Does Religious Outreach Equal Evangelical Outreach?
Both Mark Hemingway and Ross Douthat have linked to these recent Pew polling numbers, which indicate that Obama has one point less white evangelical support than Kerry did at this point in the 2004 election. Douthat notes that this isn’t actually good news for McCain:
Or you could read them as good news for Obama, since McCain is currently running eight points behind where George W. Bush stood at this point in ’04. I’d choose the latter reading. In July of 2004, only 4 percent of white evangelicals said they were undecided about whom to vote for. Now 12 percent say that they are – and while it’s possible that nearly all of those undecideds will come home to the GOP once the chips are down, undecided voters do tend to break against the incumbent party, which seems to open a pretty sizable opening for Obama.
Mark Hemingway, on the other hand, notes this news with a bit of glee:
Despite all the hype over Obama’s religious outreach, a new Pew survey indicates Obama actually has slightly less support from evangelicals than John Kerry had at this point four years ago. Not that this translates into evangelical enthusiasm for McCain, but the survey is worth noting for no other reason than it challenges the prevailing media assumptions about how Obama’s overt religiosity is helping his campaign — which my better half details here.
Personally, I think that both Douthat, Pew Research, and Hemingway are all missing the boat on this one. The story here isn’t that Obama’s score is one point less than Kerry’s among Evangelicals. The story here is that right now, Obama is leading among religiously affiliated voters with a score of 45-43. In 2004 at this point, Bush led among religiously affiliated voters 50 – 44.
Clearly, it’s tougher to make comparisons among religious demographics at this point, because there are much larger numbers of undecided voters than there were in the comparable 2004 election. But the fact that Obama is winning among overall religious voters even as he’s losing among evangelicals points out what should be obvious: despite the media narratives of the past couple of decades, Evangelicals are not the end-all, be-all of religious communities in the United States. Which makes the idea that Obama’s “religious outreach” is unsuccessful because Evangelicals largely support McCain less than convincing, and somewhat insulting to the vast majority of religious Americans who aren’t Evangelical. Last time I checked, they vote, too.
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