Running Against Sodom and Osama:
The Christian Right, Values Voters, and the
Culture Wars in 2006
A Report from Political Research Associates
by Chip Berlet and Pam Chamberlain
With its eye on the 2006 mid-term elections, a coalition of Christian Right groups has launched a national campaign against same sex marriage featuring nasty, alarmist, and often bigoted rhetoric that demonizes gay men and lesbians. Speakers at various recent electoral mobilization events have warned of sinister forces threatening America from without and within. The external threat is said to be from Islamic terrorists and “Islamofascists,” who embrace a culture of death as symbolized by the attacks on 9/11. The same culture of death poses an internal threat through gay rights, abortion, and pornography. Godly Christians must confront these threats in order to protect families, and especially children.
These sets of beliefs are not new, but there are times when they are submerged into the Christian Right subculture, and there are times when they surface as part of a public campaign. Although leaders of the Christian Right almost universally deny it, the goal of this revived public campaign is to elect Republicans to office in 2006, 2008, and beyond. The enemy being denounced is sometimes generic: gays, liberals, secularists, the left-leaning media, Hollywood; and sometimes specific: Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Rosie O’Donnell, the ACLU; but the actual target is the Democratic Party and its candidates.~1
If they could help achieve firm Republican control of both houses of Congress and the White House, Christian Right strategists envision the appointment of proper conservative federal judges to replace aging liberal “activist” ones. They foresee this victory resulting in the eventual banning of same sex marriage, the rollback of gay rights, and the outlawing of abortion. The ultimate goal for many in this aggressive dominionist effort is to “restore” America as a Christian nation.~2
Polls show that most Americans—indeed most Christians—seldom rank abortion, gay rights, and other social issues high on their list of priorities.~3 When Christian evangelical “values voters” think about values, they don’t limit themselves to gay rights and abortion; they also think about such issues as the economy, education, health care, poverty, and the environment. In terms of foreign policy, all Christians are pulled in two directions by different theological emphases on military strength and the pursuit of peace. So too, theological considerations apply when Christian evangelical voters evaluate particular candidates on a range of issues. Not all evangelicals are conservative politically or theologically; and some evangelicals who are theologically conservative (or even fundamentalist) are politically liberal or progressive.
This is easier to understand when looking at the difference in voting patterns between White Christian evangelical voters and Black Christian evangelical voters. More than 90% of Black evangelical voters have picked Democrats in recent Presidential elections. Many are opposed to same sex marriage and abortion, but their other values—the economy, social justice, health care—outweigh the gender-related social issues.
Be this as it may, highly-motivated core groups of predominantly White evangelical voters mobilized around social issues by a coalition of the Christian Right and the Republican Party can tip the vote tally in a handful of key states. There is a Culture War in America, but most voters are non-combatants. It is a guerilla war in which Christian Right institutions help win national elections for Republican candidates through micro-targeted grassroots mobilizations of voters. To be precise, there is compelling statistical evidence that the Christian Right is able, in some elections, to shift a small but decisive number of White Christian evangelical voters in specific states towards the Republican Party.~4
We suggest that in this election cycle, Christian Right strategists have selected certain social issues with care, foregrounding those that resonate with conservative evangelical “values voters;” and are micro-targeting those voters in key states. Highly respected demographer John C. Green explains, “White evangelicals are the most likely to have social issue priorities.” The way voters concerned about values lean in any specific election after weighing social and economic issues “may simply be differences in values prompted in large measure by campaigns where the GOP stresses morality with success and the Democrats fail to stress the economy effectively.”~5 In 2004, there was even evidence that in some states, Black evangelical “values voters” were pulled into the voting booth for Republicans through this strategy. The same small trend may be occurring with Hispanic voters.6
This report takes you inside recent Christian Right electoral mobilization events to explore the messages and strategies of a new coalition that is claiming leadership of the Christian Right; explains how their micro-targeted election mobilizations work; and explains why the Christian Right will continue to play a major role in U.S. political and cultural life for decades to come.
Additional resources on the Christian Right:
Dualistic apocalyptic millennialism
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