The religious–political configurations in the 2008 election of Barack Obama are still being analyzed, but it may be the case that slight variations in religious voting patterns made all the difference.
In his e-newsletter Sightings (Nov. 10), Martin Marty notes the conflicting reports about the changes in the religious votes. For instance, post-election day, the Wall Street Journal reported that evangelicals and Catholics had stayed on the Republican track, while the New York Times noted that Obama had “succeeded in chiseling off small but significant chinks of white evangelical voters who have been the foundation of the Republican Party for decades, especially among the young.”
Marty adds that Catholics showed a definite switch, with their majority voting Democratic this time (by a 54 percent margin). As the September/October issue of RW noted, the switch among Hispanics to the Democrats in 2008 may account for this change. A slight majority of mainline Protestants also seemed to have voted Democratic. Whether or not there was a significant, if slight, evangelical shift to Obama, many observers are asking the larger question about the state and prospects of the Christian Right and evangelicals in politics for the near future.
Sociologist Michael Lindsay, writing on the Immanent Frame, a blog dealing with religion and public life, cautions against the recurring tendency of the media and others to write the obituary of the religious right. The likelihood of President-elect Obama reversing the “Mexico City Policy,” which banned all non-governmental organizations from receiving federal funds for performing abortions in other countries, will likely reactivate evangelical and Catholic prolife protests, he adds. With the old stalwarts of the Christian Right retiring or passing away, such as James Dobson, Charles Colson, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, it is an open question who will emerge as the new evangelical political leaders.
Lindsay doesn’t see too many possibilities in Sarah Palin, who has “never been able to articulate a religiously inspired vision for public policy in the way that Phyllis Schlafly or Tony Perkins—both stalwarts of the Religious Right—have.” Figures such as Mike Huckabee or Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are more likely to take on the evangelical political mantle, Lindsay adds.