Where are the evangelical Democrats?
Psst, want to know a secret? Some U.S. evangelicals are Democrats. But you wouldn’t know this from the exit polls in the state-by-state presidential nominating contests for both major parties. Virtually none to date have asked Democratic voters a question often posed to Republicans: are you a born-again or evangelical Christian?
Some critics say this state of affairs gives a skewed impression of evangelical voters who are widely regarded as a key base for the Republican Party.
“To get an accurate picture of how evangelicals are voting in this election, the exit polls need to step up to the plate,” said Katie Barge, director of communications at Faith in Public Life, a non-partisan resource center for religious leaders.
“They need to stop pigeonholing an entire faith group and ask all voters, not just Republicans, if they are born-again or evangelical,” she told Reuters.
In Tuesday’s primaries in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, the pattern appears to have repeated itself.
CNN’s exit poll for example asked Republicans about their evangelical or born-again affiliation but not Democrats.
But they did ask Democratic voters how regularly they attended religious services. In Virginia, Barack Obama beat Hilary Clinton by 67 percent to 33 percent among Protestants who attended church on a weekly basis.
Faith in Public Life and the Center for Progress Action Fund last week commissioned Zogby International to ask Democratic voters the “evangelical question” during the Missouri and Tennessee primaries.
The findings reinforced other surveys showing that Republicans still command most of the support of this voting bloc but by no means have a monopoly on its affections.
This is an important area to watch as many U.S. evangelical leaders are now calling for a broader Biblical agenda that includes helping the poor and protecting the environment. These issues are not typically Republican but this trend will not automatically translate into Democratic gains.
In Missouri, the exit polls showed 34 percent of all white evangelicals who voted took part in the Democratic primary versus 66 percent in the Republican primary.
In Tennessee, the polls indicated 32 percent of primary voters who fit this profile were Democratic and they accounted for 29 percent of the party’s vote there.