Some say Democrats' weakened faith outreach partly to blame for losses
November 4th, 2010
09:10 AM ET

Some say Democrats' weakened faith outreach partly to blame for losses

From CNN's Dan Gilgoff:

Among the many reasons Democrats are giving for why so many lost faith in them at the polls on Tuesday, some are blaming the party for losing faith itself - for neglecting religious outreach and messaging in the run up to Election Day.

"It's been a real challenge organizing at the level of what was done in the last couple of cycles in faith constituencies because of a smaller staff and a small overall commitment," from the Democratic Party, said Burns Strider, who was hired by the party to help with faith outreach this year.

Strider, who helped spearhead Democratic faith outreach in 2006 and 2008 - when he directed that work for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign - said the party put substantially fewer resources and effort into faith-based strategy work this year than in any election since 2004.

Eric Sapp, who runs a faith-focused consulting firm with Strider, said he wasn't hired by the House and Senate Democratic campaign committees or by candidates for Congress or governor, for the first time since he started doing such work.

Others in the progressive faith worlds, meanwhile, say Democrats - including President Barack Obama - have shied away from the faith-based messaging that they honed in the years after the 2004 election, which was seen to be determined by so-called values voters.

"A strong values narrative attracted many in 2008, including many religious voters who had long eluded the Democrats," the Rev. Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical who advises the Obama White House, wrote in an election analysis memo on Wednesday.

"There's now a larger problem with the lack of a big picture .... and a fundamental morals and values narrative that undergirds policy goals," Wallis said in an interview Wednesday.

Democrats lost support across most demographics on Tuesday, and exit polls showed the fall-off among certain religious constituencies was dramatic.

Among Catholics, Democrats saw an 11-point drop in support compared with 2006 and 2008, when the party took 55 percent of those voters. This year, the Republicans won 54 percent of those voters, according to an analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Among white evangelicals, Democrats won just 20-percent of the vote, less even than in 2004, when that group flocked to the polls to support George W. Bush, an evangelical who took religious outreach to new levels.

On Tuesday, the Democrats' share of the white evangelical vote slid by nearly 30 percent from 2008.

"The economy is at the root of the Democrats' problem, but it doesn't mean that religion and other demographic factors cease to matter," said John Green, a scholar at the University of Akron who specializes in faith and politics.

"Religion is a lens through which people interpret economic issues and it's a way that people can be mobilized," he said.

The Democrats began stepping up faith outreach after the 2004 election, when the party suffered major losses and exit polls showed that many voters believed the Democrats were secular or hostile to religion.

House Democrats starting a Faith Working Group, Democratic activists launched new organizations like Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good while others - such as Sapp and Strider - started new faith-based consulting shops.

Through contracts with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, those consultants arranged meetings between Democratic candidates and office holders with influential religious leaders in different parts of the county.

The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, built a stable of faith outreach staffers and consultants with specific portfolios, like Catholic and Jewish outreach.

The work is credited with helping Democrats improve their performance among religious voters in 2006 and 2008, contributing to Senate and gubernatorial gains in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and helping Obama take those states and others two years ago.

This year, Sapp and Strider said there were no contracts between faith-based consultants and the Democrats' congressional campaign committees.

They said that the DNC staff was roughly half the size it has been during the 2008 cycle. The DNC had Sapp and Strider start most of their work in August, they said, when it was too late to form serious relationships between Democratic candidates and officials and faith leaders.

On Wednesday, Democratic National Committee Communications Director Brad Woodhouse defended his party's faith outreach effort.

"We are proud of the robust and diverse faith outreach program employed by the Democratic Party that begins with volunteer faith captains in precincts all across the country and ends with a Chairman who spent a year as a missionary and has made faith outreach among our highest priorities as a Party," he said, referring to DNC chairman Tim Kaine.

"To suggest that any one component of our election plan could have had a material effect in changing the outcome of Tuesday elections represents a fundamentally flawed analysis of what occurred," he said.

Strategists said one challenge to Democratic faith outreach is that many of the activists who pioneered that work in recent years have been absorbed into the Obama administration.

Joshua DuBois, Obama's faith outreach director from the 2008 campaign, is executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Mara Vanderslice, who started the first major Democratic faith consulting shop with Sapp after the 2004 election, has also joined the administration, along with other progressive religious activists.

"The best champions of this work went into the administration and they couldn't do political work any more," Sapp said. "There was this vacuum created."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Politics • Polls

soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. patnamm

    It has nothing to do with religious fatih, but they lost their bottle on their Political Fatih. They made the voters think that they weren't sure of the bills they crafted and passed. They allowed the repubs to beat their drums the loudest. Guess which sound the voters heard more?

    November 4, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
    • Frogist

      I'm inclined to agree with you. The number of Dems running away from their record was astounding. And every single news program I saw or heard said the Dems should really be getting the message out about what they did accomplish. But they were afraid to stick to their guns. That to me was the most depressing part. They had a chance to sum up their achievments and plans to the country in a resounding way and they didn't take the opportunity. They just came off looking weak.

      November 4, 2010 at 6:54 pm |
    • civiloutside

      I gotta agree too. Like on health care. Every poll I heard on the health care bill said people hated the health care bill, but when asked about the actual contents of the bill a large majority of people liked the majority of its provisions. This tells me that the Dems let the Repubs control public perceptions about what the bill actually did, and ended up running away from a phantom. Which is... kinda pathetic.

      November 4, 2010 at 9:28 pm |
  2. MAC

    I guess seperation of "Church and State" only applies to churches if they are not democrat stong holds like balck churches, synogogues, and mosque. In republican areas you will lose your tax exemption for preaching politics!

    November 4, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
    • Steve the real one


      Sadly your are correct! I even remember a story from this summer how a candidate in Florida was robbed outside of a church. Guess why she was going to church? She was going t give a stump speech! Dems stumping in Black churches happen ALL the time! Yet not IRS threats but the first to cry "separation of church and state" are the liberals!

      November 4, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
    • dutchblitz1

      Mac- It was a Democrat (Lyndon Johnson) who introduced the law that said churches can lose their tax-exempt status for backing certain candidates from the pulpit.

      November 4, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  3. W L jones

    The Republican just handed the Democratic the 2o12 election by winning big tuesday because they going hand the country same old do nothing policy they have the last two years.

    November 4, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Well, if they make no efforts and fail to keep their promises, they will deserved to be bounced out! Just like the dems were on Tuesday!

      November 4, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Steve: Repubs have already failed to make efforts. Their stance was "no" on everything without compromise. And seeing as how the t-pee'rs have already taken oaths to do the same, I don't expect much different. I do expect that they will try to take credit for any uptick in economic growth built on the backs of Mr Obama's actions without their actually doing anything.

      November 4, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  4. Reflecting Pool Discourse Blog

    ATTENTION CNN BLOG MODERATORS AND DESIGNORS: You have got to shorten the URLS for your Blog sites.

    Here is the URL for this article:

    This URL is 108 characters in length. Good god people WAKE-UP and smell the coffee. Many folks like me are unable to cite this link in our Twitter pages because the URL length is so outrageously long. You need to "TRUNCATE" these URLS.

    Let the term "TRUNCATE" be the eternal, common sense mantra for naming these URLS.

    The article (web page) name length is 67 (sixty-seven) characters long. Are you people on drugs? Get real and truncate these outrageously long names.

    November 4, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
  5. Ananda

    What America needs it the Buddhist Middle Way. Enough of this right-wing, left-wing Christian hypocrisy.

    November 4, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
  6. Steve the real one

    The truly sad part is that, at least from my perspective, Democratic policies are ideally suited to achieving Christ's mandate to reach the lost, promote peace, and reflect Jesus' compassion and love to "the least of these
    I respectfully disagree. The primary reason is the mandate Christ gave was not given to a state or government nor was it given to politicians. The mandate was given to HIS people, the Church! When parties give, there are political strings attached! When the Church gives, there are no such strings! I have a difficult time seeing the party of abortion as being Christian! Infact neither party is Christian, but have some memebers who are!

    November 4, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  7. Doc Vestibule

    Why are Americans unable to come to gribs with the puritan ethic that haunts the national subconscious?
    Anybody running for any kind of political office MUST proclaim their Christianity or be certain to lose.
    That Obama studied Koranic teachings has a good portion of the populace convinced that he is a Muslim.
    When Kennedy was president, some feared that his Catholicism would mean that he'd answer to the Pope instead of the people.
    Many politicos, like Dubya, lived lives of debauchery until it was time to enter the public sphere, at which point they found Jesus. Perhaps He was hiding under the couch cushions and wasn't noticed until the cocaine and jack daniels wore off.
    Falwell's "Moral Majority" had far too much influence on several recent elections. While the organization itself may no longer exist, the bigotry embodied by that group lives on through evangelical polemicists riling up the flock of faithful drones, spouting nonsense like the communist goals of the democratic party.
    Proclaiming agnosticism, let alone atheism, is tantamount to political suicide in the U.S.
    When the electorate would rather vote into office a man who gets his values from a book read through magic rocks out of a hat than someone who professes a naturalist, rational viewpoint, the country is in deep doo-doo.
    The faith of someone in public office is not relevant to the performance of their duties and should not be a campaign platform.
    I don't care whether my Prime Minister is Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Zoroastrian so long as their stated policies are sane and they conduct themselves with integrity.
    So far as I'm concerned, professions of faith are not a valid indicator of said integrity – a candidates actual track record and what policies they've supported and opposed is what counts.

    November 4, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
    • neal2350

      Well put. It's a shame that a country that is allegedly secular is hindered by such frivolity.

      November 6, 2010 at 9:29 pm |
  8. Steve the real one

    the reality is...
    Hmmm...Democrats are usually crying "Separation of church and state!" so why should the faith factor matter?
    You are absolutely correct with one caveat... Dems..maybe, Liberals..definitely!

    November 4, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  9. AM

    @Q – And that would be the same Seneca that molded and unleashed the monster Nero in 1st Century Rome, correct? 🙂

    As an evangelical Christian writer and pretty loyal Democratic voter, I can certainly attest to Dan's reporting, especially as it relates to the absence of an underlying faith-based narrative to policy decisions. The inability for many progressives to embrace and encourage the engagement of faith-based advocates, as they would any other voting bloc often compels effective would-be allies to remain silent for fear of being ostracized by both those who share their faith and, sadly, those that share their socio-political values.

    The truly sad part is that, at least from my perspective, Democratic policies are ideally suited to achieving Christ's mandate to reach the lost, promote peace, and reflect Jesus' compassion and love to "the least of these". Our Democratic leadership has failed utterly in promoting the most impactful framing available for the debate, that of the wedding of Christian Conservatives with the economic, and overtly anti-religious, philosophies of Ayn Rand. There is your frame, run with it.

    November 4, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      Thank You AM, I may burn in a he ll for this, but finally an evangelical Christian I actual agree with. Never thought I say those words.

      November 4, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
  10. the reality is...

    Hmmm...Democrats are usually crying "Separation of church and state!" so why should the faith factor matter?

    November 4, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
    • civilioutside

      Because the separation of church and state is the only thing that protects these people's right to worship. Religious voters only in favor of injecting their religion into the law because they all assume it will be their own version of religion that gets enshrined. Most of them are wrong.

      November 4, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
  11. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Let's just sum this one up, Democrats' weakened faith and Republicans outreached for hate.

    November 4, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
  12. Danny Cali

    I agree with President Obama let get both Party together and get work done for Americans but if Republican or Mr. McConnell don't want to let just forget them and stay strong where Democratic doing now. So, st the end Democratic Party going to win big time again because Republican still stay with the Party of big "NO", I hope Americans need to learn this time.

    November 4, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  13. Former Republican, now an Independent

    I am an Evangelical Christian and find little difference in these two parties. Neither really supports Christian values. The only difference is, the democrats don't hypocritically use these issues as battle cries to get out the Christian vote, then ignore them in favor of the wealthy and big business interests like the republicans do.

    November 4, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      I to am an former Repub and now an Indepen. What do you think Christian values are, and why are politicians not honoring them?

      November 4, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
    • Lisa

      Very Well Said Independent!! I'm an Evangelical Christian as well, but I too switched this cycle to Independent (from being a Democrat and I will NEVER be a Republican) simply because I believe that there's a voice not being heard in either party today: Evangelical Christians with Traditional Christian values, yet have a strong belief in Social Justice and how we treat "the least of these". I've quite frankly not felt at home in any political party yet. I have a blog call RighteousPolitics – I haven't posted there in awhile (just too busy) but I will be reviving it this week. Feel free to drop by sometime – I think there are many unheard voices like ours.

      November 4, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
  14. Red by Choice

    How about this for an explanation: For the last two years the electorate saw what the Democrats were all about and said "no thank you". Democrats had card blanch and made a mess of things. They also did long-term damage to the country with unfettered spending and by forcing through health care that even they did not understand and the majority did not want. It's a simple explanation but usually the simplest explanation is right.

    November 4, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      Red by Choice, have you read the health care bill, if so what part in that you didn't like?

      Who spent more in the first two years Pres. Bush or Pres. Obama? (you can even compare Pres. Reagan and Pres. Clinton if you like).

      I think they, the Right, has you bamboozled. Please read this stuff for yourself, before making up your mind about it. We've got people making 20,000,000+ yearly telling us that a plan that will lower the price of our health care and improve the patient\doctor relationship and improve overall health outcomes is bad for us. Have you ever wondered why they would say that, clearly they will never use it? I think you would understand their motivations once you find out why they are against health care reform.

      Why are you still listening to the Rush's, Beck's, O'Reilly's and such, they do not represent our best interest (unless you earn a couple million a year).

      November 4, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
    • Frogist

      @ JohnQuest: I find it interesting that people say the Dems have destroyed the country in 2 years, and conveniently ignore the 8 yrs that came before that of unregulated, underhanded business deals, an unsustainable housing boom, 2 resource-sapping wars, and the constant eroding of rights. How the repubs don't hang their heads in shame is beyond me.

      November 4, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
  15. Q

    "Religion is a lens through which people interpret economic issues and it's a way that people can be mobilized," he said.

    Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful. (Lucius Annaeus Seneca)

    November 4, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  16. Reality

    It makes no difference who is in political power with respect to the economy which was the number one issue in the election. The economy is suffering at the moment from having too much of everything, too many cars, too many houses/apartments/condos/office buildings/shopping centers, too many electronic gadgets et al and easy ways of recycling them with sites like eBay/. The "car clunker/gas hog" removal program was successful. We now need to have similar programs for example to construct new buildings not on pristine woods or divided farms but to tear down old buildings and rebuild them on the same lots. Or demolish empty shopping centers even towns and cities and convert them into parks. Not to upset anyone from western Pennsylvania, but Pittsburgh would be a great place to start. Too many tunnels, too many bridges and too many empty buildings!!!

    November 4, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  17. Zardoze


    November 4, 2010 at 11:08 am |
  18. lbj

    Dan- I'm often a fan of yours, but I gotta say, I think you missed the mark on this one. The gist of your reporting here seems to be that a handful of aggrieved democrats are trying to better position themselves for bigger contracts come next election cycle. I've long been a believer in faith-based outreach, but the numbers in this case just aren't there. The numbers cited in the story are perfect examples of how how correlation does not equal causation. Numbers for dems were down across the board and there's very little evidence in this case to prove that a more sustained faith-based outreach would have had more value added, than say, a more sustained outreach towards hispanics, liberals, or any other demographic group.

    November 4, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  19. Frogist

    Anyone who says that religion does not play a part in politics only has to look at these numbers to understand that they are mistaken. And what is this about religion being the lens through which you interpret economic issues? Can anyone explain that to me? Heck if the DNC are not catering to the religion bandwagon then that makes me even more Dem than I thought.

    November 4, 2010 at 10:46 am |
    • David Johnson

      Amen, sister!

      November 4, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
    • Frogist

      @DJ: Uh Oh. You're not going fundie on me again, are ya? If you start speaking in tongues, I'm leaving.

      November 4, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
  20. Reality

    Another reason? Fewer of the Immoral Majority voted?

    The Immoral Majority = the 70 + million voting "mothers and fathers" of 35+ million aborted womb-babies slaughtered since 1973 at a rate of ~one million/year.

    November 4, 2010 at 10:18 am |
    • Megatron

      Reality, do you call your eggs "shelled chickens"

      November 4, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
    • Reality


      No eggs here. I call my spermatozoa "Controlled Swimmers for Human Life in All Its Forms"!!!

      November 4, 2010 at 3:10 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.