Polls have been indicating for a while now that evangelicals have become less enamored of President Bush. But today's New York Times poll blew my mind. According to that poll, more evangelicals are planning to vote Democratic than Republican. True, it was just 42% to 41% but, still, I cant remember a poll since Jimmy Carter that showed a plurality of evangelicals going Democratic.
A few points to consider about this. First, this is a slam-dunk rebuttal to those on the left who have argued that it was pointless for Democrats to try to appeal to evangelical Christians voters, and that to do so was somehow falling for a Republican rope-a-dope tactic. Democrats would exert huge amounts of effort, for naught since those religious voters were Neanderthals. So went the theory.
Second, if this holds up it will be a crippling blow to the Republican coalition. Cornering the market on evangelicals has been the lynchpin of the GOP strategy. In fact, it could be argued that by going tough on immigration, they gambled that what they'd lose in the future from lost prospective Hispanic voters, they'd gain by collecting almost all of the evangelicals. Instead, they may end up losing both.
Third, though most polls don't break it down that way, it's useful to think of evangelical voters as being in three groups: "Religious Right," "Moderate Evangelicals" and African American Evangelicals. Blacks were solidly Democratic to begin with. Religious Right voters are not going Democratic. They might stay home a bit, but until the Democrats nominate, say, Randall Terry as their nominee, these voters will stick with the Republcians. The movement is with a third group, moderate evangelicals, made up about 10% of the electorate, went for Bush but were always gettable for the Democrats. These moderate evangelicals are theologically conservative - they often believe the bible is the inerrant word of God - and they do oppose abortion and gay marriage, but they just don't care quite as much about those issues as others. These are the voters who could be moved out of the Republican Party.
To me, the big open question is WHY are evangelicals abandoning Bush? My view is that the key to evangelical support for Bush has never primarily been about his positions on issues (such as abortion or homosexuality) but his personal faith story. Simply put, they trust him because he's a Christian.
Suffice it to say, this is a bit of an obsession of ours over at Beliefnet and we'll be hearing continual speculation from our key political bloggers - Jim Wallis & Amy Sullivan on the progressive side, Rod Dreher (a.k.a. Crunchy Con) on the right and David Kuo, our now-famous "compassionate conservative".
I suspect that the real reason evangelicals have peeled away is that they now believe that Bush's Christian faith has affected his presidency too LITTLE, not too much. If his Christian faith really is irrelevant to how he performs his job, they reason, then they just assume judge him on the same terms as everyone else, i.e. the Iraq war.