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. Enodia

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

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha......................

    January 4, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • steve

      Liberals are tolerant? Hahahahaha!

      January 4, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Ricky Bobby

      How's that for validation?!....Gee, thanks Ralph Reed.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Shawn Irwin

      Don't worry, it is a relative statement, most likely just saying they are more sophisticated than a toad stool.

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

    I guess im called a evangelical but i dont vote for a religious person to run our country cause they need the freedom to make the right choices based on the info not cause they belive its Gods will. Even God said to support your leaders even if there not religious.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • El Flaco

      God said this to you personally?

      January 4, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  3. Ricky Bobby

    Clarification....the majority of the 32% that voted for Santorum yesterday.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  4. Ricky Bobby

    Not all Evangelicals are "born suckers for quotes from Scripture or “code words” laced in the speeches of candidates appealing to their spiritual beliefs," just the majority of the 32% of those that voted yesterday

    January 4, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Rich


      January 4, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  5. SCAtheist

    Are you kiding me. An opinion piece from a delusional fundie saying fundies aren't delusional?

    January 4, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  6. Brian

    As far as I can see " born again " is the inability to live with the mistakes of one's past so lets be born again and create a new self and pretend it all didn't happen.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  7. Patrick

    Our founding fathers were Diests, and Humanists. They believed in the existance of a higher power (no specific one) . Many of them were Unitarians, and endorced the inherient worth and dignity of ALL people. The first admendment talks about freedom of religion (it also protects freedom from religion and religious persacution)

    January 4, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • ashrakay

      "inherient worth and dignity of ALL people" - except slaves.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Mathis

      I'm a Christian and for the love of it all I can't figure out why so many of my contemporaries can't figure this out. It is a privilege that so often abuses and manipulates others, when we feel that our faith should play a role in government. There's no biblical example of this so the idea that we should be doing it now is foolishness. Thanks for your post.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • ashrakay

      @Mathis, Considering god had a tendency to order kings to kill women and children in the bible, I think you can see why it might be a good idea to keep church and state separate.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  8. RyanS

    Since these voters are all obviously being preached to about politics in Church every sunday their churches should lose their tax exempt status. This needs to be brought into the spotlight.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Shawn Irwin

      This is correct, why should one group have an unfair advantage over other groups because they have a tax-free status and can funnel more money into politics as a result. Anyone who thinks that money does not buy votes or that church money is not going into politics is naive.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • IndyMiddle

      They are? Do you have the sermons. Most churches post their sermons on iTunes so they are pretty easy to find. Can you go get us some of these political sermons you are speaking of?

      January 4, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Gordon

      I've gone to church for 45 years and I have never heard a pastor preach politics. Do you go to church? You made a statement as if it was fact. Sounds like you are guessing.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Rich

      @Indy.. I'm sure they don't record those. They probably don't make it a sermon either. I'm sure that the leaders of the church let it be known, one way or another, who they are supporting and who they think their followers should support. This is especially a problem in areas where there are mega-churches with thousands of members who do whatever everyone else in the church is doing.. This needs to be looked at more closely.. IMO

      January 4, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  9. El Flaco

    The big issue now is whether an Evangelical Conservative can, in good conscience, vote for a man that they consider to be a heretic. We need a complete examination of Mormon theology and prominent Conservative Evangelical theologians need to guide voters through these issues of faith.

    Santorum is an Evangelical Protestant, so his Conservative credentials are unquestionable. Is Mormonism allied with God or with Satan? It obviously has to be one or the other.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Jimbo

      Actually Santorum is Catholic.

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

      Wouldn't it make more sense to ask Mormon theologians about Mormonism?

      January 4, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • tk

      The real question is how Evangelical Christians continually vote for the most war-mongering idiots imaginable and apparently don't believe in compassion.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Tery Vann

      Santorum is Catholic, a member of the Knigts of Malta even.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Shawn Irwin

      " It obviously has to be one or the other." A logically fallacial arguement there . . . . What if neither exist?

      January 4, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  10. Dennis

    All I can say is Bull, He's trying to spin the story as hard as he can, that they are normal, Not True!!

    January 4, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  11. Tery Vann

    Michelle Bachman has proven that only 1% of Iowans (the home of the evangelical religious) go for a candidate picked by God to run...and reinforced by her husband's orders. There is hope for us all!

    January 4, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Kelley M

      I think God was just playing some kind of cosmic practical joke when "He told her to run". Good one, too – I've been laughing my butt off at her since she first started.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  12. bob

    Reed says evangelicals don't all think alike. Yes and no. Evangelicals will vote for a Catholic or even a Mormon if the alternative is a woman or a loon (Perry). People who would have been all over the Mormonism cult won't say a peep when they think it might cost them the defeat of Barack Obama.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  13. Hey Zeus

    Born OK the first time, for sure!

    January 4, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  14. Brian

    Half of those people in those pics above look like their IQ isn't over 25

    January 4, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  15. DC

    The 'black vote' is NO myth. When over 90% of blacks vote for a candidate of the same race....IT IS BECAUSE HE IS OF THE SAME RACE.

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

      Except they wouldn't vote for Cain or Bill Cosby.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • El Flaco

      If Hillary Clinton ran against Herman Cain, 90% of all Black voters would vote for Clinton.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Rich

      @ElFlaco.. I agree..

      January 4, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  16. Reverend

    Ralph Reed, eh? Now there's a neutral observer...

    January 4, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Bannister

      Exactly. Ralph Reed writing an article about Christians would be like Roland Martin or LZ Granderson writing an article about race....um, wait a minute.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  17. REG in AZ

    The "Born Again" myth, might just have been clearly demonstrated by GWBush who conned believers into supporting him by his claiming to be a "Born Again" Christian, dating back to Texas politics when Karl Rove told him that to be successful he needed to identify with the Christian conservatives, and then he proceeded to completely demonstrate he was a total text-book sociopath, by definition, without a true conscience and as such that was a complete contradiction. Everything he did proved the fallacy in his ever being a true "Born Again" Christian and then in the costs of that deception, in people having voted based on that deception. Religion and politics, not a good mix when liars can con believers and believers become blinded by their limited issues.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • James

      I like that last sentence. I'm going to use it if you don't mind

      January 4, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  18. Stan

    I am a Christian, but i had to leave the church. I am an Independent and believe in voting for the best person based on the values of honesty and intelligence of the candidate. You just can't be an independent and be a member of an Evangilical church because you are not welcome there unless you march lockstep with the 'right' way as defined by them.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • DrewNYC

      If only more Christians were like you, then it'd be possible to have more intelligent and respectful discussions. Kudos from an Atheist.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Gordon

      I am a independent and at times have a different opinion then some of my other fellow Christians. I don't have a problem in the church. Seems like you need to find another church rather than look for an excuse to not go and lable everyone the same.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • JT

      I'm an atheist and wished more Christians were like you.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • DrewNYC

      @Gordon – Why does he need to find another church? He seems to have a good head on his shoulders and knows right from wrong. Why does he need somebody to tell him whats right from wrong. If you don't know what's right and wrong at this point in your life, you're in trouble.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  19. Jimbo

    The Republican Party relies on the blind evangelical sheep as much as the Democrats rely on keeping people poor and in need of handouts. Our countries political system is a joke.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Dianne


      January 4, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • foreign_observer

      lif you are going to post dribble, learn to spell.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Jimbo

      "lif"? Nice comeback.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  20. Godless

    Every single quote on those pictures speak volumes for Christians lack of intelligence and intellect. Those quotes are some of the most ignorant things I have ever read, next to CNN's stories of course.

    January 4, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
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.