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the evangelical vote
How monolithic is this voting bloc and how firm is its support for George W. Bush? Will religion matter in the 2004 election? Here are the views of Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals; Steve Waldman, editor-in-chief of Beliefnet; Jim Wallis, editor-in chief of Sojourners Magazine; John C. Green, author of Religion and the Culture Wars; E.J. Dionne Jr., co-chair of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life; and Wayne Slater, reporter for the Dallas Morning News.

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E.J. waldman
Editor-in-chief of Beliefnet

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People tend to think of evangelicals as a monolithic group. All conservative, all Republican, a lock for Bush. We looked at the evangelical voting block and actually, there are actually two types of evangelicals politically. There's conservative evangelicals and a group that we call "freestyle evangelicals."

Theologically and spiritually, they share a lot with their evangelical brethren. They also have the Bible as a central part of their life. They also have a personal relationship with God. But politically, they're different. They care more about things like environmental issues, poverty issues. They tend to be politically more moderate.

Bill Clinton in 1996 won the majority of freestyle evangelicals. But in 2000, George Bush won the majority of freestyle evangelicals. It shifted by about 10 percent away from Gore towards Bush, which, in an election that close, it was a very important shift.

And what kind of impact does that actually have … Could they actually swing the election?

Well, when an election's so close, you know, Joe's bar could be a swing vote. It's like any group moving a little bit in any direction can turn an election. Freestyle evangelicals are not as big as the rest of evangelicals. But they're about as big as Hispanics as a voting block, to give you a sense of perspective.

So, if you can shift it 10 percent in one direction, if Gore had won freestyle evangelicals by the same percentage that Clinton had, he would have won the election. So, if the Democrats can swing some of those freestyle evangelicals back, they'll have a much better chance. It's not a big a vote as the Catholic vote or evangelicals in general. But it is a group that's fluid and in play and can be gotten by either candidate. …

Is Bush doing enough, do you think, to get this evangelical base to support him in the election?

Before the [Massachusetts] Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage I would have said I'm not seeing how Bush is going to dramatically increase his evangelical turnout over what he had before. Sure, they like him. But are they going to be motivated to come to the polls more than in 2000? Now I think if he plays the gay marriage issue right, he will be able to mobilize evangelicals in larger numbers. …

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Will religion matter in the 2004 election?

… Religion is going to be more important in the 2004 election in part because evangelical voters are going to be crucial to Bush's re-election. Religion is also going to be more important because of 9/11. We're just much more conscious of the whole world and the interaction between Islam and the rest of the world. And the extent to which Americans feel threatened by terrorism and fundamentalist Islam will probably be an asset for President Bush.

There's also just a sense at this point that Bush pushed the envelope in talking about personal spirituality. And it worked for him. So I think that the Democratic candidate is going to need to figure out how to talk about faith, personal faith, as well. If the Democrats decide to say that personal faith is something that only Republicans talk about, they're going to lose the election. And they're really going to show people that they're out of touch with the mainstream of Americans.

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wayne slater
Reporter, The Dallas Morning News

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… I don't think any political president ever in the history of this country was able to harness and assemble the kind of organized and consistent evangelical religious support from the political side as George Bush. It's a group that, in years past, has been divergent in many ways, many times voting for Democrats.

This group is as solid for this president as he approaches re-election as it was for him as he approached election the first time around. That's not easy for anyone to do, if you operate in the White House. But this president has been able to keep that force, and frankly, if he's re-elected, it's in large part because he reflects the support and has gathered this support consistently throughout his presidency.

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Richard cizik
National Association of Evangelicals

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What do you think the likelihood [of Bush winning reelection] is? You think he pretty much has the vote wrapped up?

The evangelical vote? Well, the issue isn't really whether or not evangelicals will decidedly support George W. Bush in this election. The real issue is how many will turn out to support him. In the last election, he didn't get at least 4 million votes that Bob Dole got.

Why not?

Well, they didn't turn out. To win in 2004, he'll have to get a bigger turnout -- not just a plurality; that's a given -- but a turnout that will make the difference. That's why he's listening to evangelicals. …

… Because the Republican Party understands the role of faith in changing society. … It not only appeals to evangelicals, but it's openly solicitous of their ideas and their opinions. The Democratic Party just does not do that. I do not get any phone calls from Democratic Party leaders, nor their candidates, to inquire as to what evangelicals think. … [E]vangelicals aren't -- myths notwithstanding -- the GOP of prayer. I mean, we're not. But the Democrats don't even reach out.

[But it seems] most evangelicals are Republican if you look at the polls.

Let's put it this way. The Democratic candidates in recent years have gotten about between 30 percent and 40 percent of the evangelical vote. So they're not without at least a foothold on the Democratic leanings of evangelicals. But Republicans have reached out and said, "We'll identify with you on key values issues" -- the pro-life issue for one -- and that's been the difference. Whereas the Democratic Party doesn't even allow you in the party practically -- they certainly won't give a speaker a platform role at a convention if he or she is pro-life. So there's been it seems almost a purposeful distancing from evangelicals, which I don't understand as someone who grew up a Democrat. …

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Jim wallis
Editor-in-chief, Sojourners Magazine

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…There's this conventional wisdom in media and politics that evangelicals are all Republican and all are going to vote for George Bush, and of course that isn't true. Depending on your data, 35 percent, 40 percent of evangelicals voted for Bill Clinton. Many voted for Al Gore.

Yes, the majority of evangelicals voted Republican in the last election, and have for several years, because of cultural values, because of the Republicans seeming to respect religious people more than Democrats seem to. All of that's true. But there are evangelicals who care about other issues besides abortion and sexuality and family matters. These are important issues to Christians, a lot of Christians.

But there are very important issues, like economic justice. What's happening to poor people? Or, many Christians were opposed to the war in Iraq, and are very concerned about what's happening now in Iraq. So there'll be other issues on which evangelicals will vote this next time. You'll see evangelicals voting for the president, and evangelicals voting for whichever Democrat runs. There will be evangelicals voting for that Democrat because of other concerns, [like] the war, jobs, education, health care. These are all concerns that matter to evangelical Christians. …

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E.J. Dionne
Co-chair Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life; Washington Post columnist

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I think both George Bush and Karl Rove, his top legal adviser, are acutely aware of how important evangelicals are to George Bush's political coalition. Karl Rove, early on, said that one of the reasons the 2000 election turned out to be so close is because there was a fall-off in the white evangelical vote. He's quite clear that he and the president are determined that that's not going to happen again. So Rove is somebody who is very proactive about reaching out to people in general, but especially important constituencies to Bush, and evangelicals are clearly one of those constituencies.

I think there's a subtlety in the White House. It's not evangelicals as one big bloc of people. I think they understand there are different groups in different places, and they're sensitive to some of those differences.

If you look at the issues that Bush has delivered on -- the obvious ones, like the ban on partial birth abortion and the appointment of judges who are, for the most part, critical of Roe v. Wade -- but there are issues that people in the mainstream don't necessarily associate with evangelicals that are very important to them. AIDS in Africa is actually a very important issue to evangelicals. One of the speeches that Bush gave on Iraq was this long section about human trafficking around the world. Now personally I think that's a serious issue. But politically it was also something that appealed to evangelicals that they cared about. So even in areas where people don't notice, he is there for this constituency, and evangelicals do notice. …

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john c. green
Author, Religion and the Culture Wars

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Religion will be very important in the 2004 election. It was going to be important anyway, because each political party has religious constituencies that they need to appeal to. President Bush needs to appeal to evangelical Protestants. The Democratic nominee … has to appeal to black Protestants and Jews, and other religious people as well.

But the rhetoric is going to be heightened, because of the decision in Massachusetts to argue that prohibitions of same-sex marriages are unconstitutional. This will energize many religious conservatives to become involved in the political process. I think we'll see an intensification of religious rhetoric during the campaign.

Will this get evangelicals into the voting booths?

Many scholars see a parallel between the abortion issue in the 1970s and the same-sex marriage issue in 2004. This is an example of an issue that really arouses the zealotry of evangelicals. They really feel imposed upon, and think that it's necessary to do politics to prevent gay marriage from coming to pass.

Evangelicals are very likely to conclude that President Bush is a stronger defender of traditional marriage than the likely Democratic presidential nominee, although evangelicals have been fairly critical of President Bush because he was not very quick to come out in defense of traditional marriage, and often said what they would perceive as fairly soft and wimpy things about the whole question of marriage. But in the end, it's likely that the Republican Party will be seen as the vehicle for preserving traditional marriage, and the Democratic Party seen as a vehicle for attacking traditional marriage. …

Within the evangelical community, undoubtedly a certain percentage could go either way in voting in the upcoming election -- true?

In recent times, evangelical Protestants have become a solid Republican constituency, but they are no means monolithic. There are lots of different opinions within that community, and there are different degrees of religious commitment and of religious belief.

Some evangelical Protestants are more moderate, even liberal in their theological perspective, and they often vote for Democratic candidates. So it would be possible, under the right circumstances, with the right issues, for a Democratic candidate to actually win the votes of liberal or more moderate evangelicals.

Could that matter in this election?

In a very, very close election, all of the votes count. Even a relatively small group like the more moderate or liberal evangelicals could be the difference in key states.

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posted april 29, 2004

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