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. Mark C

    Are you done ripping off Indian tribes yet Ralph?

    January 4, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  2. MacDav

    Nobody wants Taliban Santorum

    January 4, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  3. RodBinNC

    Ralph Reed is a member of a "hate group" according to the Southern Poverty Law Group. I gather that you(CNN) will soon be having the Grand Wizard of the Klan give us a OpEd as these are "teaching moments" , Having Reed as a "Special to CNN" is advertising the point that either you have no writers or that CNN is on it's last legs of readership/viewers and must resort to these abominable hateful evil trolls who just stir the gunpowder. SHAME ON YOU CNN, SHAME

    January 4, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Ol' So So

      According to the "anti-"Southern Poverty Law (center,group,or whatever these fanatics brand themselves these days), ALL White Southerners are potential terrorist/Kuklux/militia. That is just HOW these leftist lunatics view us Whites down here. The Federal Govt. should re-evaluate these people and their organisation. They and the NAACP and the ACLU should not receive (tax) money from the government. (but they do) some smart-alec will tweet up and say"they dont receive govt. money...(bbut they DO)

      January 4, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  4. trrnrrbroadkasting

    No. The analysis provided falls short. What happened, instead – is not that the Evangelical vote went anywhere at all. Reed speaks from the perspective of lobbyism – he being of course, the head of a christian lobbying firm. What happened was the GOP itself split. How else to describe almost even div. between Ron Paul, Santorm and Romney?

    January 4, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  5. keith white

    i really enjoyed watching ac and kathy griffen (love the braw)stunt poor anderson .now politics OBAMA is going to win why even bother with the republicans.i mean really none of them have a real chance at the white house.i am so tired of watching the republicans argue back and forth .good ridence to bachman.OBAMA is going to win what part of that do you not understand .why dont you report on real people real problems help the poor.This is America not a side show.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  6. Zeta Reticulan

    If an alien race makes contact with our government, I sure as hell hope our President is NOT religious!
    Then again, that could by WHY they haven't contacted us yet.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Chuck88888

      They haven't contacted us yet because they don't exist.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Mark

      I've always figured that if an alien race is that advanced, they'd have better things to do with their time than contact us.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Joshua

      Aliens, huh?

      January 4, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Zeta Reticulan

      Just throwing a curve ball into the conversation to liven up the same 'ol theist vs atheist debates. Just another scenario to look at .. especially since so many believers in Gods seem (ironically) incapable of believing in other life forms in the universe.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  7. Mark

    What is pathetic is that this country is not a theocracy and I personally do not care for candidates who parade their religion around on their shirt sleeve. I don't care what their religion is, you can't pray away a lousy economy.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Nero

      Amen brother!

      January 4, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • CuriousCitizen

      I'm curious, what does it mean to be a Christian? I'm trying to find out exactly what that means, it seems to be a big component to the Americas

      January 4, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  8. Seattle

    Interesting how all the evangelicals survey are white.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • Chuck88888

      95% of voters (both parties) in Iowa are white .

      January 4, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  9. If horses had Gods ...

    If an Atheist and a Theist are both running for President, who is more qualified based solely on that information?

    January 4, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • trrnrrbroadkasting

      Our country believes in the separation of Church and state. However, an author whose main point is to attempt to convince the electorate and candidate alike that they must blend the two – would have you think otherwise. If a really qualified agnostic or atheist came to the table, in America. He could win.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Don

      Neither. A candidate who promotes himself using religion or non-religion is not qualified to be a candidate.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • morality cheque

      The one that freely exercises morals & ethical behavior for the good of all people & not out of fear of retribution.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Ol' So So

      If the Son of Perdition ran on the Demokkratz ticket, I think he would garner their votes. Especially so, given the ugly turn the extreme Left is taking here on the SinNN comment boards.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  10. Observer

    God told Bachmann, Cain, and Perry to run for president. Two are already gone and Perry is "re-evaluating if he should continue". Sure looks like God prefers Obama.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Nero

      You rock!

      January 4, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  11. toadears

    Doesn't matter anyway when the BRIC nations get done in Switzerland, your currency will be obsolete soon.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  12. Matt

    That dude Foreman is one scary dude. No seperation of church and state? Isn't that one of the core values? Scary, sad, misguided, and shame on CNN for publishing something that belongs in the tabloids.

    Guess they got me to comment

    January 4, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  13. JDinHouston

    Sorry, but Ralph Reed can take credit as having been part of the creation of the Fundamentalist Evangelical Republican Party (FERP). For over a decade, fundamentalists in this country have done all they can to take over the Republican party, and now they have successfully created a split. I believe that is exactly what Santorum's numers represent – a vote against a Mormon, and for a Fundamentalist that FERP members could support. So now we have the GOP candidate with Romney, the test for FERP will be to see if they can propell Santorum in South Carolina and possibly NH. Keep watching, it will continue to be GOP versus FERP.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • trrnrrbroadkasting

      No such thing as FERP. Reed only works for a lobbying firm that does all of that – the basic drive is still there within the GOP itself. I believe you will find that the GOP will not fracture in its support for Romney . He will win the primary. However, the GOP itself is deeply damaged and to whatever extent Romney takes hits in the General Election – imho will be a more accurate test of the idea you're talking about..

      January 4, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  14. Zoomie

    Evangelicals prey on children!

    January 4, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • toadears

      I had no idea that Sandusky was an Evangelical.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  15. jeannico123

    Referrring to evangelical voters to being a "sophisicated bunch" seems to be a bit of an oxymoron.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • tom


      January 4, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  16. JoeT

    You'd think these Evangelicals would all vote Democrat and be Occupying somewhere if they read their bibles.

    Isaiah Chapter 10
    Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed;
    To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!
    And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory?
    Without me they shall bow down under the prisoners, and they shall fall under the slain. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • tom

      Great post. I love it!

      January 4, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • trrnrrbroadkasting

      I am a man of means. I support Occupy full force. I had to work over the Christmas break, and I've worked all my life and I own my own company – My support is based on a simple economic premise. Welfare for the Wealthy is a waste of cash.
      The lobbyists might disagree.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Ol' So So

      I DO read the Good Book. That precisely, is why am not "Occupying".....My Bible says:"Now I (Paul)command that if any man work not, neither should eat."

      January 4, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  17. The Big Fat One

    What misguided fools. The irony is that an atheist candidate with respect for the separation of church and state would do far more to protect their religious freedoms than any holy-roller.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • IceT

      Absolutely Fat One, too bad the followers of religion will choose to ignore the absolute truth of that statement.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  18. Outraged

    Well, if Ralph Reed says so, that's good enough for me!

    ROTFLMAO, LOL!!! I kill myself....

    January 4, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  19. james

    When compared with simple minds like those of Ralph Reed, almost everybody is very sophisticated.

    January 4, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  20. sybaris

    Until a GOP candidate is clearly named this next year will continue to look and sound like a traveling revivalist roadshow with competing charlatans spewing whatever verse gets them a vote.


    January 4, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Matthew

      Did you even read the article? The whole point is that exactly what you describe is NOT, in fact, happening at all.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:13 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.