Republicans

Evangelicals in Iowa: Making sense of what happened in the first voting of 2016

Evangelicals in Iowa: Making sense of what happened in the first voting of 2016

Is your head still spinning?

I'll admit it: My head's still spinning as I try to make sense of what just happened among evangelical voters in the Iowa caucuses.

For months, we've heard about polls indicating that brash, foul-mouthed Donald Trump had become the darling of conservative Christians. (Whaaaaatttt?)

But Ted Cruz — not Trump — emerged victorious in the Hawkeye State, with Marco Rubio a close third.

What role did religion play?

Across the river in Nebraska, here's how the Omaha World-Herald described the outcome:

DES MOINES — The church vote proved stronger than a billionaire’s legion of angry fans Monday as Ted Cruz won the Iowa Republican caucuses.
Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, relied upon strong evangelical support to defeat Donald Trump, the flamboyant New Yorker whose entire political persona is built on the idea he is a winner and not a loser.
In fact, Trump barely held on to his second-place finish in the face of a surge by Marco Rubio, a Florida senator who many believe is now in a good position to unify the establishment wing of the Republican Party behind his candidacy.
“It’s a nice, nice bump for Cruz and it certainly puts Trump in the position of being a loser not a winner,” said Dave Redlawsk, a political scientist at Rutgers University who studies the Iowa caucuses.
“But the real story may be Rubio. He did better than anticipated,” said Redlawsk. “It suggests a big move to Rubio at the end.”

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Wait, what!? You've heard about Iowa's evangelical voters, but what about the ones in New Hampshire?

Wait, what!? You've heard about Iowa's evangelical voters, but what about the ones in New Hampshire?

As the 2016 presidential race — which began sometime during the Paleolithic era — trudges toward actual voting, it's impossible to miss the headlines about candidates courting evangelicals in Iowa.

For a twist, how about a story focusing on religious voters in New Hampshire?

Wait, what!?

I'm always fascinated by coverage of religion in New England. That region boasts the four least religious states in the nation (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts), according to Gallup. Connecticut (at No. 8) and Rhode Island (No. 13) don't trail too far behind.

I wrote this sticky lede for The Christian Chronicle in 2013:

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — Folks in the Green Mountain State like their economy syrupy sweet.
The rural, thickly forested New England state produces 39 percent of the United States’ maple syrup.
The state’s 626,000 residents are less sweet on religion: Vermont ranks as the nation’s most secular state,  according to a 2012 Gallup poll.

So how did evangelicals in New Hampshire — where roughly three out of four residents characterize themselves as nonreligious or only "moderately" religious — gain the attention of Republican operatives?

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As Donald Trump pushes to keep Muslims out of U.S., CNN touts 'the truth'

As Donald Trump pushes to keep Muslims out of U.S., CNN touts 'the truth'

Each weekday, the Pew Research Center emails links to top religion headlines. It's a great resource for following news in the world of faith. (Sign up here.)

Today, the top four national headlines (here, here, here and here) and the top three international headlines (here, here and here) all relate to Donald Trump's call for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."

Here at GetReligion, of course, we earlier highlighted five crucial sources for journalists to quote concerning Trump's proposal.

Many of the above links provide relevant and insightful responses to Trump's proposal from politicians, world leaders, constitutional scholars, theologians, refugee officials, ordinary citizens and other important voices.

But I wanted to highlight what I found to be a helpful little story from CNN.

Headlined "The truth about Muslims in America," the CNN piece is told in the ever-popular listicle form — certainly not a bad way to draw attention amid all the noise surrounding Trump and his rhetoric:

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When Donald Trump proposes banning Muslims, five crucial sources to quote

When Donald Trump proposes banning Muslims, five crucial sources to quote

I keep thinking Donald Trump will smile like the Devil and admit his entire presidential campaign is an elaborately orchestrated "Punk'd" prank on the American public.

Until then — and as long as The Donald remains, somehow, a serious Republican contender — journalists must take him and his crazy statements/antics seriously.

The latest from The Onion — er, The Associated Press:

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (AP) — Donald Trump called Monday for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," an idea swiftly condemned by his rival GOP candidates for president and other Republicans.
The proposed ban would apply to immigrants and visitors alike, a sweeping prohibition affecting all adherents of Islam who want to come to the U.S. The idea faced an immediate challenge to its legality and feasibility from experts who could point to no formal exclusion of immigrants based on religion in America's history.
Trump's campaign said in a statement such a ban should stand "until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." It said the proposal comes in response to a level of hatred among "large segments of the Muslim population" toward Americans.
"Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life," Trump said in the statement.

Here at GetReligion, we advocate a traditional American model of the press in which reporters quote key sources, refrain from editorializing (such as calling Trump an idiot, as a blogger like me might do) and letting readers judge the facts for themselves.

In the case of Trump's Muslim proposal, here are five crucial voices that news reports would do well to reflect:

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Washington Post visits the enemy's camp: Oh those wild, dangerous Ben Carson voters

Washington Post visits the enemy's camp: Oh those wild, dangerous Ben Carson voters

If you read journals of political news and opinion, then you are very familiar with a feature-story format that I like to call "visiting the house (or camp) of the enemy." What kind of advocacy publication are we talking about? Let's say the old New Republic or Rolling Stone, on the left, or The Weekly Standard or National Review on the right.

In this story, a reporter -- acting like a National Geographic staffer -- visits a strange and exotic type of person and tries to describe them and their tribe in their natural habitat, talking about their strange and maybe scary customs and beliefs.

A key element of this format is that they rarely include the voices of people on the other side of controversial issues that are discussed. The members of the exotic tribe talk and talk and talk and there is never really a response.

Why is this? Because the reporter is the representative of the opposing side and everything the members of the enemy tribe say is being filtered through the worldview of their opponents, framed in ways that make the words extra threatening or ridiculous. You are reading the Rolling Stone version of a gathering of pro-life activists or The Weekly Standard version of a gathering of postmodern gender-studies scholars.

Let me stress that I know this format well because I read, and appreciate, these kinds of publications. When you read In These Times you are reading a liberal point of view that is so strong that it often makes the left uncomfortable. Ditto for World magazine on the right. I appreciate this kind of journalism.

The question for today is this: What is this format doing in The Washington Post?

With these issues in mind, let's look at a few passages from a classic "visiting the house of the enemy" feature that ran under the headline: "Fear, faith and the rise of Ben Carson." Let's start with the lede, which takes a member of the Post national enterprise team deep into the wilds of the Bible Belt:

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One thing seems clear: When it comes to religion, America is getting less 'mushy'

One thing seems clear: When it comes to religion, America is getting less 'mushy'

When it comes to the fine print in polling about politics and religion, journalists are always looking for sources who have the ability to connect the dots and then explain the connections in language that can be understood by news consumers (and news editors, too).

Oh, right. It also helps when they have a good track record when it comes to being right.

So with that in mind, let's take a trip back in time with John C. Green of the University of Akron, a major player in years of Pew Forum polling. This trip is linked to the second wave of Pew Forum data linked to the "nones," a blast of numbers that is getting lots of news attention this week. Earlier today, our own Richard Ostling offered a memo on this topic.

The year was 2008 and Green paid a visit to my Washington Journalism Center classroom to brief a circle of international journalists on some trends in American religion and, yes, politics. What ended up on our whiteboard that day?

On the right side of the American religious marketplace, defined in terms of doctrine and practice, is a camp of roughly 20 percent (maybe less) of believers who are seriously trying to practice their chosen faith at the level of daily life, said Green. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, there is a growing camp of people who are atheists, agnostics or vaguely spiritual believers who define their beliefs primarily in terms of the old doctrines that they no longer believe. This is especially true when it comes to issues of salvation and sex. As the old saying goes, on these issues these spiritual-but-not-religious believers reject all absolute truths except the statement that there are no absolute truths.
In recent national elections this growing camp of secularists and religiously unaffiliated people have formed a powerful coalition with Catholic liberals, liberal Jews and the declining numbers of people found in America's liberal religious denominations (such as the "seven sisters" of oldline Protestantism). Add it all up ... and you had a growing camp of roughly 20 percent or so on the cultural left.
The bottom line: This coalition was emerging as the dominant voice in the modern Democratic Party on matters of culture and religion.

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Washington Post meets David Daleiden, whose Catholic faith is less important than his socks

Washington Post meets David Daleiden, whose Catholic faith is less important than his socks

This post will be shorter than usual because it focuses on the religion content in one of the major stories of the day. I am referring to the large Washington Post news feature that ran under this headline: "Meet the millennial who infiltrated the guarded world of abortion providers." 

The "millennial" in question is, of course, David Daleiden, the young Catholic activist behind all of the hidden-camera Planned Parenthood videos released by his front organization, the Center for Medical Progress (click here for its homepage). 

The word "meet" in the headline made me think that this would be an in-depth profile of this man. Thus, as I read it, I kept waiting for fresh material about this life, faith and motives that I didn't already know from reading -- naturally -- religious-press coverage of this work. This is, after all, a "conservative news" subject.

But one of America's most important mainstream newspapers landed an interview with this man. Surely there would be fresh insights and information, right? Hold that thought.

The key to the story is that is framed primarily in terms of, you got it, political activism. The assumption is that Daleiden's motives for taking on Planned Parenthood are primarily political, Thus, readers are given this summary of why he is important:

Daleiden, 26, is the anti­abortion activist who masterminded the recent undercover campaign aimed at proving that Planned Parenthood illegally sells what he calls aborted “baby body parts.” He captured intimate details of the famously guarded organization, hobnobbing at conferences so secretive that they require background checks and talking his way into a back laboratory at a Colorado clinic where he picked through the remains of aborted fetuses and displayed them luridly for the camera.
Daleiden’s videos landed like a bomb in Washington this summer, providing fodder for a crowded field of Republican presidential contenders and energizing social conservatives on Capitol Hill.

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Carly Fiorina visits Bible Belt territory and is too serious for the humble natives?

Carly Fiorina visits Bible Belt territory and is too serious for the humble natives?

cult, noun ...

: a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous

: a situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much

***

If you pay close attention to the cult of American political reporting -- "cult" in the second definition shown above -- you know that it has its own unique rituals that are repeated time and time again. This is especially true during its high holy days, which are the two years that precede a presidential election.

One of the cult's most important rites comes whenever a relatively unknown individual suddenly pops out of a pack of candidates -- usually through a strong performance in a debate, or a surprisingly solid showing in a poll or primary -- and emerges as a "frontrunner." Of course, the priests of the political-reporting cult are in charge of determining whether said candidate has or has not achieved "frontrunner" status.

This rite of passage immediately leads to the next, crucial, ritual in which the candidate -- Carly Fiorina in this case -- is placed under a much more intense spotlight in order to judge his or her worthiness in the eyes of the priesthood. This is especially important in Fiorina's case because (a) she is a Republican, (b) she is a woman and (c) her ascent is linked to taking a strong stand in opposition to an institution held sacred by the cult (as in Planned Parenthood).

You know, beyond all doubt, that this rite has begun when something bizarre happens -- such as a Washington Post Style section reporter heading deep into the American South to observe this candidate in the wild. (However, in this case Fiorina was in Charleston, S.C., so the reporter may have been able to do an architecture or food feature on the same trip.)

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Label this! Pope tells Congress everything starts with defense of human life -- period

Label this! Pope tells Congress everything starts with defense of human life -- period

There's no question that, for those reading the Pope Francis address to Congress through the lens of politics, the most newsworthy passages were his explicit references to immigration and climate change. Why? These words pointed to wedge issues between Democrats and Republicans that will almost certainly play a major role in the 2016 elections.

Also, there were powerful passages about the death penalty and the blood money earned through the international arms trade.

It was a remarkable scene, all the way around. What are the other nominations for a list of the deepest and most philosophical speeches ever delivered to Congress?

However, if you look at the pope's remarks through the lens of doctrine -- as Francis urged reporters to do days earlier -- then the crucial passage, the thesis statement, was this one:

We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity ...

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