Like many of you, I initially despaired when reading exit poll results from the Alabama senate election. It seemed unbelievable that over 63% of white women would vote for a man who was credibly accused of molesting young girls. My first reaction was, “we won this by a hair-breadth, but we have a lot of work to do”.
Then I realized that this not the whole story:
So white non-evangelical women went for Jones by 53%, that is a landslide. It suggests that Moore’s base (and Trump’s) is actually much narrower than some would have you believe.
I do want to note that the racial breakdown of the exit polls has been misread by many to suggest Democrats do not need white voters, or should ignore them. Far from it, there is no way we can be successful without white voters. Whatever you think the demographic destiny of this country might be, we cannot win elections solely as the party of minorities. Here’s why:
Over 73% of the 2016 electorate identified as “white, non-Hispanic”. Let’s set aside, for a moment, the fact that many Hispanic citizens would consider themselves to be white. What Donald Trump recognized and capitalized on, early and often, is the fact that it didn’t matter if he lost 3% of the non-white vote, all he needed was to improve turnout among white voters by 1% to make up for that loss.
I am going to stop here, because I’ve been doing something I actually hate, which is discussing “race” as if it were a real, rather than an imagined construct. But that is the world we live in.
Also noteworthy in the census figure is the fact that the share of white voters hardly moved from 2012 (73.7%) to 2016 (73.3%). This is partly down to Obama not being on the ticket. Whatever our demographic destiny may be, like all demographic changes, it will take a while to get there. So no, we cannot win purely as a party for racial minorities, and anyone who tells you that is being foolish.
I would go even further, and say we should not win elections if we are not run as as a broad based party that seeks to represent all Americas. If we do not stand for equality and equal representation, then we’ve betrayed our principles.
Obama recognized these facts, which is why he went to significant pains to emphasize his universal message (remember “there is no red or blue America…”).
Every part of our coalition is important, and that includes white people. And in fact, white non-evangelicals, even in Alabama, voted for Doug Jones, by enormous margins.
The same is true for the 2016 election. When you look at the exit poll results by race, Donald Trump won white voters 58-37:
But his margin was enormous among white evangelicals, who were estimated to be 26% of the overall electorate in the exit polls.
If you take out white evangelicals, Hillary Clinton won white voters by 5% (49.5-44.4).
It is important to recognize this fact, first because some have begun to doubt whether the left has a universal appeal. But also because it’s not smart politics to ignore the fact that we are winning majorities among most white people (evangelicals are 36% of the white vote).
But here’s the really positive new, there are some signs of hope for us, even among the group that you may think Trump/Moore have an absolute lock on.
Many evangelicals recognize the madness among their congregations that Trump and now Moore have exposed. In an important article about the role the evangelical movement played in Roy Moore’s campaign, WaPo reported that younger evangelicals turned away from Moore somewhat, as they did from Trump.
Many evangelicals recognize the madness among their congregations that Trump and now Moore have exposed. In an important article about the role the evangelical movement played in Roy Moore’s campaign, WaPo reported that younger evangelicals turned away from Moore, as they had from Trump.
Some evangelicals fear the high support for Moore and Trump among white evangelicals exposes something deeper about the religious group that seems to vote predictably with the GOP. Political partisanship and a disdain for outsiders have become unifying driving factors for white evangelicals instead of the gospel of Jesus Christ, said Birmingham-based Collin Hansen, editorial director for the Gospel Coalition, a network popular among conservative evangelicals.
“You could preach almost any Trinitarian heresy and not one person is going to notice it,” Hansen said. “If you touch on the political things on things they care about like gun control or racism, they’ll have your head.”
Recent political changes, Hansen said, have exposed “the moral and theological rot” in the evangelical church. “There will not be a coherent evangelical movement to emerge from this political season,” Hansen said.
So there are some signs of hope, even among the group that you may think Trump/Moore/Republicans have an absolute lock on.
The New York Times also covered the growing angst among evangelical leaders over the politicians so many evangelical Christians have chosen to tie themselves to:
“It grieves me,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, a prominent evangelical school in Illinois. “I don’t want ‘evangelical’ to mean people who supported candidates with significant and credible accusations against them. If evangelical means that, it has serious ramifications for the work of Christians and churches.” […]
Jemar Tisby, president of “The Witness, a black Christian collective,” a faith-based media company that provides commentary on race, religion and culture, said in an interview that while Mr. Trump was running, “we were saying, this man is promoting bigotry, white supremacists find an ally in him and this is going to be bad for us. And not only did they vote for him, they voted for him in slightly higher numbers than they did for Mitt Romney. It was a sense of betrayal.” […]
“We’ve let evil overtake the entire reputation of Evangelicalism,” one prominent evangelical author, Beth Moore, wrote on Twitter the day before the election. “The lust for power is nauseating. Racism, appalling. The arrogance, terrifying. The misogyny so far from Christlikeness, it can’t be Christianity.”
The editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, Mark Galli, did not mince words about the impact Trump and Moore have had on the reputation of evangelicals:
No matter the outcome of today’s special election in Alabama for a coveted US Senate seat, there is already one loser: Christian faith. When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished. […]
As recently as 2011, PRRI found that only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” But by late 2016, when Donald Trump was running for president, that number had risen sharply to 72 percent—the biggest shift of any US religious group. […]
Apparently yes. This is precisely why, when serious and substantial allegations of sexual abuse of minors were made against Roy Moore, many doubled down on their support for him. Within days of this news story in The Washington Post, polls indicated that not only would 57 percent of evangelicals continue to support him, another 37 percent said they were now more likely to vote for him. […]
What events of the last year and a half have shown once again is that when Christians immerse themselves in politics as Christians, for what they determine are Christian causes, touting their version of biblical morality in the public square—they will sooner or later (and often sooner) begin to compromise the very principles they champion and do so to such a degree that it blemishes the very faith they are most anxious to promote. […] No wonder few believe much of anything we say anymore. — www.christianitytoday.com/…
Perhaps what is most important in Galli’s editorial is this line:
The gap between rich and poor, the number of abortions and fatherless children, the steady rise of drug addiction, the increasing sympathy with euthanasia—these are but a few indicators that something is deeply wrong.
There are a number of things we will disagree with, but we could conceivably make common cause on the one Galli places first, “the gap between rich and poor”. We may not be able to persuade all evangelicals, but we may persuade some.
And before you jump up and say that’s not worth doing, remember this:
“[Moore] lost because so many evangelicals didn’t show up,” Mohler told CNN anchor Don Lemon. “That’s the big story … what didn’t happen. You didn’t have any major pastors or evangelical leaders [in Alabama], not a single one, willing to support Roy Moore.
“Given the percentage of evangelicals in Alabama, it’s inconceivable that a candidate supported by them could lose,” the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary continued. “They would not and could not vote for a pro-abortion candidate, and they would not and could not vote for Roy Moore.” (The Post examined why.) […]
While the exit polls don’t publicly release breakouts for blacks by religious affiliation or church attendance, LifeWay Research recently found that black Americans are almost three times more likely than white Americans to hold evangelical beliefs (30% vs. 13%), and twice as likely to self-identify as “born again” (49% vs. 27%). (At Ed Stetzer’s CT blog, the managing director of the Billy Graham Center makes the case for “how black women saved evangelicalism.”) — www.christianitytoday.com/…
— @subirgrewal | Cross-posted at NotMeUs.org and TheProgressiveWing.com