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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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: IowaPolitics.com, Flickr
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Wednesday, the Young Democrats of America held a press conference with Democratic Members of Congress and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to reaffirm the party’s commitment to young voters of faith. Specific outreach plans include organizing on faith-based college campuses and setting up trainings and service days.
In the 2008 election, Democrats made major gains with young evangelicals, in particular, and the new “Faith and Values Initiative” by the YDA shows that the party is once again going to be aggressively courting this and other young religious constituencies.
Recent polling shows they may have a good opportunity to do so. The values of religious Millennials are notably much more in line with efforts to increase wealth equity than with the Tea Party creed of selfishness, and the historic wedge issues of same-sex marriage and abortion don’t hold the same influence with young values voters as with their older counterparts.
Additionally, with unemployment among young people at an all-time high, the question of which party will provide a more moral pathway to job creation will no doubt be important to young voters of faith.
The event also featured some inspiring remarks by Rev. Derrick Harkins, an FPL board member and the DNC’s new Director of Religious Outreach, who argued that core faith values of justice and compassion have always been central to the Democratic Party.
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This past Saturday, a number of the GOP presidential candidates traveled to Iowa for a “family forum,” a roundtable discussion moderated by GOP pollster Frank Luntz and sponsored by The Family Leader, an Iowa-based conservative Christian organization. The Family Leader, which has courted controversy in the past for its extreme statements on slavery, has since announced they’ve narrowed down their slate of potential endorsees to Perry, Santorum, Bachmann, and Gingrich. (Romney, notably absent from Saturday’s event, is not under consideration for The Family Leader’s endorsement.)
The event was yet another example of Republican candidates bending over backwards to appeal to the sizable constituency of conservative evangelical voters in Iowa. In addition to state-level groups, national Religious Right organizations have sponsored a number of events, like bus tours in Iowa, hoping to leverage the candidates’ attention to conservative religious voters in that state for more national influence and clout.
Faith in Public Life and Faithful America have worked to amplify the voices of progressive people of faith in Iowa, challenging the incorrect conventional wisdom that the only religious voters in the state are conservative.
And mainstream media coverage has also helped uncover the fact that groups like The Family Leader and the Family Research Council don’t always attract crowds or represent the faith community at large. The Des Moines Register covered a recent Values Voter bus tour event with prominent conservative Congressman Steve King (R-IA), mentioning in the lede paragraph that only 15 people were in attendance. And when the first Values Voter bus tour kicked off this summer, both Faithful America’s counter-rally and the media outnumbered actual participants.
It’s a well-worn story: religious conservatives hold the key to GOP candidate’s victory, so GOP candidates court these voters by sharing compelling conversion testimonies, using the right buzzwords on issues like abortion and gay marriage, and kissing the ring of various Religious Right power brokers like Tony Perkins, Ralph Reed, and Bob Vander Plaats.
This story gets trotted out each election cycle with good reason– this is a trend that continues to hold, and the Religious Right has gotten even savvier about integrating themselves into the mainstream of the Republican party and exerting influence. While Religious Right organizations still pay homage to their tried-and-true culture war issues, increasingly they share the stage with anti-tax organizations to tout GOP talking points with no explicit (or even implicit) grounding in religious values. They’re adapting to the current political environment and shoring up their centrality to the GOP coalition. The sway they continue to hold over the presidential race in Iowa, despite their disconnect from mainstream people of faith, is a clear example of this.
Photo of November 19 Thanksgiving Family Forum, via The Family Leader.
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In last week’s election, social conservatives failed to pass an anti-abortion amendment in the red-state stronghold of Mississippi, triggering questions about the role of hot-button social issues and the Religious Right’s influence in the 2012 election.
Rather than putting their full energy into causes such as “personhood” amendments, Religious Right organizations and leaders seem likely to focus primarily on economic issues. As jobs and the economy push social issues to the back burner, conservative Christian groups have latched onto the Tea Party’s extreme agenda.
Last year, the Family Research Council ran political ads focusing on the so-called threat of big government rather than abortion or same-sex marriage. This year’s Values Voters Summit, where GOP presidential candidates wooed Religious Right leaders, focused more on the economy than the culture war. Ralph Reed is predicting that “Teavangelicals” will decide the 2012 election. And it’s not just idle speculation – Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition will reach millions of Christian voters, spreading a low tax, small government gospel that disingenuously invokes “fiscal responsibility” as an excuse to gut crucial protections for families.
That might sound like shrewd strategy, but it also creates opportunities for progressives. Polls consistently show that Americans reject GOP efforts to slash taxes for millionaires and make draconian cuts that harm working families and the most vulnerable. A recent survey by Public Religion Research Institute shows that most people of faith are more sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street movement’s concerns than the Tea Party’s agenda. The poll found that 60 percent of Catholics and majorities of mainline Protestants and white evangelicals think we would be better off if the distribution of wealth were more equal.
The Religious Right’s stance on salient political issues is neatly aligned with the conservative coalition but clearly at odds with the views of most Americans. Progressives need to counter by offering a message that speaks to religious voters’ values of fairness, responsibility, compassion and justice.
I’m not saying quoting Scripture will win over conservative evangelicals, but presenting moderate people of faith with an authentic moral argument for a progressive economic vision will not only resonate, but also help change religion’s role in our political discourse. As my friend Richard Cizik said in a must-read Washington Post op-ed, “it’s time for a new values debate.” The more the Religious Right mimics the Tea Party, the less they reflect the Gospel. Let’s call them on it.
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