Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

In search of the God vote

Politico examines some Gallup data and Pew Forum analysis on the fact that Barack Obama is not performing well in attracting the bloc of white voters who attend Church weekly. That's about a third of voters. 29 percent backed Al Gore and John Kerry in the last two elections. Obama is coming in at 28 percent. (The unspoken assumption in the article is that Obama will garner a huge percentage of African-American Church-goers.)

He is not failing because of lack of effort. Obama's campaign specifically and Democrats generally have been doing a great deal to reach out to religious voters and put on a friendlier face to people of faith. The social conservatives in the piece cite the issue of abortion as a key to understanding the divide.

The so-called God gap manifests itself in interesting ways, particularly in the South. Democratic Congressman Lincoln Davis of Tennessee has made clear the connection between his faith and his Democratic values, though he has hesitated again and again when it comes to embracing Obama who is still losing to McCain in our State. Meanwhile, next door in North Carolina, Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole, who is running behind in her reelection bid, has launched an ad attempting to link Democratic opponent Kay Hagan to an atheist PAC. Obama, of course, is running a strong race in North Carolina, but Dole has picked a place where she senses Democrats are vulnerable.

Sen. Dole says she isn't concerned that the voting trend may bode ill for her."Republicans are outnumbered in registrations, so you can't win without Democrats," she said. "I've had people tell me they voted Obama-Dole."

Now that's something I never imagined I'd read.

The overall trend and the specific Southern examples bring up some questions. If the Democrats keep plugging away at the Church-going vote, can they eventually gain some ground, say a 10-point increase? And how long would that take--4 years, 8 years, 12 years? At the State and local level in the South, Democrats clearly cannot afford to give up their messaging and outreach to religious voters. But if there continue to be diminishing returns in the presidential race, might Democratic strategists be tempted to give up on the religious vote, thus recreating an opening upon which a chastened Republican party might build?

The key, of course, may be the ways in religion is changing in America. While white Evangelicals remain a strong voting bloc, the Catholic vote now receives a great deal of attention. Latino Catholicism, Evangelicalism, and Pentecostalism may become the key constituencies targeted for outreach in the next 10-20 years if their voter registrations catch up to their explosive growth.

In terms of this election, the white religious vote will probably remain stably Republican. But the results represent an opportunity for Democratic party leaders to dig in and wait for the ethnic demographic of religious voters to change.

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