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Evangelicals Turned Out Big, But Failed to Deliver

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Dan Gilgoff at Politico writes that very little has changed in the evangelical political world:

Evangelicals are still much more concerned with so-called wedge issues than any other demographic group. A Barna Group poll found that 40 percent of evangelicals chose their presidential candidate based on his position on “moral issues,” compared with 9 percent of other voters.

And the movement’s leaders are still leading the conservative charge in the culture wars. Most of the 29 state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage that have passed were organized by Focus on the Family, its state affiliates and other evangelical activists.

Perhaps most strikingly, the anticipated evangelical shift away from McCain never happened. Despite widespread predictions that many evangelicals would stay home or pull the lever for Obama, McCain managed to collect more white evangelical voters than George W. Bush four years ago.

Obama did get 5% more of the white evangelical vote than did John Kerry in 2004, but there was no great shift away from the Republican party and those voters are just as exclusively concerned with a few wedge issues today as they were four or eight years ago.

What’s interesting is that McCain received 1.5 million more evangelical votes than did George Bush in 2004. That voter block did not stay home. But neither was it able to deliver the election. That’s not good news for evangelical leaders who’ve staked their power and influence on their ability to deliver electoral victories for Republicans. Wedge issue are only useful if more people end up on your side of the wedge. The moment it goes the other way, your group becomes a lot more expendable.

Not that I think the Republicans will kick out the religious conservatives or stop kowtowing to that group’s demands. But the results of this year’s election do bring into question how long the Republicans can tie themselves so closely to one narrow ideology and still remain a viable political force. I wouldn’t shed a tear if the evangelical wing of the Republican party ceased holding sway, but I’m not going to hold my breath. It’ll take more than one or two failed elections before Republicans will believe their most devoted base can no longer deliver electoral success.