February 18, 2008
One third of evangelical Christian voters participated in the Democratic primaries in Tennessee and Missouri, according to a Zogby International poll, casting doubt on a widespread assumption that nearly all evangelicals are Republican. The poll, funded by Faith in Public Life and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, also found that evangelical voters of both parties support broadening the movement’s political cause beyond abortion and same-sex marriage to include poverty, the environment, and HIV/AIDS. (CBS News Horserace blog)
What the commentators said
It’s about time that a poll asked Democrats about religion, said Jeff Sharlet in The Revealer. And “the implications are huge.” Evangelical voters broke for Democrat Hillary Clinton over rival Barack Obama, for instance, which “blows a hole in the conventional wisdom that Obama represents a ‘third way’ a lot of white evangelicals will follow.” But “as intriguing” as it is, the survey “is just a beginning” to understanding the relationship between Evangelicals and Democrats—is the Democratic party going through a “conservative conversion,” or is it a sign of the “great liberalization of evangelicalism”?
The survey is one more reason to examine poll numbers “critically and cautiously,” said Nathan Gonzales in RealClearPolitics. The “progressive” groups that funded the poll, along with Sojourners founder Rev. Jim Wallis, have “spent months trying to build a rhetorical storyline of evangelicals running away from the ‘Religious Right’ and the Republican Party.” At best, “the poll data are inconclusive,” and more likely, the groups are “trying to be too cute with numbers and language” to promote their cause. Sure, some evangelicals are probably moving away from the GOP now, “since almost every other voter group in the country is doing the same thing.” But these poll numbers "don’t prove it.”
You don’t need that particular poll, said Jim Wallis in Newsweek’s On Faith blog, to see that “evangelicals are leaving the Religious Right in droves.” Nor that the left is “starting to get the idea that politics should be about values.” As Democrats rediscover their “religious roots” and reach out to religious voters—a “real sea change”—and “the faith community” broadens its agenda, we really are seeing a “leveling of the praying field.” And yes, this could “significantly impact politics in the 2008 election."
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