Panel says religious vote has shifted left
“There is a tendency among academics and the media to talk about the Evangelicals as one might perhaps talk about the extraterrestrials,” Queens College sociology professor Robin Rogers-Dillon said, adding that this attitude is “wrong” and “condescending.” She explained that Evangelicals are not a disconnected “subculture” but are instead aware of pressing cosmopolitan and international issues.
“There is no evangelist vote, only evangelists voting,” George Washington University American studies professor Melani McAlister added.
Both Rogers-Dillon and McAlister agreed that these global concerns have arisen because of recent evangelical programs, which include mission work in the Middle East, reducing poverty and advocating for basic human rights. Because the new Evangelical political agenda encompasses conservative and liberal views, it cannot be categorized on the Right or the Left, they said.
McAlister further examined the global vision of Evangelicals, explaining that 30 to 40 percent of Evangelicals rate the war in Iraq as the most important political issue, largely because missionaries have been injured and killed as a result of instability in the country.
Additionally, Evangelicals are concerned about the use of torture at Guantanamo Bay and incidents at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, McAlister said, adding that consequently, many have stopped supporting the Bush administration.
The change in their political outlook may be a reflection of the attitudes of the younger generation of Christians. Five years ago, 87 percent of young Evangelicals supported the Bush administration, while today that number has dropped to 45 percent, Rogers-Dillon said, adding that “younger Evangelicals are politically different from their elders.”
Unlike their elders, younger Evangelicals are more concerned with socials problems like the environment, poverty, sex trafficking and human rights, Rogers-Dillon said, noting that the younger generation inhabits a world defined by internet communication, which exposes them to international problems.
The devastation of Sept. 11, 2001 and the war in Iraq have led younger Evangelicals to “understand that terrorism has a human cost,” Rogers-Dillon said. Whereas the older generation grew up with the “hot rhetoric” of the Cold War, the younger generation has “seen what hatred and combat creates,” she explained.
Rogers-Dillon acknowledged that though there is a generational divide, the younger generation still maintains fundamental conservative values such as opposing abortion rights and supporting traditional marriage laws.
Another indication that evangelicals are not a homogeneous political group is the sharp differences in their voting preferences when analyzed by socioeconomic class. UC-Berkeley sociology professor Michael Hout said that, according to the General Social Survey results from the 2000 and 2004 presidential election seasons, evangelical families with an income above $75,000 tended to vote Republican, while less affluent Evangelical families tended to vote Democrat.
Hout said that the fact that more voters have flocked to the polls at Democratic primaries this year than Republican ones may indicate that Evangelical voters are becoming more cosmopolitan in their world view and thus more likely to vote for more liberal candidates.
The general consensus among the panelists, which also included Darren Dochuk, assistant professor of history at Purdue University and current visiting fellow at Princeton’s Center for the Study of Religion, was that if the general election is between Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the latter would most certainly receive the majority of the evangelical vote. They added, however, that if the race is between Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and McCain, then the evangelical vote will likely be divided.The discussion was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Religion.