Evangelicals, who have voted solidly Republican since Jimmy Carter ran for President and talked openly about his being “Born Again” and the “lust in his heart”, may be in play this November, and tip the election decisively.
Standard bearers Barack Obama and John McCain have been invited this Saturday by Rick Warren, the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, most successful megachurch pastor ever, to air their views before evangelicals. (Warren’s Purpose Driven Life, has sold more copies than any book in American history with the exception of the bible and Warren runs a network of several hundred thousand megachurch pastors who have been trained by Warren or Warren disciples in how to run a purpose-driven church). Warren was here at the Harvard Kennedy School several years and gave a speech in which he disassociated himself from the political Right and said “I’m not for the Right. I’m not for the Left. I’m for the whole bird.” Warren has also gotten his networks increasingly involved in issues that in the past would have been Democratic issues, like AIDS in Africa, through the PEACE plan, or environmental issues or world poverty. That Warren himself is increasingly open to courting ties with Democrats is symptomatic of the crumbling of the Republican-evangelical marriage that was solidified starting with Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition.
Almost 8 of 10 white evangelicals supported Bush in 2004 exit polls and they made up a third of Bush’s total votes. A Washington Post-ABC News poll of registered voters last month showed McCain with a lead among this segment, but the ratio was only 3:1: McCain with 67% vs. Obama with 25% among white evangelical Protestants. It’s especially true that the younger white evangelicals are far more likely to be Independent or Democrat than their parents were, but evangelicals are also coming to realize either that Bush didn’t deliver them the promises that he made or that the issues that Republicans have stood for (strong military, tax cuts for the wealthy, etc.) are less in tune with how Jesus would have lived his life (caring for the sick and poor).
In a historic reversal, Democrat Obama appears far more comfortable talking about his faith than Republican McCain, despite the flap over Barack’s pastor Jeremiah Wright, than past democratic nominees. And Obama on Saturday will unveil the Believers for Barack website.
For more on evangelicals in the 2008 election, see “GOP Loyalty Not a Given for Young Evangelicals” (Wash. Post, 8/15/08) or Pew Research report on McCain’s weaker connections to evangelicals in 2008 election. And this Pew Research Report shows drop in white evangelicals attached to Bush and Republicans from 2001-2007.
For a fascinating discussion of how Rick Warren builds community (social capital) through his church (Saddleback), read Better Together (by Putnam and Feldstein).