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Evangelical voting power

Over the past 25 years, conservative Christians have become an increasingly powerful force in American politics. The late 1970s and the early '80s marked the rise of the Christian right, with groups like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition flexing their political muscle on issues like abortion and homosexuality. In 1980, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan courted their as-yet untapped power and won the White House.

But it's really in the last two elections that the evangelical Christian voting bloc has had its greatest impact. So important was their vote to Republican success in 2000 that Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, later told a conservative audience that the roughly 4 million evangelicals who didn't vote-the campaign expected a turnout of 19 million evangelicals; they got 15-nearly cost Bush the election.

In 2004, the GOP made sure they wouldn't fall short again, and their get-out-the-vote efforts paid off: 26.5 million self-described evangelicals and born-again Christians went to the polls-representing nearly one-fifth of all voters-and a whopping 78 percent of white evangelicals voted for Bush. In large measure, these voters supported Bush for his stance on issues that traditionally have been most important to the Christian right, such as abortion, family values, homosexuality, and religion in public life.

So what does it mean that there is now a growing divide among conservative evangelicals over non-traditional issues like global warming and environmental regulation?

Recently, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press noted a sizable decline in President Bush's approval rating among white evangelicals-from 72 percent to 55 percent-between January 2005 and March 2006. The study also noted, however, that these evangelicals still identify strongly with the GOP.

Larry Schweiger, an evangelical and president of the National Wildlife Federation, doesn't see evangelicals switching political hats in the near future, but he does predict some policy change within the Republican party as the Christian environmental movement grows. "I think as [the Republicans] see their base moving on this issue, which it is right now, they're going to change their message," he says. "They're going to be forced to change their message because they'll be out of step with their own constituencies."

Is the nation as ideologically divided among red and blue as some would suggest? How much parity is there on environmental and other issues between the members of opposing parties? Is there room for change within the Republican party? Explore these questions and the recent history of faith and politics in the United States-and let us hear your voice-in the MOYERS ON AMERICA Religion & Politics Citizens Class.


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