A Monday-morning quarterback re-examines a foggy religion news forecast for 2016

This Memo must begin with a confession.

The Religion Guy was among countless newsies who thought Donald Trump would lose. He figured it was close, Trump would win Ohio and Iowa, and had a good shot in Florida and North Carolina. But it didn’t seem likely (to say the least) the president-elect could grab Wisconsin, Michigan (where The Guy went to college), Pennsylvania (where his in-laws live) and fall only 1.5 percent short in Minnesota (that super-blue land of Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale). 

Reminders of fallibility are necessary as The Guy turns Monday-morning quarterback and re-examines the forecast for 2016 by the team of pros at www.religionlink.com, an essential resource on the beat sponsored by our Religion Newswriters Foundation. (Tax-deductible donations welcomed.) Its Web postings are especially helpful in listing knowledgeable observers and advocates for reporters.

Naturally, ReligionLink led with the election. On the January day its 2016 forecast appeared, the RealClearPolitics poll average among Republicans put Trump first with 35 percent, followed by three rivals with substantial evangelical appeal who together claimed 38.3 percent: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Dr. Ben Carson, in that order. Uh, that was essentially “white evangelical” appeal, due to African-Americans’ Democratic fealty.

ReligionLink cited Rubio’s pitch to evangelicals but ignored the devout Cruz and Carson.

Remarkably, Trump’s candidacy was not mentioned. During subsequent months a favorite media narrative became how a secularized vulgarian could attract evangelical votes, yet in November Trump managed the  level of white evangelical support Republican nominees usually get.

Excursus:  A Christianity Today compilation notes polling that showed:

(1) Those who actually held evangelical beliefs (minorities included) planned to vote 45 percent Trump, 31 percent Clinton, 23 percent other.  

(2) Among all evangelicals, 40 percent were reluctant to vote for either Clinton or Trump.

(3)  Among evangelical pastors, 44 percent were “undecided.”

(4) Among white evangelicals who planned to vote for Trump, the majority were rejecting Clinton rather than favoring Trump.

Also, this remarkable Trump Era shift: In 2011, only 30 percent of white evangelicals thought officials can properly serve the public despite their personal immorality, compared with 72 percent in 2016.  In 2011, 64 percent of white evangelicals said it’s “very important” for a president to have “strong religious beliefs,” compared with only 49 percent in 2016.  End of excursus.

ReligionLink did refer to Trump, but only in the context of another central  theme for the year, hostility toward immigrant and native-born Muslims and their alarmed responses. The forecast did not highlight similar worries among blacks and Latinos.

Like many media, ReligionLink focused on evangelicals while The Guy and other GetReligion pundits insisted non-Latino Catholics would decide the presidency.

We were right -- remember those Rust Belt states in the first paragraph above. ReligionLink noted the potential influence of secularist and atheist voters that the Democratic Party increasingly depends upon, but didn’t cite the popularity of the highly  secular Senator Sanders.

Before we -- gladly -- leave behind campaign 2016, kudos to The Atlantic and Washington Post for their coverage and commentary of religion angles of this year in politics.

ReligionLink accurately predicted ongoing agitation on religious freedom claims over against the triumphant gay rights movement, but (like The Guy) did not anticipate the emerging transgender leverage. The year was to see the Obama Administration’s bid to control school toilets and locker rooms nationwide, and Big Business and Big Athletics joining the cultural Left to punish traditionalistic North Carolina and help oust its governor.

On other “culture war” matters, ReligionLink cited the Obamacare contraception mandates resisted by Catholic and Protestant groups (the Supreme Court, one justice short, would punt on this in May) and legalization for doctors to help patients kill themselves. But the article didn’t discuss the push to allow “recreational” marijuana(as opposed to medical uses).

So, media professionals out there: How did your own expectations for the year pan out? The Guy expects to post a 2017 forecast that other quarterbacks will be free to criticize a year from now.

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