Breaking down Santorum’s Iowa Caucus Performance

January 5, 2012, 1:22 pm | Posted by

Rick Santorum’s virtual tie for first place in the Iowa caucuses has generated a great deal of commentary about the importance of his support from social conservatives. Let’s take a quick look at the entrance polling for a fuller picture of what happened.

Evangelical/born-again Christians comprised 57% of caucus-goers, and Santorum received a large plurality of support from them – garnering 38% 32% of the vote, as much as Ron Paul (18%) and Mitt Romney (14%) combined. By my back-of-the-envelope calculation, more than almost 1-in-5 participants in the caucus were evangelical Santorum supporters.

Issue-wise, Santorum won a whopping 58% of voters who listed abortion as the most important issue. Perry came in second among this group, earning the support of just 11%. Among caucus-goers who listed the economy as the top issue, Santorum got 19% of the vote, compared to Romney’s 33% and Ron Paul’s 20%. Santorum came in third among voters who said the budget deficit was most important, earning 19% of votes, compared to Ron Paul’s 28% and Romney’s 21%.

Ideologically, Santorum did best among the most conservative voters. He won a plurality of Tea Party supporters by a 10-point margin, a plurality of self-identified “very conservative” voters by a 20-point margin, and edged out Romney among registered Republicans. He did poorly among moderates (8%, compared to Romney’s 40%), opponents of the Tea Party (13%, compared to Romney’s 43% and Ron Paul’s 21%), and independents (13%, compared to Ron Paul’s 43% and Romney’s 19%).

Age-wise, his strongest support was among 30-44-year-olds and 45-64-year-olds, both of which he won. He came in second among 17-29-year-olds (23%), but because of their low overall turnout and Ron Paul’s dominance among these young voters (48%), just 3.45% of all caucus participants were under-30 Santorum supporters.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find crosstabs that would paint a clearer picture. But the story told by the data we do have is clear – Santorum was not only social conservatives’ favorite, he also won the overall race to the right. And he did very poorly among everyone else.

Photo credit: djwhelan/Flickr

UPDATE: Corrected Santorum’s percentage of the evangelical vote.

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The Catholic Case Against Rick Santorum

January 4, 2012, 12:42 pm | Posted by

Rick SantorumGOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a proud Catholic who often speaks about his faith on the campaign trail, is attracting some formidable buzz from pundits who view his strong showing in the Iowa caucuses as a sign that the former Pennsylvania senator might have enough mojo to rally a coalition of religious and blue-collar voters.

New York Times columnist David Brooks waxed poetic Monday about Santorum’s Catholic conservative sensibilities and touted the candidate as an authentic antidote to “the corporate or financial wing of the party.”

Evangelicals are also taking notice. Writing on CNN’s Belief blog, Chris LaTondresse, the founder and CEO of Recovering Evangelical, calls Santorum a post-religious right candidate “whose concern for poor and vulnerable people” is “firmly rooted in his Catholic faith.”

It’s easy to see why Santorum might appeal to some culturally conservative Catholics and moderate evangelicals who are wary of Democrats but also turned off by the Republican Party’s cozy embrace of economic libertarianism and tireless defense of struggling millionaires. Santorum is more comfortable with communitarian language, has been a strong supporter of foreign aid to impoverished countries and connects with personal stories of his blue-collar upbringing.

But it’s a political delusion to think Rick Santorum is a standard-bearer of authentic Catholic values in politics. In fact, on several issues central to Catholic social teaching – torture, war, immigration, climate change, the widening gap between rich and poor and workers’ rights – Santorum is radically out of step with his faith’s teachings as articulated by Catholic bishops and several popes over the centuries.

Catholic bishops, priests and women religious have been at the forefront of the fight for comprehensive immigration reform. Catholic leaders have called for an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and consistently oppose draconian policies that break up families. Santorum has publicly challenged the Catholic bishops on this issue, telling the Des Moines Register: “If we develop the program like the Catholic bishops suggested we would be creating a huge magnet for people to come in and break the law some more, we’d be inviting people to cross this border, come into this country and with the expectation that they will be able to stay here permanently.”

While promising he doesn’t want to “break up families,” Santorum recently justified massive deportations that do, in fact, separate parents from children. He blithely said of those facing deportation to Mexico (a country currently ravaged by grinding poverty and gang violence) that “we’re not sending them to any kind of difficult country.” Tell that to the student brought here as a young child who doesn’t remember the country of her birth and doesn’t even speak the language.

Poverty, Inequality and Financial Regulation
Pope Benedict XVI has decried the “scandal of glaring inequalities” between rich and poor, and Catholic social teaching supports a more just distribution of wealth.  Santorum, in contrast, told the Des Moines Register: “I’m for income inequality. I think some people should make more than other people because some people work harder and have better ideas and take more risks, and they should be rewarded for it. I have no problem with income inequality.” As a Senator, Santorum voted for massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which greatly exacerbated the gap between the top 1% and the rest of us.

The Vatican also recently released a major document on the need for more robust financial regulation of global markets to protect workers and the common good. Santorum clings to the thoroughly debunked lie that regulation caused our nation’s financial collapse. He told MSNBC’s Ed Schultz that “it wasn’t deregulation…it was government regulation” that in part led to our current economic problems. In Congress, Santorum also voted for the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which deregulated risky financial schemes that led to the economic crisis of 2008.

While Catholic bishops defend vital government programs that protect the most vulnerable, Santorum recently voiced support for Rep. Paul Ryan’s immoral federal budget plan—a plan the bishops expressed deep concern about because it would cut life-saving programs while spending trillions on massive new tax breaks for the rich. Even worse, Santorum said that the poor who receive government aid could learn by suffering more. When questioned about how his economic views clash with the Catholic demand for a “preferential option for the poor” in public policy, Santorum was completely unfamiliar with this bedrock Church teaching.

Workers’ Rights
The Catholic Church has defended the vital role of unions since 1891, when Pope Leo XIII released Rerum Novarum, an encyclical that puts the dignity of work and labor rights at the center of Catholic social teaching. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church clearly states that workers have a right to “assemble and form associations” and that unions are “a positive influence for social order and solidarity, and are therefore an indispensable element of social life.” Rick Santorum, on the other hand, has argued that all public sector unions should be abolished. In a presidential candidates’ debate, Santorum said he would “support a bill that says that we should not have public employee unions for the purposes of wages and benefits to be negotiated.”

Climate Change and the Environment
Pope Benedict XVI, who has been dubbed the “Green Pope” for his attention to environmental justice and climate change, recently urged world leaders meeting for climate talks in Durban, South Africa, to “reach agreement on a responsible, credible response” to the “disturbing” effects of climate change. Catholic dioceses across the country have encouraged Catholics to limit their carbon footprint, and national advocacy organizations like the Catholic Climate Covenant work to educate Catholics about their faith’s teachings on environmental stewardship. Santorum must not be listening. In an interview with Rush Limbaugh, he described the fact that climate change is caused by humans as “patently absurd” and a “beautifully concocted scheme.” Just this week, Santorum blasted a new Environmental Protection Agency rule limiting emissions of mercury and other air toxins from coal-fired power plants. Catholic bishops hailed the ruling as “an important step forward to protect the health of all people, especially unborn babies and young children, from harmful exposure to dangerous air pollutants.”

Torture and War
Many Catholic conservatives ignore the Church’s teaching about “a consistent ethic of life” and excuse a candidate’s position or record on the economy, immigration and the environment by downplaying their moral importance compared to the issue of abortion. Catholics can disagree in good faith on some issues, they assert, but not over “intrinsic evils.”  Unfortunately, even under this standard, Santorum fails. When it comes to torture, which the Church calls an “intrinsic evil,” Santorum is a proud proponent.

The Catholic bishops describe the barbaric practice as an assault on the dignity of human life. “The use of torture must be rejected as fundamentally incompatible with the dignity of the human person and ultimately counterproductive in the effort to combat terrorism,” they wrote in Faithful Citizenship, a political responsibility statement released before every presidential election.  But Santorum eagerly endorsed  “enhanced interrogation” techniques during the first Republican primary debate.

Santorum’s predilection toward pre-emptive war also clashes with mainstream Catholic theology. When the late Pope John Paul II warned against the invasion of Iraq, Santorum vocally championed the war. And while the Catholic bishops repeatedly called for a responsible withdrawal, Santorum remained a staunch defender of the occupation – blasting the “media” and “liberals” for undermining support for the war.

Catholic politicians across the spectrum will all find aspects of Church teaching that challenge their ideological agendas in discomforting ways. But for too long Catholics in public life have only been scrutinized when it comes to abortion and same-sex marriage. This does a disservice to voters, ignores the Catholic social justice tradition’s broad moral agenda and lets Catholic candidates like Rick Santorum off the hook even when they consistently disregard their faith’s teachings on key moral and political issues.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

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Putting the Christ back in the Caucuses: Religion in the 2012 Election Update

December 26, 2011, 3:04 pm | Posted by

In a little over a week, Republicans in Iowa will caucus in support of their favorite candidate for 2012. Given the number of candidates in the race and the length of this campaign, we thought it’d be helpful to take note of a few recent developments with the various  campaigns.

In what initially was billed a major coup, Rick Santorum received the endorsement of conservative evangelical leaders Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley. You might remember Vander Plaats from the controversial pledge his organization asked candidates to sign that was filled with extreme positions including the outrageous assertion that African-American children were better off under slavery. Vander Plaats is again at the center of controversy, as questions arise about whether he actually sold the endorsement to Santorum and urged other candidates to drop out of the race.

Texas Governor Rick Perry is also making a play for the Religious Right vote in Iowa, releasing an ad attacking President Obama’s faith and absurdly claiming the President is waging a war on religion.

Meanwhile, the rise of both Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul in the polls has led to increased media scrutiny for both men. Reuters broke the news that Paul sent out a direct mail solicitation asking for money to help prepare for a “coming race war” and expose the federal government’s “cover-up on AIDS.”

And Gingrich is receiving more media attention of his tumultuous personal and political past, stirring skepticism among conservative evangelicals about his commitment to their issues (though Ralph Reed, noted Religious Right politico has said that “these voters believe in forgiveness, they believe in redemption” as explanation for their potential support for Gingrich). The irony of this is that Gingrich is being lambasted for refusing to formally sign the – now revised – Vander Plaats pledge.

The takeaway (and something reporters have noted) is that evangelical voters have yet to coalesce behind a candidate, making what happens on January 3 still very unpredictable.  And as Marcia Pally noted in USA Today earlier this week,  “While evangelical opposition to abortion is firm, the evangelical vote is not fixed.”  In the 2008 presidential election, the movement of evangelicals (especially younger evangelicals) towards more moderate or progressive stances or candidates was noteworthy.

At a time when the GOP candidates are more out-of-step with Americans’ (and evangelicals’) views on economic inequality, immigration, and other issues than ever before, their jockeying in Iowa and extreme rhetoric may be moving the field even further away from evangelical voters at large.

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Poll of the Week: Iowa GOP Voters Prioritize Economic over Social Issues

December 14, 2011, 4:35 pm | Posted by

A CBS News poll out last week garnered lots of attention for showing that Newt Gingrich led Mitt Romney by 14 points among likely Iowa caucus-goers, but the most interesting news from the survey is the finding that Iowa Republican voters don’t see social issues as a top priority this election cycle.

Iowa-caucus goers don’t see social issues as paramount: 71 percent overall say candidates should be judged on economic issues, while just 14 percent point to social issues. (13 percent said the two are equally important.) Just 25 percent of white evangelical Republican caucus-goers and 18 percent of Tea Party Republican caucus-goers say social issues matter the most in their vote, while 55 percent of white evangelical Republican caucus-goers and 65 percent of Tea Party caucus-goers cite economic issues as paramount.

As the payroll tax cut debate continues to take center stage in Congress and millions of Americans stand to go home with less money in their pockets next year, presidential candidates should take note that conservative voters are paying close attention to how candidates plan to handle these tough economic issues.

As a number of polls and actions show, voters across the religious and ideological spectrum are primarily concerned with ensuring that there is enough food on the table and a roof over their families’ heads. Clearly, slowing the passage of the payroll tax cut extension does nothing to help Americans weather these tough economic times, nor will it play well on either side of the aisle during this election season.

Photo Credit: League of Women Voters of California/Flickr

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Immigration in the 2012 Campaign Update

December 2, 2011, 4:50 pm | Posted by

GOP debate.jpg

Looking back over the past several months, it’s not easy to tell where the GOP Presidential candidates stand on immigration reform – one of the most critical social justice issues facing America and people of faith.

Back in October, Herman Cain touted an electric fence as a solution to preventing undocumented immigrants from crossing the border. After facing intense criticism over his stance, Cain contended he was only joking.

At November’s CNN National Security Debate, Newt Gingrich appeared to take a political risk by endorsing “humane treatment” for undocumented immigrants already residing in the United States. But a closer look reveals that the “citizen juries” he recommends are actually neither that humane or courageous.

Even so, Newt’s proposal prompted attacks of “amnesty” from GOP rivals. Surprisingly, the loudest attack came coming from Romney, who previously supported a similar plan for undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S.

If backtracking on his stance isn’t confusing enough for the American public, Romney also refuses to answer whether he would deport immigrants already living here.

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Perry, after facing intense conservative backlash for calling opponents of his policy letting undocumented high school students qualify for in-state tuition “heartless“, is campaigning with radical anti-immigrant sheriff Joe Arpaio. Perry is now calling for the deportation of all undocumented immigrants (as is Rep. Michelle Bachmann) — a move that would undoubtedly cost the American economy millions- if not billions- in lost wages and productivity.

These kinds of devastating consequences are already visible in Arizona, Alabama and Georgia, states whose anti-immigrant policies demonstrate the high economic costs that businesses and local governments are incurring by effectively eliminating their immigrant population.

Hopefully, whichever candidate wins the Republican nomination will recognize that the general population rejects these extreme policies and supports just, comprehensive immigration reform proposals.

Photo Credit:, Flickr

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