The Splintering of the Evangelical Vote


On the TLC reality television program “19 Kids and Counting,” Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar chronicle their lives raising nineteen children on a sprawling Arkansas ranch.  The Duggars adhere to a fundamentalist evangelical movement known as Quiverfull, which implores followers to birth as many children as reproductively possible — embracing the children-as-arrows metaphor of Psalm 127.  As America’s most famous Quiverfull family, the Duggars fancy their television program as a sort of ministry: a culture war-weapon to transmit conservative values — homeschooling, family, faith, modesty and so on — to secular households across the country.  Yet the 2012 primary season has pushed the Duggars from their small-town stage to the Washington political arena, where their endorsement has become a potent political tool for a fellow culture warrior.

“We totally believe that Rick Santorum is the best candidate,” Jim Bob Duggar told a packed crowd during the South Carolina primary.  Though Jim Bob served as an Arkansas state legislator from 1999 to 2002, he and his family made their national political debuts during the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses.  Jim Bob and Michelle made Santorum stump speeches; the kids wooed voters with Von Trapp-style renditions of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” and “God Bless America.”  When Santorum left the campaign trail to tend to his hospitalized daughter, who suffers from a rare genetic condition known as Edwards syndrome, the Duggars took his place at official campaign events from Florida to Pennsylvania.

The pro-life, pro-homeschooling Duggars represented and exemplified many of Santorum’s beliefs, and provided a natural, homegrown platform for his politics.  Though Santorum is Roman Catholic, his faith and its manifestations often adopt the buzzwords of evangelicalism, and his heartland appeal often relies on, or at least benefits from, keeping his Catholicism hush-hush while positioning his Christianity front and center.  According to an Edison Research entrance poll from the Iowa caucuses, Santorum won the greatest proportion of the self-described evangelical vote — with 40 percent of voters hoping for a candidate with “strong moral character” casting their ballots for him.  Yet in South Carolina, Gingrich, also a convert to Catholicism, nabbed a majority of the evangelical demographic two days after the founder of the prominent Christian group Focus on the Family endorsed Rick Santorum.

And then, of course, there’s Mitt Romney: the Mormon candidate.  Evangelical voices offered mixed messages, and political commentators disputed the extent to which Romney’s faith would sway the conservative Christian vote.  The New York Times published “Why Evangelicals Don’t Like Mormons,” while “Why Mitt Romney’s Mormonism Doesn’t Matter” made an appearance in Rolling Stone.  In Iowa, entrance polls revealed that 14 percent of evangelical voters cast ballots for Romney—the same percentage that voted for Texas governor Rick Perry.  In South Carolina, that percentage rose to 22 percent.  And in Florida: 38 percent.

In engineering George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, Karl Rove focused on American evangelicals, many of whom had stayed home in 2000.  The years leading up to Bush’s reelection saw an explosion of evangelical political activity among teenagers, shattering the perceived monopoly of liberalism on the youth vote.  In 2003, for instance, the Home School Legal Defense Association, helmed by conservative constitutional lawyer Michael Farris, launched Generation Joshua, an organization that recruits young homeschoolers as activists for religious political causes.  Farris’s Patrick Henry College excused its students from class before the 2004 election; other Christian universities, like Bob Jones and Liberty, acted as similar hubs for the political mobilization of the Religious Right.

Institutions like Patrick Henry and Liberty derive their philosophy from the sentiment found in Pat Buchanan’s 1992 speech at the Republican National Convention.  “There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America,” Buchanan said.  “It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”  The conditions of total war inherent in the battle for America’s soul necessitate the personal-as-political attitude so perfectly encapsulated in the Duggar family.  The Quiverfull movement encourages parents to view each additional child as yet another arrow in the quiver of God — much in the same way that Michael Farris and Pat Buchanan see themselves as generals in the culture war against secularism.

At the heart of the culture war sit conservative social issues: abortion, same-sex marriage, and the line between church and state. After all, certain economic policies may prove unwise, but rarely do they stand in direct opposition to the will of God.  Economic policies rarely capture the hearts and minds of voters.  Social issues, on the other hand, become a sort of symbolic politics, insofar as individual policies like abortion funding, a perceived decline in moral standards and civil unions come to represent affronts to religion and Christianity at large.  And buzzwords — the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage, and so on — translate into votes.

In previous years, evangelical votes fell on deeply partisan lines. Over 70 percent of evangelical voters in 2008 voted for Arizona Senator John McCain.  Though many mainstream Republicans criticized McCain’s perceived reputation for failing to adhere to party lines, none could doubt his faith; meanwhile, many conservative voters remained skeptical of Obama’s religious background.  And in the 2004 election, the previously vetted Bush provided the only conservative-friendly alternative to the secularism of John Kerry.

But in the 2012 Republican primary, evangelical voters have their pick of anyone-but-Obama candidates, with Santorum, Gingrich, Paul and even Romney attracting their share of votes.  Therein rests the problem for the contemporary Religious Right — they are unable to translate widespread anti-Obama sentiment into support for one particular candidate.  And as politicians begin to pander to evangelical voters — think Ron Paul, who broke from his heavily economic platform to attend a summit dedicated to promoting pro-life definitions of personhood — it is worth considering whether the religiosity of conservatives will hold the same sacred position it did in elections past.

Voters concerned about religious definitions of morality will never go away completely, but in an election centered on issues of secular economics, many primary voters — those less religious than the core of the Religious Right movement — may decide to compromise some matters of faith.  But the Religious Right is still kicking: think of the recent decision, now reversed, for breast cancer advocacy organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure to remove funding for Planned Parenthood services, or the evangelical-led campaign to persuade retail giant J.C. Penney to oust Ellen DeGeneres as a sponsor. These grassroots efforts exemplify a new approach for the Religious Right, focused on diffusing widespread action in the Internet age, not clinging to a few big-name leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

All movements change, and the evangelical movement gains nothing from stagnation.  Yet the decision to bring the Religious Right into 21st century politics might force evangelicals to sacrifice their stake in choosing the 2012 GOP nominee — a splintering of the evangelical vote, but not necessarily the evangelical movement.


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  1. on the so called pelborm of voter fraud and requiring photo IDs to vote. While it’s certainly true that voter fraud is a terrible crime literally effecting the outcome of the integrity of elections, the actual incidence of such crimes are rather minimal.Voter ID The Solution in Search of a Problem. Source Brennan Law Center.Some of what they wrote is paraphrased by yours truly. Rest assure I did not change any meaning or message. Presently there are eight states requiring some form of ID. They are Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, S.D. There are 20 or so states who require an ID but not necessarily a photo type. There are proposals in over 30 states to show tangible proof of citizenship.Politicos who are pro photo ID claim they want to cut down on voter fraud. The Brennan Center for Justice study shows individual voter fraud is extremely rare. Many reports of suposed voter fraud were later proven to be untrue. The claimsof voter fraud and/or misconduct must be carefully studied before there is any decision for action, especially legal action. Photo IDs won’t solve voting fraud but will make it harder for some groups of eligible voters to vote in elections on any level. That is be it municipal, state or federal. As many as 12 percent of eligible voters in the U.S. do not have a government-issued photo ID. The percentage is even higher for seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, and students. Getting an ID often requires that you already have one. Besides making it harder for eligible citizens to vote, ID requirements are expensive to states to implement. This in light of the fact many states are at serious deficits. The education of voters, election workers and officials is quite costly. Plus there is a very real possibility of costly challenges in court. One typical example is MO $.10,000.000Brennan Law Center site. Based on a comprehensive review of every court case in which a photo ID law has been challenged, the Brennan Center produced a report outlining the costs (PDF) states will incur if they decide to implement photo ID requirements for voters. While the results of lawsuits challenging photo ID laws have been mixed, several basic principles have been established: Photo IDs sufficient for voting must be available free of charge for all those who don’t possess them. States cannot limit free IDs to those who swear they are indigent. Photo IDs must be accessible at all times to every voter sans hardship or burden. At the very least most states will probably need to expand the number of ID-issuing offices and stretch operating hours to meet this need. Republicans claim they will provide photo ID. My question is this. What is the cost involved for this endeavor. I think it would be much cheaper and easier to permit non Photo IDs to vote. This goes for the cost of voter outreach and education if this law is enacted in the states its being proposed in.Some courts may require states to ensure that all the documents required in order to obtain photo IDs are free and easily available to prospective voters.Lastly the official organization for election reform and fair elections, Common Cause is totally against requiring Photo IDs to vote.Here are some talking points. One can get a non driver’s ID. Fact is its usually the case where one needs a picture ID to get a non driver’s ID. If one doesn’t own an ID with a photo than one can’t get a non driver’s license.Photo IDs help prevent illegals from voting. Well the truth is if an illegal alien tries in any way to vote in any election in whatever level he or she can be immediately deported and/or pay a fine of at minimum $20,000. I doubt that many illegals will risk deportation.Just issue photo IDs for folks without one. Here’s why this doesn’t make sense. It costs money to make and distribute such forms. In states that did this , the cheapest cost was in Mississippi. The expenditure for that state was eight million dollars!!! With states being srapped for money for much needed services I don’t believe they need unecessary ones. And I do believe insistence on Photo IDs are unfair, disenfranchising to the disabled, senior citizens, many Blacks and Hispanics for an issue, ie voter fraud that occurs at an extremely rate.reply from Robert: Why do you think that? Showing photo ID’s isn’t anything but another way to keep America safe, or are you one of those who do not care if we are safe? I swear, no wonder America is in trouble with people who think like you do, and the liberals in charge.

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