Obama's outreach to white evangelicals will be an ongoing story in the days leading up to the election, and deservedly so. If recent coverage is any indication, however, some of these news stories may be misleading. In order to help you evaluate this coverage, here is my list of facts that you should know about white evangelicals in this election:
- Obama is not the first Democrat to reach out to white evangelicals. Bill Clinton did it, especially in 1996, and Howard Dean did it, as Chairman of the DNC, in 2006.
- Obama will not win the white evangelical vote. And by “win,” I mean that he will not receive a majority of their votes.
- Obama does not need to win the white evangelical to make a difference, or win the election. Since the two major parties have been closely divided in recent elections, small changes in the voting patterns of a few demographic groups can change the outcome of the election.
- McCain needs to worry more about whether the politically active evangelicals will volunteer for his campaign, than whether they will vote for him. Someone is more likely to vote if they get a personal phone call or knock on the door from a volunteer than if they get one of those annoying automated phone calls. The energy, enthusiasm, and number of campaign volunteers can make an important difference in elections. White evangelicals made up a large part of these foot soldiers for Bush and helped him get elected. Will they do so for McCain?
- White evangelicals have broadened their agenda. You will continue to hear a lot about this from the media. They are concerned about AIDS in Africa, genocide in
Darfur, global warming, and poverty, to name a few. But keep in mind, having a broader agenda does not mean that they no longer care about their previously narrower agenda. Abortion and gay marriage are not issues that have gone away and will continue to be an important part of the voting calculation for many evangelicals.
- White evangelicals do not, in general, dislike McCain. Though they backed Mike Huckabee in large numbers during the state primaries and caucuses, when asked who they would vote for if Huckabee were not in the race, most said McCain. I suspect that the reluctance shown by some to vote for McCain has more to do with Republicans in general than McCain in particular.