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: IowaPolitics.com, Flickr

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Democrats Court the Young and the Faithful

December 2, 2011, 1:15 pm | Posted by

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.

Watch it:

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The Religious Right’s Outsized Influence in Iowa and the 2012 Election

November 23, 2011, 11:19 am | Posted by

Thanksgiving Family Forum- Citizen Link.jpgThis 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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