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Running Against Sodom and Osama

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What Culture War?

Some dismiss the idea of a Culture War that pits Christian dominionists against secularists.~7 Others suggest that “values voters” span the political spectrum, and thus may not be a critical factor in future elections.8 One extensive recent poll found that “Social issues such as abortion and same sex marriage rank last in importance to the vast majority of Americans when deciding how to vote.”9 The poll also established that:

• “An overwhelming majority of Americans, including at least three-quarters of every major religious tradition, say issues like poverty and health care are more important than hot-button social issues.”

• “When people think about “voting their values,” more people think of the honesty, integrity, and responsibility of the candidate than any other values.”

• “Americans overwhelmingly agree that too many religious leaders focus on abortion and gay rights without addressing more important issues such as loving our neighbors and caring for the poor.”

In the lead up to the 2006 election, the White House has been said to be worried that Republican voters might not be motivated enough to go to the polls.~10 There have been reports of declining support for the Republicans within evangelical ranks. Some Christian Right leaders have grumbled that the Republicans have not delivered on enough of the promises made after the 2000 and 2004 elections when they helped elect George W. Bush.11

Can the Christian Right legitimately take credit for Bush’s 2004 victory? Didn’t the pundits declare false the initial reports that “Moral Values” voters were Christian Right activists who had swarmed to the polls for the Republicans? They did, and it is true that the initial reports of a broad national trend were wrong in making certain sweeping assumptions. Since 2004, however, sophisticated studies of the exit polls in past elections have revealed that in some states, the voters who said they were concerned about “moral values,” and who were also conservative Christian evangelicals, did indeed vote in significantly higher numbers for Bush, and almost certainly helped provide a margin of victory in key states such as Ohio.

According to John C. Green and religion professor Mark Silk, regional variations in how voters ranked their concerns over social issues demonstrate that “moral-values voters were more important to the president’s victory than the national totals imply.” And in Ohio especially, Christian evangelicals and “regular worship attenders and less regular attenders were both more likely to be Bush moral values voters.” Green and Silk conclude that as “Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell hoped, the coalition of the moral has expanded beyond evangelicals, but for the most part more in the evangelical heartland than elsewhere.” This group of “religious folks were more likely to choose moral values in the Bush regions than in the Kerry regions.”~12

In a more extensive study in the British Journal of Political Science, political scientist Geoffrey C. Layman and John C. Green found the following:

“ [T]he usefulness of the culture wars thesis varies by policy, religious and political context. The culture wars strongly influence mass political behaviour when religious perspectives are logically related to policy issues, communal experiences encourage these connections and electoral actors emphasize and differentiate themselves on such matters. Outside of these contexts, the culture wars have little political impact….The culture wars are waged by limited religious troops on narrow policy fronts under special political leadership, and a broader cultural conflagration is just a rumour.~13

There may be no broad Culture War sweeping the country, but there is a very real guerilla Culture War in which Christian Right institutions help win elections for Republicans by targeting key states with grassroots mobilizations of voters. In 1991 the Christian Coalition described the strategy of mobilizing small but decisive numbers of voters as the “15% solution,” referring to the share of voters generally needed to tip an election. Realizing that they do not have to convince a majority to agree to them, they focused on mobilizing enough Christian voters to make a difference.~14

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