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The Invisible Primary Voter: Evangelical Democrats

By Michelle Boorstein and Jon Cohen
Since nearly eight in 10 white evangelicals voted for President Bush in 2004, Democrats have been plowing thought, money and time into changing the story line. They have faith advisers, faith forums and faith strategies that show there is such a thing as a progressive evangelical. So imagine their annoyance when exit polls in Iowa and New Hampshire asked only Republican voters if they consider themselves "born-again" or evangelical.

"Asking only Republicans about their religion shows that the media is still stuck on the outdated and false notion that evangelical Christians are the GOP's political property. No party can own any faith," Katie Barge wrote at Faith in Public Life blog.

"Exit polls pigeonhole Democrats of faith," blared the ThinkProgress blog, prompting 270 reader responses.

The Christian press noticed it, too.

"This was supposed to be the year the Democrats got religion. Too bad somebody forgot to tell the pollsters," wrote popular blogger Ted Olsen, news director of Christianity Today.

Today, nine prominent evangelicals signed a plea to the pollsters to make a change before South Carolina and Michigan. "For the sake of accuracy and dispelling shopworn stereotypes, we urge you to allow all evangelicals an opportunity to be represented," read the letter, whose signers included Christianity Today editor David Neff and Paul Corts, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

As it was in 2004, exit polling for the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary was done by Edison/Mitofsky for a consortium of large media organizations, headed by the big three television networks, CNN, Fox and The Associated Press.

In Iowa, Democratic voters were asked if they came from a union household; GOP voters were asked if they were evangelical, or born-again. No other religion questions were asked. In New Hampshire, voters from both parties were asked what denomination they were, and how often they attend worship services. But again, only the Republicans were asked if they considered themselves evangelical.

Michael Mokrzycki, AP's director of polling, declined to give details about how the group came up with its questions, but said "if you've seen the questionnaires it is clear we're working with limited real estate and thus must make judgments about priorities."

It's really white evangelicals who Democrats are looking for; in 2004, two-thirds of non-white evangelicals supported Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee. But beyond the space limits on exit poll questionnaires, there are two reasons it may not have been included on the Democratic exit polls so far.

First, the evangelical question was not asked on previous Democratic primary exit polls, making it impossible to gauge whether more are now choosing to participate in Democratic primaries. Second, knowing who describes themselves as born-again is not fundamental to the dynamics of the race for the Democratic nomination, as it is on GOP side. In Post-ABC polling through the campaign, white evangelicals planning to participate in a Democratic primary appear unlikely to vote differently from other Democrats.

The frustration may be cured after the primary battles end and polls provide estimates about whether white evangelical voters will support the Democratic and Republican nominee. And perhaps the general election exit poll will provide final detail.

Posted at 5:29 PM ET on Jan 10, 2008  | Category:  The Pollster
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Why was this article even written? Why is this a concern? What happened to separation of church and state?

Posted by: m0tioncity | January 27, 2008 11:46 PM

"Hallelujah! Abort!"

Posted by: sawargos | January 11, 2008 8:43 PM

I am a Christian, a Deacon in the United Church of Christ.
Because I believe in promoting peace with justice not war, providing for the poor and the marginalized, taking care of the environment, providing education for all children, and believing that all are created equal, I vote as a Democrat.
For me, the best choice is Barak Obama, because he truly provides change from business and politics as usual.
However, for the first time since I voted, I can honestly say that I will support any of the top 3 for our candidate.
I am a Christian and I vote -- for Democrats!

Posted by: benedict54 | January 11, 2008 6:28 PM

Hillary has a deep spiritual base that most people don't realize. If you read her biography, you would know that she lead and participated in prayer and Bible study groups while in the White House. I had the exceptional experience of meeting her in person, and she impressed me as not only as the most intelligent person in the race but as the most passionate about the important issues that confront us. I know a bit less about Obama, other then knowing he is a member of the United Church of Christ. I am glad that the pollsters are being called to task about this. Their are many evangelical Christians out there ready to vote a Democrat into office.

Posted by: DrTimSF | January 11, 2008 2:19 PM

Hillary has a deep spiritual base that most people don't realize. If you read her biography, you would know that she lead and participated in prayer and Bible study groups while in the White House. I had the exceptional experience of meeting her in person, and she impressed me as not only as the most intelligent person in the race but as the most passionate about the important issues that confront us. I know a bit less about Obama, other then knowing he is a member of the United Church of Christ. I am glad that the pollsters are being called to task about this. Their are many of evangelical Christians out there ready vote a Democrat into office.

Posted by: DrTimSF | January 11, 2008 2:15 PM

My parents are white enavgelicals and lifelong democrats. My grandparents went through The Great Depression. Who brought us out of that? FDR (please, no anti-New Deal right-wing rants). My grandparents' generation fought and won the second world war. Again, thanks in no small part to the leadership of FDR. My mom's father was a teamster. The union (a historically democrat-aligned institution) gave him a solid job for thirty years that enabled him to raise five children, with my grandmother's help, of course. So it makes perfect sense to me that one could be a devout Christian and a democrat.

I get tired of people on the left disdaining Christianity as if all Christians were of the Pat Robertson/James Dobson ilk. Likewise, I reject the assertion by those on the right that Christianity and the Democratic Party are incompatible.

Posted by: nyejoshua | January 11, 2008 1:15 PM

Jake D ... I'm a born-again, New Testament-believing Christian, and I'm a hard-core Democrat -- and I'm answering your question. So listen up.

If my choice were between Hillary and Huckabee, I'd vote for Hillary. If my choice were between Obama and Huckabee, I'd vote for Obama. The reason I can vote that way is because of my overriding belief in the separation of church and state.

The discussion can be parsed and otherwise broken down into a much, much more complex and much, much more nuanced analysis, with many sub-facets. But that conversation is too long and detailed for this forum.

The bottom line is: It is my heart's desire that all would come to know Jesus Christ as personal savior, and I will tell you about my relationship with God through Jesus Christ, if you ask ... but I won't try to force the same relationship upon you, and I won't try to force a discussion of my relationship upon you -- either personally, or through the government.

While probably an oversimplification of the difference, I think that reasonably suggests at least one difference between "Democrats who are Christians" and "the Religious Right".

(See fellowshipofchristiandemocrats.org)

Posted by: ripcord1965 | January 11, 2008 1:08 PM

My parents are white, enavgelical, lifelong democrats. My grandparents went through The Great Depression. Who brought us out of that? FDR. My grandparents' generation fought and won the second world war. Again, thanks in no small part to the leadership of FDR. My mom's father was a teamster. The union gave him a solid job for 30 years that enabled him to raise a family of 5. So it makes perfect sense to me that one could be a devout christian and a democrat. After all, they

Posted by: nyejoshua | January 11, 2008 1:08 PM

Is it possible to distinguish between Christian and Evangelical? Shouldn't fundamentalists approve of certain aspects of radical Islam, that is, a convinced and absolutist reading of scripture? Should the Constitution be amended to impose religious orthodoxy on the population? If not, should religious orthodoxy prohibit fundamentalists from swearing to uphold the Constitution? Should candidates be using marketing techniques to leverage religious beliefs into electoral majorities? Should evangelicals revolt against the shameless use made of them in recent decades and declare religious belief out of play in electoral politics? We have come a long, long road since Jimmy Carter noted his experience as a born-again Christian, and it seems to be leading to hell.

Posted by: rarignac | January 11, 2008 10:09 AM

Thanks, lorenram -- any other "religious" Democrats care to answer my question?

Posted by: JakeD | January 10, 2008 8:43 PM

Finally, somebody realizes this ! You don't have to be a Republican to be a "good Christian" ! Check out the website of the Fellowship of Christian Democrats.(fellowshipofchristiandemocrats.org)

Posted by: ripcord1965 | January 10, 2008 8:10 PM

Finally, somebody realizes this ! You don't have to be a Republican to be a "good Christian" ! Check out the website of the Fellowship of Christian Democrats.(fellowshipofchristiandemocrats.org)

Posted by: ripcord1965 | January 10, 2008 8:10 PM

Finally, somebody realizes this ! You don't have to be a Republican to be a "good Christian" ! Check out the website of the Fellowship of Christian Democrats.(fellowshipofchristiandemocrats.org)

Posted by: ripcord1965 | January 10, 2008 8:10 PM

So you finally noticed US, Born again, Democrat, NRA member and as long as Hillary lets us keep our hunting rifles we are all for her.( I would like to hear her say that loud and clear) after all you are not a true american hunter if you need an assault rifle or more than 3 shots to Hunt!!
yes we do exist in large numbers hidden in the new US. Part red neck part democrat and for a clean and honest america. Go Hillary kick their butt, Camelot may return!!

Posted by: lorenram | January 10, 2008 8:06 PM

Pollsters need to revamp their questions. There is a new horizon in 2008. It is obvious the pollsters were not asking the right questions in NH.

Posted by: CarmanK | January 10, 2008 6:20 PM

Interesting that only Democratic voters were asked if they came from a union household . . .

Posted by: JakeD | January 10, 2008 6:05 PM

If the general election is between Hillary and BAPTIST PREACHER Huckabee, who do you think the "religious" Democrats will go with?

Posted by: JakeD | January 10, 2008 5:42 PM

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