Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Five Ways The Religious Right Imploded In 2012

When election returns began pouring in on Tuesday, progressives were quick to declare the election a resounding victory for President Obama, Democratic candidates, and progressive ideals such as marriage equality and the DREAM Act. A deeper look at Tuesday’s results reveals that the 2012 election season was also a resounding defeat for the political engine that has long catapulted the GOP to power: The Religious Right.

Here five ways the Religious Right imploded during the 2012 election:

1) Evangelicals failed to produce a viable candidate. While Rick Perry looked to be the evangelical darling in the early days of the Republican primary, his various “oops” moments forced evangelical Protestants to flock to Rick Santorum, a conservative Catholic. But while Santorum won the support of many evangelicals, his passionate embrace of evangelical positions on abortion and contraception made him unappealing to many women voters. In the end, the machinery of the Religious Right failed to produce a candidate that fired up conservative Protestants, forcing the Romney campaign to work twice as hard to excite the GOP’s evangelical base.

2) Conservative efforts to shift the Catholic vote flopped. After the Obama administration announced the HHS contraceptive coverage requirement earlier this year, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops launched a “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign criticizing the Obama administration and urging Catholics to cast their votes in support of “religious freedom.” The effort failed miserably: Not only did Obamawin the Catholic vote overall in 2012 (50% of Catholics voted for Obama while 48% supported Romney), but Pew Research found that the vast majority of American Catholics (78%) knew little to nothing about the bishop’s expensive campaign. Instead, Catholic voters appeared more supportive of the efforts of Sister Simone Campbell and the Nuns on the Bus who spoke out against Paul Ryan’s budget.

3) Evangelical voter turnout efforts fell short. Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition targeted Ohio this year in an effort to increase evangelical turnout, promising to go “all in” by sending voter guides to churches and launching a “major push” to get evangelicals to the polls through a robust get-out-the-vote effort. But when the results came in on Tuesday, Obama had actually performed better among white evangelicals in Ohio than he did in 2008: White evangelicals in Ohio favored John McCain by a 71%-27% margin in 2008, but favored Romney by a smaller margin – 69%-30% – in 2012. Despite all the energy expended by the Religious Right, their turnout efforts failed to have any marked impact on the most crucial state of the general election.

4) Traditionally evangelical candidates lost en masse because of radical views and bad theology. Conservative Christian and then-Missouri Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin caused a stir within the Republican Party when he spoke about “legitimate rape,” but evangelical leaders were quick to come to his aid. But when Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who attends an evangelical church, referred to women impregnated through rape as having been given “a gift from God,” voters across the country – including many evangelicals– began asking questions about this new breed of politician. Ultimately, voters decided that Akin and Mourdock’s radical theology was simply too extreme: They and several like-minded candidates suffered a series of staggering defeats all across the country on Tuesday.

5) The efforts of anti-gay religious leaders didn't stop voters from supporting marriage equality. When marriage equality amendments were put on the ballot in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington this year, conservative Christian groups moved quickly to try and dissuade people from supporting the freedom to marry. Famed evangelist Billy Graham even launched a massive “Vote Biblical Values” ad campaign, which, among other things, urged voters to oppose candidates who supported marriage equality. Undaunted, pro-marriage equality activists capitalized on groundswells of support among religious groups and ran ads featuring pastors and other religious leaders passionately endorsing same-sex marriage. In the end, Americans voted in favor of marriage equality in three (and probably four) states, dealing a resounding defeat to the anti-gay bastions of the Religious Right.

The 2012 election season appears to have been an ominous one for the Religious Right, and – if the trend continues – may very well signal the end of their traditional dominance of Republican politics. Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, has already voiced the opinion that the Religious Right is hemorrhaging support across the country, and should put less focus on abortion and gay marriage and give more attention to issues such as immigration reform, poverty, and increasing adoptions and foster care opportunities. Whether or not religious conservatives can make that shift remains to be seen, but, in the meantime, the Religious Right looks to have already lost persuasive power with many American voters.

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