhelmingly for a single candidate, primarily because so many candidates have made credible appeals for their support." Sorry, Ralph, but that isn't the reason. It's because no single candidate can possibly satisfy the average evangelical on all the issues, and this bunch is trying too hard. Lip service. Look it up.

    And claiming that evangelicals ". . . don’t bleat like sheep or move in herds" us laughable. The Christian bible is filled with homilies about sheep and tending your flock. Go ahead, say "baa baa."

    I clicked on each photo at the top of the article and read each caption, and I've come away with a continuation of my deep puzzlement about evangelical Christians. Why are you all so sure that your faith is the only true faith? Why are you so insistent that everyone should believe exactly what you believe? Why is it so important to you to be conviced that a candidate believes in your version of an all-knowing, omnipotent being? If there were a candidate with excellent plans for fixing the economy, bringing down the deficit, reducing unemployment, improving public education, and moving us towards a greener, better planet, would you vote for that candidate if they admitted to being atheist? . . . I thought not.

    January 4, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • not fanatic

      And the antichrist will promise and deliver peace and plenty....... for a space of years. Then the reaper will come to collect his dues.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Hey, Reap!

      Just stick it on the V-Card and let it ride!

      January 4, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  19. monkyspunk

    Those people are frightening!!!

    January 4, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  20. NoWay

    What I don't need is someone telling me what to believe or go to hell.

    January 4, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Jason K

      Well, you're safe as long as you don't pick Santorum. He's been quoted many times that its American Culture to use your influence to change how other people live their lives. Paul, and Romney I can say are at least different in that way. That is until it becomes prudent for Romney to flip flop on that too.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:48 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.