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More than 6 million self-described “evangelicals” voted for Obama. Why & what else do the exit polls tell us about how Christians voted?

In Uncategorized on November 8, 2012 at 2:38 pm

[CORRECTED VERSION: In the first version of this column, I incorrectly reported a figure of 25 million evangelicals voting for Obama in 2012. The actual number, as now noted below, is about 6.4 million. Please forgive my error.]

As the smoke clears from the wreckage of the Romney defeat on Tuesday, some intriguing yet disturbing facts are coming to light.

* Fewer people overall voted in 2012 (about 117 million) compared to 2008 (about 125 million).

* President Obama received some 6.6 million fewer votes  in 2012 than he did in 2008 (60,217,329 in 2012 votes compared to 66,882,230 votes in 2008).

* One would think that such a dynamic would have helped Romney win — clearly it did not.

* Incredibly, Governor Romney received nearly 1 million fewer votes in 2012 than Sen. John McCain received in 2008. (In 2008, McCain won 58,343,671 votes. In 2012, Romney won only 57,486,044 votes.)

Why? How was it possible for Romney to do worse than McCain? It will take some time to sift through all of the data. But here is some of what we know from the 2012 election day exit polls:

The President received a whopping 71% of the Hispanic vote (which was 10% of the total votes cast), compared to only 27% for Romney (McCain got 31% of the Hispanic vote in 2008). Obama also won 56% of the moderate vote, which was interesting given that Romney (who got 41%) was widely perceived by the GOP base as being a “Massachusetts moderate.” The President lost married women (getting only 46% of their vote to Romney’s 53%). But won decisively among unmarried women (67% to Romney’s 31%).

That said, what I’m looking at most closely is the Christian vote, and here is where I see trouble:

  • 42% of the Protestant Christian vote went for Obama in 2012. This was down from 45% in 2008.
  • 57% of the Protestant Christian vote went for Romney in 2012. This was up from 54% that McCain won in 2008.
  • When you zoom in a bit, you find that 21% of self-identified, white, born-again, evangelical Christians voted for President Obama in 2012.
  • You’d think this decrease in evangelical votes for Obama would have helped win the race for Romney, but it didn’t.
  • 78% of evangelical Christians voted for Romney in 2012. Yes, this was up from the 74% that McCain received in 2008, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
  • To put it more precisely, about 5 million fewer evangelicals voted for Obama in 2012 than in 2008. Meanwhile, some 4.7 million more evangelicals voted for Romney than voted for McCain. Yet Romney still couldn’t win.
  • Meanwhile, 50% of the Catholic vote went for Obama in 2012. This was down from the 54% that Obama won in 2008.
  • 48% of the Catholic vote went for Romney in 2012. This was up from the 45% that McCain won in 2008. Yet it still wasn’t enough.

Now consider this additional data:

  • In 2008, white, born-again, evangelical Christians represented 26% of the total vote for president, according to the exit polls.
  • In 2012, white, born-again, evangelical Christians represented 26% of the total vote for president, according to the exit polls.
  • In other words, we saw no change at all in the size of the evangelical vote, –no net gain, certainly no surge, no record evangelical turnout, despite expectations of this.
  • Of the 117 million people who voted on Tuesday, therefore, about 30 million (26%) were evangelicals. Of this, 21% — or about 6.4 million evangelicals — voted for Obama.
  • By comparison, of the 125 million people who voted in 2008, 32.5 million (26%) were evangelicals. At the time, Obama won 24% of evangelicals, or about 7.8 million people.
  • What’s more, in 2008, 27% of the total vote for president was Catholic, according to the exit polls.
  • In 2012, only 25% of the total vote for president was Catholic.
  • Remarkably, this means that Romney got a higher percentage of the Catholic vote than McCain, but millions of fewer Catholics actually voted in 2012, despite having Rep. Paul Ryan, a practicing Catholic, on the ticket.

What does all this mean? A few observations:

  1. During the GOP primaries in 2012, it was reported that there was record turnout by evangelical voters — they were fired up and mobilized then (though largely behind Sen. Rick Santorum.)
  2. There were concerns by a number of Christian leaders going into the 2012 elections that Romney’s Mormonism might suppress evangelical and conservative voter turnout.
  3. The Romney campaign worked hard to not only to win the evangelical vote but to turn out more evangelicals to the polls — but it did not work.
  4. Despite Obama’s pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, anti-religious freedom record — a record presumably abhorrent both to evangelicals and conservative Catholics — Romney simply was not able to cut deeply enough into Obama’s evangelical and Catholic vote.
  5. If Romney had been able win over significantly more evangelicals – and/or dramatically increased evangelical turnout in the right states – he would have won the election handily.
  6. It is stunning to think that more than 6 million self-described evangelical Christians would vote for a President who supports abortion on demand; supported the same-sex marriage ballot initiatives that successed in Maryland, Maine and Washington; and was on the cover of Newsweek as America’s “first gay president.” Did these self-professed believers surrender their Biblical convictions in the voting booth, or did they never really have deep Biblical convictions on the critical issues to begin with? 
  7. Whatever their reasons, these so-called evangelicals doomed Romney and a number of down-ballot candidates for the House and Senate.
  8. This is what happens when the Church is weak and fails to disciple believers to turn Biblical faith into action.
  9. Given the enormous number of evangelical Christians in the U.S., this bloc could still affect enormous positive change for their issues if they were to unify and vote for the pro-life, pro-marriage candidate as a bloc.
  10. What will it take to educate, register and mobilize Christians to vote on the basis of Biblical principles, and what kind of candidates could best mobilize them? This is a critical question that Christian political leaders as well as pastors must serious consider. As we have seen, just a few million more evangelicals voting for pro-life, pro-marriage candidates could offset other demographics that are becoming more liberal.
  11. That said, we need national candidates who take values issues as seriously as economic and fiscal issues, and have strong credentials on these values issues, and can talk about these issues in a winsome, compassionate, effective manner.
  12. We need pastors registering voters in their churches and teaching the people in their congregations the importance of the civic duty of voting.
  13. None of this should come, however, at the expense of pastors and other Christian leaders clearly, boldly and unequivocally teaching and preaching the Word, proclaiming the Gospel, and making disciples, and helping believers learn to live out their faith in a real and practical way in their communities, including being “salt” and “light” to preserve what is good in society. What we need most in America isn’t a political revival but a sweeping series of spiritual revivals — a Third Great Awakening. As men and women’s hearts are transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they will, in time, vote for the values they are internalizing from the Bible. As I wrote about in Implosion, if we don’t see a Third Great Awakening soon, I’m not convinced we will be able to turn this dear nation around in time.

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