A year-end poll of influential evangelical leaders reveals a broad-based agreement that the economy is the most important political issue facing the country this year.
“The economy is the focus of national debate, so it’s not surprising to see it top the list,” said Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). “Our leaders understand that a poor economy negatively interacts with many other issues that evangelicals care about including the growing disparity between the rich and poor, adequate health care, marriage, immigration reform, national security and abortion.”
The poll results are an important reminder to media who frequently and incorrectly describe evangelical Christians as a monolithic group primarily concerned about “culture war” issues. These findings provide more evidence that “values voters” have a much broader moral agenda.
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals, which includes prominent evangelicals from the education, publishing, and ministry communities.
Photo: Leith Anderson, NAE
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Religious Right darling and disgraced former lobbyist Ralph Reed is back on the scene in the 2012 election cycle as head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
This past weekend, Reed organized an event across from the South Carolina debate site, featuring conservative religious voters, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and a number of the GOP contenders. Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jim Galloway described the event as a “tent revival” with some questionable political and theological references:
Prosperity gospel was in vogue. With a few loud – perhaps accidental — bars of “Money, Money, Money,” the revival opened with a video address from Donald Trump, who declared that the world “is laughing at the stupidity of our leaders. They’re absolutely taking us to the cleaners.”
Reed’s Religious Right confab back inJune attracted few participants but a number of political heavyweights, like Representative Paul Ryan and presidential candidates Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. At that event, there was an obvious schism between the Tea Party, small-government side of the conservative movement and the Christian Right, social-issues contingent.
This division within the GOP ranks is continuing to crop up and it seems like Reed unsuccessfully hoped to alleviate the tension between the two camps at his South Carolina event. Galloway writes:
The Faith and Freedom Coalition is an attempt to unite evangelicals with tea partyists, but religiosity had the upper hand on Monday afternoon. When Reed asked tea party adherents to raise their hands, only a quarter of the audience did so.
Particularly with Religious Right leaders deciding at a meeting last weekend to back Santorum over Romney and facing unanswered questions about their ability to actually influence the nomination or derail Romney’s momentum, Reed’s ability to deliver millions of evangelical votes for the GOP candidate is still unclear. Given that the reports out of the meeting varied widely (some participants, like Family Research Council head Tony Perkins, said the decision hinged on “Obamacare” but Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention claimed social issues were paramount to the group’s decision), the Tea Party- Religious Right schism looks far from resolved.
photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr
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The political buzz this week has focused on Mitt Romney’s victory in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, following his incredibly close win in last week’s Iowa caucuses. Romney is the first non-incumbent Republican candidate in modern history to win both Iowa and New Hampshire’s nominating contests, fueling widespread speculation that the GOP nomination is solidly within his grasp.
Evangelical voters, an oft-discussed constituency in the Iowa caucuses (who went largely for Rick Santorum last week), are also part of the mix in the New Hampshire primary. The overall New Hampshire voter base tends to be more moderate than in Iowa and Santorum fared significantly worse in New Hampshire, garnering just over 9% of the vote. Romney handily won in New Hampshire and even did well among evangelical voters, who have been perceived as less supportive of his candidacy either for theological or ideological reasons. (Romney’s performance among evangelical voters in New Hampshire was comparable to Santorum’s performance among evangelicals in Iowa.)
Catholic Republican primary voters in New Hampshire also voted for Romney; 45% of Catholic primary voters supported Mitt Romney on Tuesday. Despite Santorum’s Catholicism, he didn’t manage to pick up significant Catholic support from Romney, even given his momentum coming out of Iowa and his far-right views on social issues. As David Gibson at Religion News Service hypothesizes, Santorum may actually be the most “evangelical” candidate in his rhetoric and beliefs, even though he’s a practicing Catholic. Gibson writes:
Santorum’s religious rhetoric is just as important in cultivating his evangelical appeal, and that is something new for Catholic politicians.
He has “an evangelical style,” [Deal] Hudson notes, which can be seen in his references to home-schooling his children, his support for teaching creationism in public schools, and his regular testimony about his personal relationship with Jesus. (Santorum adds that the U.S. needs to have “a Jesus candidate.”)
Santorum seems like an appealing choice to socially and theologically conservative evangelical voters who find Romney unpalatable. According to Elizabeth Dias at TIME and other reports, some evangelicals are rallying this weekend to try to come to a consensus about which candidate to back in an attempt to unseat Romney as the GOP front-runner, and Santorum is their most likely pick.
Now, all eyes turn to South Carolina, where the nation’s third Republican primary contest will happen on January 21. As Tobin Grant at Christianity Today puts it,
Because evangelicals made up only one-quarter of the primary voters in New Hampshire, their influence is smaller than in Iowa or in this Saturday’s primary in South Carolina. Still, if Romney had done as poorly with evangelicals as he did in Iowa, his margin of victory could have slipped into the single digits. This weekend, a strong showing among evangelicals could mean the difference between a win or a loss in South Carolina.
Romney is polling better in South Carolina than he ever has before, and having the endorsement of popular Tea Party governor Nikki Haley can’t hurt. The newest TIME/CNN/ORC poll has Romney leading but shows a significant surge from Santorum. If Romney wins by a significant margin, it seems very unlikely any other Republican candidates can continue to challenge him for the nomination. If Santorum manages to pull off an upset though, it could keep things interesting in the ongoing GOP primary fight. We’ll be watching!
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In the wake of Rick Santorum’s virtual tie with Mitt Romney for first place in the Iowa caucus, a once-common term — “compassionate conservatism”– has re-entered the political lexicon. Political blogs across the spectrum, religious publications and prominent newspaper columnists are debating whether Santorum is the new standard-bearer of this label. The discussion actually says more about the state of conservatism than it does about the former senator from Pennsylvania.
The argument for Santorum’s compassionate conservatism is that he talks about poverty as a moral issue on the campaign trail and his record as a lawmaker, at least on a few issues, jibes more with social justice Christianity than with Tea Party radicalism. Santorum stood up for lifesaving international aid at a GOP debate while others scored cheap political points by demonizing it. As a senator he strongly supported the PEPFAR program to combat AIDS in Africa and stood up for solutions that help the poor, such as debt relief and community health centers. These stances are commendable.
But when deciding whether a politician deserves to be called a compassionate conservative, we should examine how consistently he defends the most vulnerable and those at the margins.
Santorum’s compassion is very selective. He advocates breaking up immigrant families and opposes the DREAM Act. He calls climate change a liberal hoax. He supports torturing detainees in US custody. He endorsed Representative Paul Ryan’s immoral federal budget plan and says poor Americans should suffer more. And few politicians exhibit greater hostility toward gay and lesbian Americans.
Santorum also uses moral arguments to defend economic policies that harm struggling Americans. His unwavering defense of deregulating big business and huge tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy is standard fare for the GOP, but when it comes to helping poor Americans, he argues that protections for the unemployed and the working poor create dependency rather than help people get back on their feet. When job seekers outnumber jobs 4-to-1 and 49 million Americans are trapped in poverty, this sort of rhetoric is dangerous, misleading and insulting.
It’s a sad commentary on our nation’s politics when a record as uneven and troubling as Santorum’s enables him to seize the mantle of compassionate conservatism. A real compassionate conservative movement would be a welcome change from today’s radicalized GOP and a valuable contribution to addressing poverty and inequality. But this ain’t it.
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The political debate around taxes has undergone a paradigm shift. Instead of the Tea Party-driven argument over taxes as “theft” from the successful, the discussion has increasingly focused on questions of responsibility and fairness. The agitation of the 99% Movement and the obstinacy of Wall Street banks handing out huge bonuses despite wrecking the economy are just two of the causes behind this transformation.
With the conversation revolving around fairness, elected officials and pundits defending policies that benefit the wealthy at the expense of everyday Americans look increasingly extreme. As evidence, a recent Pew Research Center for People & the Press poll found that 53% of evangelicals believe the current tax system is unfair. Perhaps most intriguing, when white evangelicals were asked “What bothers you most about taxes?” and given the choice of their own tax burden, the complexity of the tax system, or the wealthy not paying their fair share, nearly half of respondents were most upset with the wealthy not paying their faith share.
These findings follow other recent polls showing evangelicals support increased taxes on the wealthy, further belying the myth that evangelicals are ardent economic conservatives. Those busy supporting the status quo and defending the policies that caused the economic crisis must be feeling increasingly isolated.
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