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. Peter

    What a silly story. More than that, what an oversimplification of human behavior...or is it simply a form of bigotry? Why would any religious group vote for the same person running for a position touching so many different aspects of our lives? Heck, even religious people are moved by such superficial things as looks, gender, age never mind the deeper issues. There will be more cohesiveness during the presidential election as the differences between the two will be, hopefully, worlds apart.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • openeyes

      way too intellectual for evangelicals.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • GvilleT

      It's either ignorance or bigotry...where I come from...po dunk ville...it's both.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  2. Rich

    Evangelical = Flock of Sheeple

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

    guv'mnt is so broke. up to individuals now. F...King christians takin' over

    January 4, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Peter

      LOL...reading these posts....and I'm one of you! Hahahahah!

      January 4, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  4. TH

    I want my leader to be someone that do NOT see everything in the Bible or any other holy books as the truth. I want my leader to be knowledgeable and believe the way forward is with education and science.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • IceT

      Let the believers run your churches but an atheist is best to run our country. An atheist won't let religion make decisions for everyone & would be more focused on the well being of all. An atheist doesn't want to take religion away from those who choose to believe, they just won't impose it on the rights of everyone.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  5. IceT

    Of course evangelicals are a more sophisticated bunch. What did you think, they were all bumbling idiots that can't make a decision on their own. Of course they can. But are they anymore sophisticated than the rest of us .. no. They, like the rest of us, are rational thinkers with one exception, religion. Religion isn't rational, lets hope everyone keeps it out of actual policy if elected.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  6. openeyes

    you people are scary. sci=fi stuff. I got my shotgun

    January 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  7. Dan

    Of all the evangelicals in the picture slide show, the last one, Josh Foreman, scares the crap out of me. His exact words are "We shouldn't have seperation of church and state. We shouldn't have freedom from religion, like alot of people think, but freedom of religion." To Mr Foreman and those who think like him, you can't have freedom of religion without also having freedom from religion AND seperation of church and state. That is physically impossible. Why don't you just say what you actually want which is a theocracy that makes your beliefs the law everyone has to live by. If you represent the evangelical vote, then the intended message of this whole article is BS. Christians are suckers for anyone yelping scripture. Now that Bachmann is gone and Perry is on his way out, I hope the remaining theocrats stay in until the end so they can force each other to exhaust their resources to the point that none are ready to face Obama in November.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  8. Hypatia

    So sayeth the Pot to the Kettle(s)...

    January 4, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  9. GvilleT

    I'm a Christian living in the bible belt and these people sound like morons. "No seperation between church and state", "A president with morals", "someone with the same beliefs as I have", "someone who believes in God", "life starts at conception and marriage is between man and wife"... All the candidates including Obama believe in God. I don't think we've ever had a president that didn't believe in God. If you don't think church and state should be seperated, how is the president's faith going to help your cause? Values? Values? Since when did a ploitician ever make a decision based on anything but money and/or votes for the next step up? Not sure what kind of world these people are living in. There's a lot more important issues going on in our country than whether or not a gay couple can carry each other on their insurance policies or be legally bound in a civil union. What about foreign policies, our government spending, the loopholes the rich hide under when it comes to paying their taxes? Where do I start???

    January 4, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • D

      thank goodness! A Christian that gets it! You have renewed my hope in humanity a bit, GvilleT. Thank you.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Dan

      I think that's how the Republicans have gotten the Christian vote – by appealing to abortion and gay marriage. Christians tend to vote on those two issues, which I think is unfortunate. Abortion isn't going to go away no matter who the president is, and the budget is a lot bigger issue than gay marriage.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Peter

      This is typical childish behavior. Somehow we are provided with a world upon which we can live. We make a mess of it and then we point the finger at the provider for what men have created. We screwed it up and we continue to do it and we always blame others and not ourselves...we all play a part.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  10. just fun

    Anybody that believes what Ralph Reed has to say doesn't have much of a mind. When he was in Alabama he use all the dirty political trick he could think of, he used his faith for his gain. I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him. He kept gambiling out by tricking the faithful and was most likely involved in the money passed around down here to keep it out.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  11. Shawn Irwin

    If you still think that the earth is less than 6,000 years old, or that Noah led tyrannosaurus rex onto the "Ark", then perhaps you should be voting for Ron Paul, so you can get the drugs that you are taking legalized.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  12. Mark

    It seems that Evangelicals forgot important parts of Christianity by supporting candidates that supports torture and preemptive wars of aggression.

    "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall by called children of God" -mathew 5:9
    "Thou Shalt Not Kill"
    "Love Your Neighbor"

    January 4, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • IceT

      If a pre-emptive war prevents a much larger scale war with much more dire consequences I would say that's being a peace maker.
      If torturing one person saves the lives of hundreds or thousands, I'm all for it. Problem is, no one will know if it worked & will complain about its use.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  13. WachetAuf

    The devil is in the details. Please – those of you who believe yourselves to be a "born again" Christian, identify and describe for us, once and for all, the values which you believe to be Christian. And, please do not stop with the analysis because each layer of the onion you may peel back begins to sting your eyes. Do not, for example, simply tell us that Christain principle requires us to be anti-abortion. Please tell us, step by step, what is required of us to save those poor children who will never be born. Do we "turn the other cheek" and, in so doing, gather all the evidence we may need before we pass judgment? Would we "cast the first stone" and, in so doing, put the mother to her death like some other religions might encourage? Nah? Do we simply jail the mothers? The doctors? How about the fathers? How about their teachers? Their preachers? Anyone else in the system need to be punished? Was it punishment which Jesus sought for these sins? Was it forgiveness, toleration? Was Jesus' strategic objective simply to "teach" us how to negotiate our differences and our sins? Please tell us, dear "born agains", what is the correct remedy? Might it be something as simple as "teaching" our children rather than punishing them? Might that be the greatest "value" which Jesus brought us? Huh? Too much effort, too much money, too much beauracracy, too much time, too many slackers, welfare mothers? So, what would Jesus really do? Would he separate himself from the poor and unwashed masses? Build private schools for the select few of "born agains" who truly love him? Oh, "Rambo Jesus", just "imagine" it!

    Now how about let's address the Christian values by which the monetary system might be structured. Then, how about the Christain values which might come into play when dealing with foreign enemies? Maybe Jesus has something to say? Or, maybe not.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • jason

      abortion is murder. what is it cloudy about that judgment?

      January 4, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Lance Burch (@lanceburch)

      We adopt.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • cecilia

      Jason – the death penalty is murder also unless you want to take the place of God and decide who is worthy to live and who should die.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Birdslayer

      If you actually read the Bible, you'd realize just how stupid your statements are... There's good and bad in every religion, but Christianity is not about religion, it's about a relationship with Jesus Christ. Religions and all of their bizarre rituals are man's doing. They are not from the biblical teachings of Jesus Christ. Case in point, Catholicism, Mormons, Scientology, etc

      January 4, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  14. Religizz

    Take off those poly-cotton blends: they're forbidden by the Bible punishable by death. The old testament, but still. It's the old testament that talks about the evils of the gays. So it must be valid. That's why these people talk about God and not about Jesus, because they're not real christians, just war mongering sheep in sheeps clothing.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Scot

      Amen Brother !

      January 4, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • cecilia

      Maybe they do not realize that Christian means follower of Christ – not follower of the old Testament

      January 4, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  15. What's a girl to do

    WOW Ralfie Reed – the ole casino shyster – where has he been hiding.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • foreign_observer

      Ralphie just emerged from under some slime covered swamp log to spew his evil web of deceit. Go back to the swamp Mr. Reed

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

    Junk Reporting: Where is evidence of the sophistication that is puncturing the myth? Oh, because they split their votes between many insane candidates instead of one. Or maybe because the entrance polls listed the economy as an important issue?

    Thank you very much Ralph Reed for the riveting editorial exposing the secret that voting blocks tend to care about other issues.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  17. corntrader19

    Oh, really? I could have told you that because I am one of them. We are not stupid as you think we are! The media has it all figured out and has already stereotyped us. If you saw an Evangelical person on the street, you wouldn't know it.

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

      Do the people above that were interviewed come off as intellegent to you? If so, you are as stupid as the media makes you out to be.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Grace Of The Witch

      Thats what you christians do to gay people.
      You think that all gay men are fairies with limp wrists
      and all lesbians look like truck drivers.
      You cherry pick from your bible,
      then you claim hatred and harrasment when people
      point out that you dont act like Jesus christ.

      This is America, believe what you want, but keep it out of my bedroom
      and out of my government.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • duckforcover

      I certainly would know an "evangelical" if I saw one on the street. They'd be the ones telling me how I ought to live my life and what I ought to believe. Not to mention condemning me to hell if I disagree.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • William

      Stupidity is not the problem. Christians are just unreasonable people.

      The alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind. ~Ayn Rand

      January 4, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  18. Religizz

    What's bombing people in the middle east have to do with Jesus? Oh, that's right, nothing. Just don't tell that to the corn farmers, the evangelicals, the pro-death lobby.

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

      It's all about good vs evil. It's really as simple as that. Go ahead and believe the enemy's lies... The media reports the enemy's lies, so they must be true??? Yep, all "Born Again Christians" are uneducated nut-jobs drinking the Lords Kool-Aide. At least that's what the enemy wants you to believe. Like it or not, there is a war raging every day and it's good vs evil, the light vs darkness, Jesus vs Satan. Look the other way and believe the lies. It's easier for you well educated liberals to simply ignore the TRUTH.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  19. Kelley M

    Gail Johnson, 53, "would prefer that biblical principles are followed by our government". Does that include the death penalty for adultery and disobedient children?

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

      The American Taliban is alive and well !

      January 4, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Birdslayer

      You need to read past the Old Testament and learn about what Jesus was teaching... Remember Jesus? You know... he died for our sins, son of God, our Lord and Savior? The birth of Jesus put the Old Testament to rest and began the New Testament which chronicles the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not teach about the death penalty for adultery and disobedient children. Remember, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone”???

      January 4, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  20. crizan

    my co-worker's mother-ín-làw màkes $ 82 hourly on the ínternet. She hàs been wíthout à job for 6 months but làst month her check wàs $7826 just workíng on the ínternet for à few hours. Go to thís web síte ... MàkeÇàsh13.çòm

    January 4, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Jimbo

      ^This guy lies about as good as Obama.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:31 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.