The Base Of Faith

By Daniel Larison

As Ross said last week, the Pew numbers on white evangelical support for the major presidential candidates do show that McCain appears to be running poorly among these voters when compared to the support Bush received at this time four years ago.  Then again, according to a Post survey earlier in the year McCain was running ahead of Bush's mid-2004 support among white evangelicals and was on track to replicate the latter's overwhelming majority with this core constituency.  If the Pew numbers are right, the drop in evangelical support for McCain seems to be part of the generic "enthusiasm gap" between the two candidates, but in any case this has never translated into greater white evangelical support for Obama.  Instead, we are seeing white evangelical voters become part of the sizeable undecided vote, which may mean that McCain is failing to win them over, but it is certainly not the case that they are in danger of being "mesmerized" by Obama.  Indeed, Mr. Bass is simply wrong when he says that Obama fares better with these voters than Kerry did.

One reason why the fear (or hope, depending on who you are) of Obama making inroads among white evangelicals is overblown is made clear by Obama's embrace of a form of the faith-based initiative.  There is an assumption that this move will appeal to some religious voters who are normally wary of Democratic candidates, but even if this is so it will not meaningfully increase Obama's share of the white evangelical vote.  To the extent that this initiative was welcomed by evangelicals when Bush proposed it, Bush's own religious identification with evangelical voters reassured them that government support would not necessarily mean any change in how these people ran their charities and organizations.  Among more conservative evangelicals, the response to the initiative was much more hostile, however, because there was the reasonable fear that government rules would follow the acceptance of federal money, and among the most conservative critics of then-Gov. Bush the initative was viewed as a way for government to co-opt and undermine private and religious charities.  Those fears and criticisms are sure to increase if an Obama administration works to implement his faith-based proposal, and my guess is that they will tend to drive those undecided white evangelicals to McCain and motivate them to oppose Obama's election with much more energy and enthusiasm than they would have ever been able to muster for McCain.

Cross-posted at Eunomia