Just more than a week before the election, The Oklahoman — Oklahoma City's daily newspaper — has identified a group of Oklahoma voters who could play an outsize role in my home state's balloting.
These voters — "made up of mostly white members of Protestant churches that profess a born again-centric theology" — have a special name.
They're called "evangelicals."
OK. OK. I'm being a little facetious about my local newspaper — to which I subscribe and for which I worked nine years as a reporter and editor. But Sunday's front-page story has a certain "go to the zoo and see the evangelicals" feel to it.
Let's start with the lede:
The path to victory in an Oklahoma election goes through the pews of the state’s evangelical churches. And while the number of self-proclaimed evangelicals has declined in recent years, it remains one of the state’s largest voting blocs and is instrumental in deciding everything from the result of state questions to Oklahoma’s seven presidential electoral votes.
As a part of America’s Bible Belt — if not the buckle — Oklahoma’s likely voting population on Nov. 8 is estimated to be 55 percent evangelical, according to SoonerPoll’s analysis of likely voters.
According to a pollster quoted by The Oklahoman, the Bible Belt state has a total of 1.1 million voters expected to participate in the Nov. 8 general election. That includes "over a half million people identifying as evangelical."
Apparently — and amazingly — none of those evangelical voters were available for comment for the newspaper's story. That is, unless you count the Republican congressman quoted toward the end. He, presumably, will vote for himself.
Then again, if you were writing a story about giraffes at the zoo, would you actually quote any of the giraffes at the zoo? I mean, really.
The same concept applies to evangelical voters, right?
Why ask actual religious voters what evangelicals believe and how their faith informs their ballot decisions when you can quote, instead, a political scientist?:
“When you are talking about evangelicals in Oklahoma you are mostly talking about white conservative voters who are probably farther to the right than your average Republican in America,” said Jeanette Mendez, the head of Oklahoma State University's political science department. “The reason why faith informs many of these voters is because of how connected many are to their church.”
Please don't misunderstand me: I know that a certain level of detachment between a journalist and the subject of his story can be helpful. Certainly, a political scientist and a pollster can add important insight to a report such as this.
And yes, parts of this story are helpful and appreciated. The newspaper notes, for example, that the frequency of worship attendance is a good indicator of how evangelicals will vote in certain cases, such as on separate Oklahoma referendums concerning the death penalty and cold beer and wine sales.
But my point is this: As a subscriber, it's extremely frustrating to read a banner Sunday story on evangelical voters that sees no need to include any actual evangelical voters. Just a few weeks ago, The Oklahoman made a big splash with a package on "Being Muslim in the Sooner State." That package did a nice job of putting faces on Muslims in Oklahoma.
So why not put faces on evangelical voters in Oklahoma? Why must evangelicals — in a lead Sunday story — be nameless and faceless?
With print circulation on the decline nearly everywhere, wouldn't it be to The Oklahoman's advantage to treat evangelicals — who are real human voters, not zoo animals — as serious sources worthy of in-depth attention and coverage? Wouldn't that make those evangelicals — "over a half million" of them — more likely to want to pay attention to the newspaper and subscribe to it?