Over 62 million voters cast their ballot for George W. Bush in 2004. Less than 60 million voters cast their ballot for John McCain in 2008. And somewhere under 57-59 Million voters cast their ballot for Mitt Romney in 2012. The numbers from the latest election seem to indicate that the Republican Party is losing voters while America is gaining them.
Now to be fair, Mr. Obama lost seven million voters in 2012 as well. The reason for his loss is obviously a lack of enthusiasm. Never has a presidential candidate changed course so vehemently from positive to negative. Independents were no longer enthused about this man.
But the bigger question remains – why did Mitt Romney receive less votes than both George W. Bush and John McCain? Surely many of these voters can be chalked up to younger voters, libertarians and Hispanic voters, as we’ve already discussed in previous segments. But the absent voter bloc that has gone largely unnoticed is evangelical Christians.
The 2004 Bush Election Plan.
Following the election debacle of 2000, the Rove/Bush/Cheney team determined to take evangelical turnout into their own hands. They brought the turnout operation inside the campaign rather than allowing outside groups to control the ground game. They hired Ralph Reed, former head of the now-defunct Christian Coalition, to come inside the campaign. His goal, was to create tens of thousands of evangelical Christian volunteers to help get out the vote on Election Day. Reed quickly put in place chairpersons in nine battleground states for Social Conservative Outreach.
This outreach had two major goals. First, Christian churches needed to be hosting voter registration drives. Second, pastors needed to be persuaded to speak out on social issues from the pulpit of their churches. Specifically, these pastors were prompted to speak on marriage and Life, as other issues like education, poverty and war split voters down the middle. The Bush campaign believed that this was a winning strategy as seven out of ten evangelicals would vote for Bush over Kerry. The campaign created a database of over 5,000 churches.
Out of the 1.4 million volunteers on the Bush campaign, 350,000 were “pro-family” evangelicals.
What was the result of the Rove/Bush/Cheney effort? Staggering. Exit polls showed that 3.5 million evangelical voters that stayed home in 2000, went to the polls on Election Day 2004. 78% of evangelicals voted for Bush. It is estimated that between new evangelical voters along with evangelicals who had voted for Gore, Bush picked up 6 million new evangelical voters in 2004.
Romney’s failure in 2012.
We can sit around all day and discuss the growing number of evangelicals supporting Republicans over Democrats. And that is a great thing. One way to increase our slice of the pie is to take from the Democrat’s slice of the pie. But any increase in the R column didn’t come from Romney’s unparalleled ability to communicate with evangelicals as much as it came from Obama’s stance on tax-payer funded abortion, religious liberties and Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgendered rights. What we want to do is grown our numbers through reliable true believers.
Here are the numbers that matter:
Evangelicals made up 41% of the Indiana electorate in 2008. While they made up 35% of the Indiana electorate in 2012.
Evangelicals constituted 7% LESS of the electoral makeup in Kansas in 2012 than in 2004.
A lower percentage of Evangelical voters participated in the overall electorate in Minnesota in 2012.
In Florida and Nevada – there was less support for Romney than there was for McCain. And in Ohio, evangelical support was up for Obama.
All of the increases in evangelical turnout or rise in republican support among that community came out of reliably red states. So any problems that we discuss here are in purple or blue states becoming more blue.
What went wrong?
A lot of factors went wrong for Mr. Romney. And this is really key. Early on, there was much speculation about whether evangelicals would support Mr. Romney. Number one, Romney was a Mormon which is viewed as a cult within the Christian community. Second, Mr. Romney was the first governor to sign gay marriage into law. Third, Mr. Romney was avidly pro-abortion earlier in the decade and in the decade before that. His conversion didn’t come until he was in his 50’s and mounting a bid for the presidency. He remained pro-abortion in many circumstances. These amounted to huge problems for the Romney campaign which he never quite addressed.
Mr. Romney gave a vague and ambiguous speech on religion that was supposed to amount to a JFK Catholic moment. It never materialized.
He then came to Liberty University to speak. Again, he was vague and took twenty minutes to say nothing. He did throw out the obligatory “we should respect life.” But never fired up the crowd.
At some point, without really having convinced widespread evangelicals that they could vote for Romney, the campaign pulled a Bush and assumed that the mission was accomplished. Evangelical outreach kind of ended there. Romney then waged a campaign that was a referendum on Obama’s economic record without focusing on the issues that evangelicals cared about. His speeches included no references to marriage and only one passing mention of protecting life which could have been as much about stopping DUI’s or terrorist attacks as it could be about abortion.
In the end, Romney half-assed his evangelical outreach. He went to the top and talked to leaders and hoped that it would trickle down. But political movements come from the bottom up and there was no outreach that was equal to the mounting obstacles he had to overcome in his community. The faithful were never convinced of his sincerity on the issues they cared about. I know this because I was one of the unconvinced in an important swing state and my mega-church was filled with others like me.
At the end of the day, Romney crossed his fingers and hoped that Christians would overlook his abysmal record. In large part, they did. He received most of the votes. But he didn’t approach it scientifically as Bush did. And it showed. The laziness of the Romney campaign on the Church issue contributed to the difference between being the President of the United States and being another failed candidate like George Romney before him.
Anyone that tells me a Mike Huckabee or Mike Pence (with greater name recognition) couldn’t have articulated a vision that could have vastly improved turnout amongst church-goers in Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, etc. – simply doesn’t understand the importance of turning out a base.
The myth of the independent.
They myth of the independent voter was blown up by this election. Romney actually won the independent vote yet he traded in a strong base of support for it. Obama’s turnout amongst his bread-and-butter reliable democrats trounced the party with independents.
Romney won independents by 10 points in Ohio. But lost the election. Likewise, he won independents by 5 nationwide, but lost the election. Oftentimes, independent support isn’t the strength of independent thinkers leaning in your direction. It is people that are waiting to fall in line behind a strong leader but simply don’t believe in the message of either candidate and end up going for the most popular or the one that sounds the best. What independent support is, is soft support. When someone answers a phone call from Rasmussen and they are on board with your agenda and excited about your candidacy they identify themselves through party affiliation. But if a soft candidate doesn’t command the same sort of identification leaving voters independent.
Much of the research and numbers still has to be combed through. But evangelicals just didn’t turn out to vote for Romney like they have in the past and even where they did, they were unenthusiastic. They didn’t volunteer.
The thing to remember about religious voters is that unlike any other voting segment, they believe that history has already been written and they understand that even when someone terrible is elected, it is God’s will. This is a mindset that allows many people to sit out an election in a way that a union member or NRA supporter never could. They put their faith in God and that relieves them of certain responsibilities that other voters feel.
Obviously, when the R’s put up a poor candidate and argue that we should vote the “lesser of two evils,” many Christians balk, realizing that the lesser of two evils is in fact, still evil to them.
Something for the republican party to consider is that even while they retain a tight lead on the evangelical vote, Obama still won 50% of the Catholic vote in 2012, that’s significant not only because of his abortion views, but because the man is coercing Catholic institutions to indirectly pay for abortive services for their employees in violation of the First Amendment, not to mention Biblical values. The next nominee might want to consider going all out in pressing Bishops to teach their values from the pulpit.
I would also be remiss; to not mention that Romney may have received a higher proportion of evangelical voters than any other Republican candidate out of the ones that voted. That is not to say anything about the evangelicals that stayed home on Election Day. It is merely to say that Romney had a bigger slice of a smaller pie. And the fact that Mr. Obama’s radical social views are farther away from Biblical morals than any of the previous 43 presidents may have also played a role in the overall solidarity against Obama.
All in all, over 90 million eligible voters did not vote in the past election. So rather than cutting into the Democrat pie of voters, R’s have to be asking themselves how they can expand the pie that they already have.
I should note that some pundits are predicting that once all of the votes are tallied, Romney’s numbers will equal about the same amount as McCains. This may in fact be correct, but doesn’t change the effect of allowing Obama to take away 42% of Protestant voters.
Likewise, the effect of Hurricane Sandy on voter turnout could be argued to have some effect on the popular vote turnout. But again, it doesn’t bear on the swing state numbers discussed here.
Romney’s failures weren’t simply that he couldn’t build on the changing Reagan coalition in the new century. It was that he couldn’t even stitch together the old one. His flawed candidacy wasn’t just that he was a robot, out-of-touch, largely unsuccessful as governor – it was that he couldn’t build a winning coalition of voters. The primary season taught him that a strong Super PAC could take out any obstacle in your way but the results of November 6th proved otherwise.
Where are the four million missing voters that voted for Bush but balked on Romney? Well, they are Hispanics and Christians. The Republican Party has also lost many people because of 10 years of unfunded and fruitless wars. But overall – the one distinction that separates the Bush campaign from McCain and Romney is his outreach to evangelicals. McCain was the enemy of evangelicals for most of his career. Romney governed as the worst kind of liberal to evangelicals. Exit polling questions didn’t focus on “evangelical questions” as much in 2012 as they had in previous years. But there is enough evidence left on the table to suggest that Romney left significant evangelical support on the table. And in the end, those differences couldn’t be etch-a-sketched away by Election Day.
**The research of Dan Gilgoff was invaluable to this article.
See also: what went wrong part 2 and 3:
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