Time for a quiz.
Let's assess the state of white evangelical voters, circa 2016.
Such voters are (pick one):
E. All of the above.
As the Republican presidential contest moves down South, major news organizations are attempting — with varying levels of success — to go inside the minds of conservative Christian voters.
In a piece that drew banner attention last week on the Drudge Report, McClatchy's Washington bureau proclaims that Christian conservatives are "pivotal in the South" and "feeling under siege." (Just last week, Muslims were the ones "under siege." Hmmmm ...)
To prove its point, McClatchy takes readers to a laundromat next door to a Piggly Wiggly:
ROBERTA, Ga. — Inside the Sunshine Coin Laundry near the Piggly Wiggly supermarket, Lagretta Ellington removed her family’s clothes from one of the large dryers and began to neatly fold them on a nearby table.
The air was moist and smelled of detergent. The floor was concrete. Her views of the presidential race were anything but. She was unsettled, and distrustful. The candidates just seemed like entertainers.
“I’m going to pray on it,” the 48-year-old Ellington said. “Hopefully, God will lead me in the right direction.”
In the South, now the pivotal battlefield of the 2016 presidential campaign, faith and politics walk the aisle together. And while Christians have always dominated American politics — Bernie Sanders this week became the first non-Christian ever to win a presidential primary in U.S. history — conservative Christians feel under siege.
Marriage is being redefined, and they’re being forced to go along. A new health care law mandates free contraception, even if it violates their core beliefs. Even the greeting “Merry Christmas” feels under assault.
Ellington — the woman featured in the lede — makes only a cameo appearance. Readers don't learn anymore about her, her circumstances or her religious or political beliefs.
That's typical of this story: It makes a lot of broad generalizations, such as Christian conservatives being "driven by worries that their values are being threatened" and many saying "their objections to same-sex marriage are misunderstood." But there's not a whole lot of nuance or hard data to back up the claims. And the folks quoted are bit characters.
Please don't misunderstand: A lot of what this piece reports as fact rings true to what I perceive. But the journalist in me longs for attribution (How do you know this?) and solid numbers (What percentage of white evangelicals say this?) to go along with what McClatchy thinks it knows.
My response is similar to a Los Angeles Times story making the case that conservative evangelicals are "splintering":
Much like the GOP itself, the evangelical movement is going through an identity crisis.
It’s a fissure that has been widened by the 2016 presidential campaign, particularly as the race moves to South Carolina, a gateway to the Bible Belt and the next battleground primary state.
As older, predominantly white churchgoers age and a younger generation thinks differently about faith, evangelicals are fracturing as a voting bloc and the power of pastors to all but endorse candidates from the pulpit is fading.
Many churchgoers are frustrated with what they see as a long list of broken promises from GOP leaders, and by their own religious hierarchy, which helped deliver those politicians to office.
Similarly, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution delves into the mindset of conservative evangelicals:
Concern about Islamic terrorists. Dismay over the legalization of same sex marriage. Fear that freedom of religion is under assault by an increasingly secular culture.
By and large, conservative evangelical voters believe that the past eight years under Barack Obama have moved the nation in the wrong direction.
But as the race for the presidency shifts South— where pulpits and pews are plentiful — they remain sharply splintered in their choice to replace him. Some are drawn to Ted Cruz’s hard-line conservative message. Others like Marco Rubio’s brand of conservatism. Even the thrice-married, casino-building Donald Trump is winning his share of Christian support in this topsy-turvy political year.
I like that the Journal-Constitution talks to actual voters and gives them a little space to explain their views:
In conversations with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, voters who shared strong Christian faith were nonetheless divided over theit choices in the primary. That lack of unanimity was evident at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, a massive place of worship with 8,400 members in Marietta. The church is so large that worshippers have several Sunday services to choose from, including a contemporary one with a casually dressed band, complete with guitarists, a drummer and singers performing Christian songs atop a stage bathed in purple concert-style lighting.
A half-dozen church members interviewed for this article cited grave concerns about the national debt, Islamic terrorists and what they perceive as threats to religious freedom. All voted Republican in past presidential elections. As for the upcoming primary, some haven’t made up their minds yet. But all were critical of Donald Trump.
By all means, check out the stories highlighted (here, here and here) and weigh in with your thoughts on the journalism. You can comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. (I'll remind newbies that this is not the place to share your political or religious views. We're interested in media coverage.)
Anyway, how'd you do on the quiz?
The right answer: A, B, C, D or E. (Your guess is as good as mine.)