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There's No Reason to Expect Dems to Win Over Evangelicals

By Peter Brown

One of the hardy perennials of politics is the Republican Party effort to recruit black voters each election because the GOP believes there is a new generation of African-American voters who might be ready to shed their Democratic allegiance.

Despite GOP leaders' best efforts to attract African-American voters, Democrats still get almost 90 percent of the black vote.

That is worth considering as we are deluged with political efforts by liberals and their academic supporters offering books about how large numbers of Evangelical Christians, who have become the most reliable GOP voters, might be ripe for the picking by Democrats.

Mark me down as skeptical. My reasons are very similar to why the Republicans can't make much progress among black voters:

Even though it goes against our national vision of a country of individuals unbound by class or culture, the truth is that demographics still control political destiny to a large degree.

Blacks are overwhelmingly Democratic because of history and perceived self- interest. In the 2004 presidential voting, African Americans were 11 percent of the electorate and gave Democrat John Kerry 88 percent of their votes.

Democrats are the party of government and it was the government - spurred by the civil rights movement, not the private sector -- that was responsible for the advances that have improved the lives and well-being of African-Americans.

The growing black middle class, many of whose members are fervent church-goers, may have a lifestyle might more open to the Republican philosophy of less government and family values.

But that hasn't changed their voting behavior and few in the politics business think that will change anytime soon, if ever.

The same is likely the case for white evangelicals. Black evangelicals are almost as Democratic as African-Americans overall, because even though they share many Republican view on family values, it has not changed their voting behavior.

White evangelicals were 23 percent of the electorate in 2004 and they gave President Bush 78 percent of their votes. High turnout among conservative Christians was a major factor in Bush carrying key swing states like Ohio and Florida.

Since then, Democrats/liberals have been trying to figure out how to attract more white evangelical voters. Now that we are now in the middle of the political season - not just because of the approaching off-year elections, but the run-up to the 2008 voting - we seem to be inundated with books about evangelicals and politics.

Most of these books come from the Northeast, where evangelicals are considered a species to be studied, rather than the folks who stand in line with you at the supermarket.

Perhaps the best of the bunch comes from Mark Pinsky, the Orlando Sentinel's religion writer, whose book, A Jew among the Evangelicals, A Guide for the Perplexed" is meant as an explainer to northern liberals.

Pinsky, himself a northeasterner by birth, is a friend and former colleague who has spent a decade covering evangelicals in the South. He makes the point that generational change is coming in the evangelical community as new, less dogmatic leaders replace the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons.

He notes that John Green, a well-respected University of Akron political scientist and pollster, had found that on a number of environmental issues evangelicals agree more with the consensus Democratic position than the Republican one. A poll by the Pew Center for the People and the Press found that evangelicals strongly support stem-cell research funding, the opposite position held by President Bush.

Yet, the idea that these differences with Republican orthodoxy make evangelical Christians likely to change their voting allegiance is as flawed as the notion that just because millions of black voters oppose abortion they will vote Republican.

Voters, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, make their political choices based on their overall comfort level with the views and values of a candidate.

Blacks, as a group, favor larger government programs, social safety nets and economic polices that value larger government spending over tax cuts. That is why they vote Democratic.

Evangelical Christians favor traditional social values, tend to be skeptical of government and fond of the military. That is why they vote Republican.

The idea that voting behavior will change because younger evangelical leaders are softer-spoken and less tied to the Republican infrastructure than their predecessors, or because evangelicals are worried about the environment, sure looks like wishful thinking.

Peter A. Brown is assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. He can be reached at

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