Fawning over Kim Davis won’t win Evangelical hearts – or votes

January 19, 2016
Kim Davis, flanked by Republic presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (L) waves as she walks out of jail in Grayson, Kentucky September 8, 2015. U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered her release after six days in jail, saying she "shall not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples."  REUTERS/Chris Tilley

Kim Davis, flanked by Republic presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (L) waves as she walks out of jail in Grayson, Kentucky,

Kim Davis, the county clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, says she attended President Barack Obama’s last State of the Union address in order to “encourage Christians.” In fact, Davis has been elevated into a symbol of Christian values by some, including politicians, who would have you think that Christians, especially Evangelicals, agree with her actions.

But here’s the thing: They don’t. Even if they did, that’s not a central basis for how they would vote for president.

Davis was “offered” tickets by Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). When she was first thrust onto the national scene by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or to allow her subordinates to do so, politicians who sought approval of the Christian right flocked to her side — including GOP presidential candidates Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

But do Davis’s actions really resonate with “Christians?”

In a national survey I conducted in November (fielded by Nielson Scarborough), which included a large oversample of Evangelical and born-again Christians, I probed the extent to which Americans broadly, and Evangelicals specifically, agreed with Davis’s actions. The findings are telling. Only about one in five of Evangelical Christians say they would have done what Davis did. Most would have chosen different courses of action — including signing the certificates, resigning or allowing subordinates to sign.

This is, of course, a larger percentage than that among all Americans: Overall, only one out of 10 endorse her course of action. But even among those who identify themselves as “Christian” of any denomination, only 13 percent would choose the action she did.

telhamigraph

There are other indications of the political futility of rubbing elbows with Davis, or thinking that doing so is a sure bet to attract Evangelical voters. Huckabee, one of the first to embrace Davis and assumed to be a darling of Evangelicals because of his strong standing in the 2008 race, isn’t anywhere to be found among top-tier GOP candidates. Media coverage of the Iowa primaries quickly crowned Cruz as the darling of Evangelicals.

But, while there was evidence that hard grass-roots outreach to Iowa Evangelicals paid off for Cruz, other evidence suggests he isn’t exactly the darling of Evangelicals nationally. Even Donald Trump, hardly known for his deep faith, leads him among this group by 42 percent to 25 percent, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The fallacy, of course, is to assume that people who care deeply about their faith, only care about their faith. If this actually applies to anyone, it applies to only a few. People of faith also care about the law, the economy, security and much more. Like others, they try to reconcile their beliefs with everything else they cherish.

This applies to most people: All Americans understand Davis’s dilemma of reconciling her faith with her job and the law. In fact, among all Americans, including non-Christians, only 43 percent say they would have followed the law and signed the marriage licenses if they were put in Davis’s position. But they see alternatives to what Davis did: Either resigning, or allowing subordinates to do the job.

This kind of thinking applies to the selection of presidential candidates as well. In an Evangelical focus group (including Democrats, Republicans and independents) I conducted in Virginia last October, it was obvious that the logic for choosing a presidential candidate was varied. (The panel was on the record but not for attribution.)

Choices included former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Trump, Ben Carson, Cruz, Huckabee and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.). Some embraced candidates partly for their faith (“I would vote for Ben Carson because of what he stands for. He’s Christian.”) But others said they separate their choice for president from their faith.

Still others said they try to find a balance: “I don’t think that faith is central to me [in selecting a candidate], but of course I’m a very devout Christian, but when it comes to just this particular thing [choosing a president], I’m going to go with my heart, I’m not going to disregard and try to be closed minded and not taking the time out to understand the facts.”

One explained her support of Trump with, “I am so tired of wishy-washy politicians I could scream.”

Though Evangelicals can relate to Davis’s faith, her actions aren’t a model for them. Davis aside, candidates who think appealing to faith alone can guarantee Evangelical support need to look no further than the fortunes of Huckabee and Trump.

4 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

I fear that the primary issue regarding Kim Davis and her stance is lost in that regardless of her party alliance, now changed from Democrat to Republican, she has always demonstrated that her end goal is to keep her clerk position based on nepotism and ensure that she will pass that torch to her son. While I disagree with public officials believing that their belief system allows them to serve only those of the public that they approve of I could at the minimum hold some respect for Davis were she to have refused and resigned due to her beliefs. Yet ultimately what she wanted is to have her moment in the spotlight and still ensure that the nepotism associated with her position remained in force.

Pick a lane Ms. Davis, either you have ethics or you are merely yet another self serving conservative who rationalizes why you can decry the evil of Government while still gorging at the pig trough.

Posted by TWSX | Report as abusive

Yeah, you can pick a loser like Kim Davis to tie your identity to. And you can gain the support of many evangelical Christians. And keep losing general elections because you are divisive and bigoted. Yay for you?

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Oh I was talking about Ted Cruz. Huckabee is running for President? Haha. Hope he wastes a lot of evangelical dollars on ad time. Funneling christian money into liberal media outlets is why we have liberal media outlets. Keep the dollars coming to Huckabee and Cruz :)

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Cheering over the termination of pregnancies won’t win over human hearts. Liberals, however, will be heartened that a woman got to choose.

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive