So what are evangelical voters up to this year? For a while now, we've been told that evangelical voters are up for grabs. But Pew data hasn't shown a shift of white evangelicals toward Democratic candidates. Comparing data from four and eight years ago, Obama is faring no better than Democratic nominees from years past. The most significant change is that evangelicals have been much less enthusiastic in their support for McCain than they were for Bush. Without the full support of that crucial voting block, McCain has been in trouble.
It will be several weeks before Pew comes out with its next poll -- and I like to compare the same polls since they ask the same questions and use the same methodology -- but there are other surveys that are newsworthy. This CBS poll shows a McCain gain of nine percentage points among white evangelicals in the last few days. Obama is apparently down to 18 percent.
Beliefnet's Steve Waldman, writing in the Wall Street Journal, had some really interesting analysis about the issue. I'm not sure where he got the number, but he says that six million moderate evangelical votes were up for grabs. Folks who voted for Bush last time but were interested in Obama. He says those votes are slipping away, quoting one formerly pessimistic McCain supporter as saying that it was "game over" for Obama's outreach efforts. Here's why, according to Waldman:
1) His poor performance at the Saddleback candidates forum, especially (or perhaps entirely) his comment about it being "above my pay grade" to know when life begins.
2) John McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, an appealing antiabortion figure and the perceived attacks on her by the media, which led evangelicals to think the "elites" were against them. This sentiment has been skillfully stoked by the Republicans.
3) The Democrats' decision to run radio ads championing Sen. Obama's abortion-rights position without discussing his abortion-reduction agenda. "Unless the Obama campaign will stop emphasizing abortion rights and strongly address the major common cause issues with a spirited vision and practical details, the Republicans can continue to scoop up a ton of votes," says Hunter.
He also names Obama's opposition to bills that would protect infants who survive abortions and concern about faith-based initiatives. Obama wouldn't allow discrimination in hiring on the basis of religion, meaning church groups would have to hire outside their particular faith. It's some great analysis and it would be great to see Waldman's theory, based on his following of the Obamagelical phenomenon, is correct. Some reporting on these various explanations would be helpful.
The first three are all relatively recent events and while November isn't too far away, there are many more twists and turns to cover in this race. I am sure that reporters who were so interested in the story when it was about evangelicals being up for grabs will continue to cover it now that the narrative has changed.
It is also worth noting that just because the numbers are slipping does not mean the main media narrative is worthless. Could it be possible, for instance, that Obama is gaining some young white evangelicals whose politics are changing? Could there numbers be making up other voters he's losing for his staunch support of abortion rights? It's just good to remember that constant numbers can successfully cover up some dramatic underlying stories.