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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"Asking only Republicans about their religion shows that the media is still stuck on the outdated and false notion that evangelical Christians are the GOP's political property.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.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 10, 2008; 5:29 PM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , The Pollster  
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