Converting the humble, the meek, and the Dems

Posted: Mar 23, 2006 12:06 AM

Washington Monthly reporter Amy Sullivan thinks evangelical Christians are ripe for the Democrats’ picking. Positively giddy at the prospects of "the party of Nancy Pelosi" converting just enough "moderate" born-again evangelicals to shift the entire balance of power in Washington, DC, she writes:

In the last election, evangelicals made up 26 percent of the electorate, and 78 percent of them voted for Bush. That sounds like a fairly inviolate bloc. And, indeed, the conservative evangelicals for whom abortion and gay marriage are the deciding issues are unlikely to ever leave the Republican Party. But a substantial minority of evangelical voters—41 percent, according to a 2004 survey by political scientist John Green at the University of Akron—are more moderate on a host of issues ranging from the environment to public education to support for government spending on anti-poverty programs.

Indeed, as I have written before, the Democrats have undergone a radical makeover designed to convince religious Americans that the Left understands: no more Christian-bashing. But heretofore, this makeover has rendered Democrats the Joan Rivers of American politics. With such an overdone facelift, it surpasses unconvincing and looks downright uncomfortable.

There is no doubt that the Democrats are trying — at least. When Nancy Pelosi condemns the Republican budget as a "sin" and Jim McDermott quotes the Prophet Isaiah on the House floor, something most certainly is afoot. But is it working?

The Family Research Council released new survey data last week that casts serious doubt about the viability of Rev. Pelosi’s holy war. Much of the data in this survey is expected: most evangelical Christians are conservative Republicans who support a constitutional ban on gay marriage, a "culture of life," and a pro-family tax code.

But Amy Sullivan might want to put the cork back in the champagne bottle. That’s because the real data that pops on this survey is the 25 percent of born-again evangelical Christians who call themselves Democrats (which, I suspect, is an over sampling).

Simply put, Democrats are out of step with their own evangelical base. The numbers are astounding — and, if you are a conservative, encouraging. To begin with, 77% of evangelical Democrats view themselves to be "moderate," "somewhat conservative," or "very conservative." But it is in their positions on issues that they really standout:

  • 53% support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage.
  • 66% support higher FCC fines for broadcast indecency.
  • 58% favor "laws designed to protect the unborn and to help foster a 'culture of life.'"
  • 66% favor making permanent the child tax credit and marriage penalty tax relief.

Interestingly, 60% of evangelical Democrats are less likely to vote for congressional candidates who refuse to vote in favor of laws such as those described above. That is to say, essentially, 60% of evangelical Democrats wouldn’t vote for Nancy Pelosi given the chance. Only 17% would.

Leave aside John C. Green’s 41%, referenced by Ms. Sullivan above — which did not seem to pan out in the 2004 election like liberals had hoped. If only 25% of America’s evangelicals are Democrats, we’re talking about roughly 7.5 million Democrat voters — certainly enough to tilt the political landscape in Washington.

In order to capture them, Democrats would have to alter fundamentally their positions on such issues as gay marriage, abortion, and the tax code. Even if such reversals were in the offing — and they are not — how many more voters would Democrats lose among their liberal, secular base if they chose this course of action?

Democrats can take heart in some of the FRC data. It seems clear that evangelical Christians are deeply frustrated with the GOP’s lack of follow-through on the issues of their greatest concern. 63% of evangelical Christians believe that "the Republican majority in Congress has not done enough to keep its promises to voters to act on these proposals."

In our base-against-base political environment, Republicans presently enjoy an advantage because: 1) The GOP base is larger than the Democratic base; 2) The GOP base is growing while the Democratic base is shrinking; and 3) The GOP base is dispersed throughout the states and congressional districts in a manner more advantageous to winning congressional majorities.

But if the GOP’s conservative Christian base is disaffected and unhappy with Republican candidates, who will stuff the envelopes come election time? Who will pound the yard signs? Man the phone banks? Hand out literature? Register new voters? Bus people to the polls?

The neo-cons? The free-market types? The "Main Street" Republicans? I don’t think so.