Religion Watch was going to press as the U.S. elections unfolded, so readers should expect more in-depth coverage and analysis on this topic in the December issue of the newsletter. Yet early on, the elections’ results revealed developments that we would be amiss not to note in this issue.
The solidification of the Christian right and religious conservative influence in general has been the main news story in the wake of the election. AsRW and other observers have observed throughout the years, the decline of religious right organizations, such as the Christian Coalition, did not so much signal the fall of this movement as much as its integration into the Republican Party. But as a Beliefnet article by Steve Waldman and John C. Green notes, the Bush victory benefited as much from the impressive showing among regular church going Catholics and mainline Protestants in pivotal states as from the strong support of evangelical Christians.
Waldman and Green write that “Just as in 2000, roughly 42 percent of total votes were cast by people who attend church once a week or more. Those voters went overwhelmingly for Bush. Voters who went to religious services a few times a year or less went for Kerry by similar margins. The 14 percent who said they went a few times a month, went for Kerry 51 percent to 45 percent they went for Gore last time.” Nationally, roughly 22 percent of the electorate was comprised of “White evangelicals” or “Born again” Christians, according to exit polls.
Last time, the “religious right” made up 14 percent. They note, however, that it is not yet known whether this represents an actual increase or is just a result of the change in terminology. Yet the importance of the religious vote is evident in the fact that 21 percent of voters said “moral values” was the most important issue to them — right on a par with the economy, terrorism, and Iraq.
The Bush campaign, under the direction of Karl Rove, intensified its strategy of targeting practicing, more traditional Catholics in 2004 and it seems to have paid off: Nationally, Catholics who attended church weekly voted 53 percent to 45 percent for Bush. In Ohio, the margin was 62 percent to 38 percent Waldman and Green conclude that “In a way, the significance of the overwhelming victory Bush had among evangelicals is obscured by the media focus on battleground states in recent weeks. Bush’s strength among conservative Christians put huge swaths of the country simply out of reach for Kerry, requiring him to carry a high percentage of northeastern and Midwestern states.”
Meanwhile, as might be expected, several religious right leaders are anticipating a “revolution” from their electoral victories, reports the New York Times (Nov. 4). Conservative religious leaders such as James Dobson and Richard Viguerie see a four-year window for implementing their agenda, particularly enacting a ban on same-sex marriage and overturning abortion rights.
But the article notes that Republicans are already fighting over the spoils from the elections, and no doubt the next few months will reveal similar fissures and battles taking place between religious conservatives themselves. Stay tuned to RW for more on these developments.