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December 10, 2012 10:31 AM White Evangelicals and the “Mormon Factor”

By Ed Kilgore

By November 6, there weren’t many observers left who still believed conservative evangelical Protestant doubts or fears about the heterodoxy of the LDS church were going to be a problem for Mitt Romney. But it’s worth noting that a Pew survey late last week laid that particular myth emphatically to rest along three dimensions: support for Romney, intensity of support for Romney, and turnout.

Taking the last factor first, white evangelical Protestants represented exactly the same share of the electorate as in 2008 (23%), which was a higher number than in 2004 (21%), when a candidate exceedingly popular among this demographic, George W. Bush, was the Republican nominee. Support for Romney among white evangelicals matched the 2004 levels at 79%, up from 73% for John McCain in 2008.

It’s the intensity numbers, however, that are most interesting. 63% of white evangelical Protestants supporting Romney did so “strongly” (as opposed to 21% supporting him “with reservations”), pretty much the same levels as among other categories of Romney supporters with the natural exception of LDS members (84% of whom supported their co-religionist strongly). And only 9% of white evangelical Romney supporters chose the option of reporting their vote was more against Obama than for Romney.

Now there are various ways of interpreting these findings. The near-unanimous support for Romney among Christian Right leaders once the primaries ended may have been one factor. More compelling is the simple argument that conservative white evangelicals identify so strongly with the Republican Party that the identity of the nominee makes little or no difference.

My own theory is that when it comes to political activity conservative white evangelicals are motivated so strongly by cultural issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and broader controversies about “feminism,” “secularism” in public schools and in the judiciary, and alleged fears for the future of the “traditional family” that high levels of agreement with the LDS church on these arguably secular matters emphatically trump any disagreements on doctrine. A more interesting test of this hypothesis might be a GOP nominee with no significant religious affiliations—a latter-day right-wing Lincoln—who happened to agree with the Christian Right on all of its hot-button issues. But given the fairly aggressive backlash against Mormon proselytization that is evident in many conservative evangelical circles, which has recently replaced sheer ignorance of LDS tenets with a more palpable hostility, you could make the case Romney’s powerful support levels among these folk is a pretty clear sign they just don’t care about what candidates believe about God, so long as they share the attitudes of the Righteous towards their ideological enemies.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Rich on December 10, 2012 10:52 AM:

    The Mormon factor or the lack thereof has been done to death. Romney went into full pander mode and there was no place else for these folks to go, plus you had the the whole organized evangelical GOTV machine.

  • c u n d gulag on December 10, 2012 11:02 AM:

    At this point, White Evangelical voters would cast their votes for Satan, as long as the child's limb he was chewing on was a brown child of Agnostics or Atheists.

  • T2 on December 10, 2012 11:11 AM:

    hate levels all. If you hate person X, and someone you hate also hates person X, then you've got a team.

  • biggerbox on December 10, 2012 11:13 AM:

    I don't find this surprising, since it seems a great deal of what they tend to pick and choose for their "theology" is politically determined in the first place. They seem pretty practiced at figuring out what they want, and then arranging their religious beliefs to support it.

  • Citizen Alan on December 10, 2012 12:11 PM:

    Agree with c u n d gulag. At this point, mainstream American Christianity is essentially every bit as satanic as the GOP with which it is allied. Mitt Romney could have openly declared himself the Antichrist and the majority of Southern Baptists would have voted for him over a black man who has tried to improve the lives of poor people.

  • Peter C on December 10, 2012 12:59 PM:

    So Evangelicals were enthusiastic about a Mormon in the White House, and yet Mitt lost.

    And, Evangelicals say that Mitt's religion didn't bother them a bit, and yet Mitt lost.

    Thus, either Evangelicals say one thing (to pollsters) and do another (at the polls), or they are not the pre-eminent deciding factor in American Politics. I'll give up my belief in the former when the media abandons its belief in the latter, deal?

    I wish I could shake my impression that Obama won because his margin of victory was too big to credibly fudge away and that THIS was what delayed Mitt's concession. I'd really like a process which couldn't be fudged and regular audits that demonstrate that our votes were accurately counted as cast.

  • Richard Hershberger on December 10, 2012 1:01 PM:

    Consider John McCain: He appears to be a non-practicing cultural Episcopalian. During the 2008 campaign he revealed that he might actually be Baptist, though he should sure about when or how this came about. This is risible on its face. There are few certainties in this world, but one is that anyone who converted from Episcopalian to Baptist can tell you exactly when it happened and the circumstances around it. Furthermore, you won't have to draw him out on the topic: shutting him up will be the challenge.

    Going back further, Jimmy Carter is one of the political figures most reviled by the American Right. The fact that he was a Born Again Christian at a time when this was a political liability is irrelevant. The fact that he lives his faith, working to help the poor, is often a strike against him.

    Does anyone seriously believe that a candidate's religion matters one whit in the general election? The primaries are a different matter, but there is no reason to believe that it matters in the general election even to the extent of influencing turnout.

  • Tom on December 10, 2012 1:47 PM:

    I have a number of strong Evangelical friends, and they all swore during the nomination process that they could not vote for a Mormon. However, their hatred of Obama and all he represents changed their minds.

    Also, I think race had a lot to do with it for many EV's.

  • John on December 10, 2012 2:46 PM:

    Going back further, Jimmy Carter is one of the political figures most reviled by the American Right. The fact that he was a Born Again Christian at a time when this was a political liability is irrelevant. The fact that he lives his faith, working to help the poor, is often a strike against him.

    Not only that, but the man who defeated him, Ronald Reagan, was a man of no discernible religious affiliation.

  • Martin on December 10, 2012 3:57 PM:

    I volunteer with an older (about 75) year old Fox News watcher with a religious outlook. About a week before the election, I told her that I had already voted for the president. She replied, "I'm not sure if I'm going to vote. I don't like either of them." I was very shocked. I assumed her hatred of the president would overwhelm Romney's likability problem. In her case, I didn't. I'm guessing she's not typical, but this view does exist.

  • Rahul Agarwal on December 10, 2012 4:16 PM:

    .. which in turn means that God and religion is not so much a philosophy of life for these folk as it is a weapon to brandish against those people (and those social trends) that they hate.