Is there a rock solid "Religious Right" vote in the United States?
In the wake of the Huckaboom (as well as the Obama-boom) in the US primaries in Iowa, which saw evangelical Mike Huckabee and dark horse cum rising star Barack Obama leading (when they weren't supposed to), we can expect to see considerable obsessing in media about the prospect that the "Christian right" will act to make Republican Mike Huckabee the next US president. You know, teetering on the edge of theocracy and all that.
Actually, a reality check is in order, and has been for a long time. In Huckelujah Ann Coulter and in Secular left vs. Christian left Mark Steyn make quite clear that Huckabee is not an anointed candidate simply because he is obviously an identified Christian.
In "what we really want", Christianity Today, the flagship publication of American evangelicals, offers some balancing thoughts:
... evangelicalism doesn't function like an AFL-CIO, granting endorsements and delivering votes on election day. There isn't an evangelical vote. We are not some pious voting bloc up for grabs.
If evangelicals functioned as a voting bloc, Pat Robertson would have in 1988 soundly defeated then-Vice President George H.W. Bush for the Republican nomination. But Robertson failed, as did evangelical activist Gary Bauer after him, in the 2000 presidential race.
They also note that evangelicals are "remarkably united" on the issues they are concerned about, as set out in a landmark National Association of Evangelicals document (2004):
freedom of religion and conscience; protection for families and children; protection of all human life, compassion and justice for poor people; global human rights; the pursuit of peace and restraint of violence; and biblically based creation care.
But evangelicals come to different decisions about which candidate offers the best package for these concerns.
I can't yet find this editorial on line but when I do I will try to remember to come back and link to the whole article. Meanwhile, let me say that the research I did for The Spiritual Brain bears out the point that the CT editors are making: There is no evangelical Christian voting monolith. For one thing, black evangelicals overwhelmingly vote for Democratic candidates - and Hispanic evangelicals largely do. That greatly undermines the effect of white evangelicals who vote disproportionately for Republican ones. And that's just the beginning of the many saw-offs ....
Update January 8, 2008! Here is an enlightening column by Janet Shaw Crouse that addresses the reality of the evangelical Christan vote in the United States via exit polling data:
Evangelicals are not a monolithic entity. Contrary to media coverage that assumes all Evangelicals vote alike, Evangelicals in the Iowa Caucus supported a wide range of policies and candidates. While 46 percent of Evangelicals voted for Huckabee, more than half of them (54 percent) split their vote among the four other candidates (Romney, McCain, Thompson and Paul). Huckabee benefited from the Evangelical vote, but his support was much broader and deeper than one voting segment.