Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana said of his political party, “We’re caricatured as a bicoastal cultural elite that is condescending at best and contemptuous at worst to the values that Americans hold in their daily lives.”
A broad spectrum of conservative leaders met after the election to talk about how best to react to the election and what to do given the results. A Democrat in the group complained that his party had “tried its best” to get Sen. Kerry to give “just one talk” directed specifically to evangelicals. If Kerry had done that, according to that Democrat, “the election results might have been different.”
Sadly, there is evidence that the caricature of his party described by Sen. Bayh is accurate. There is evidence, too, that no amount of talking would have convinced the American public that Sen. Kerry is a true believer.
Reporter Kim Lawton of PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly (REN) reports that their exit polls reveal that Republicans built support not just among evangelicals but also in every major religious group, including black Protestants. Clearly, REN’s analysis said, if voters attended religious services, they voted for Bush; if they were “secular” and had no religious affiliation, they voted Kerry. Before the election, the Pew Research Center predicted that Bush would win 57 percent of the across-the-board Protestant vote, producing a three-point win for the President.
REN’s analysis of the exit polls indicates that the Pew Research Center pre-election polls were accurate. Pew predicted that nonevangelical white Protestant voters would support Bush by 54 to 40 percent. The REN exit polls reveal that nearly 80 percent of white, born-again Protestants voted for Bush’s re-election and nearly 90 percent of “evangelicals who attend church more than once a week” voted for the president. More surprising, a slight majority of mainline Protestants also voted for Bush, though this was a group that Sen. Kerry targeted.
Conventional wisdom held that the “religious right” were “extremists” and that voters in the “fly-over states” were “moderate” in their religious views a view solidly dispelled by the outcome of Election 2004. The real surprise, though, was the black voters more than 10 percent overall voted for Bush, 16 percent who self-identified as black Protestants (double the number of 2000) voted for Bush, and an astounding 22 percent of black Protestants who attend church more than once a week voted for Bush.
Also, even though Sen. Kerry is Catholic, Bush received a majority of the Catholic vote and among regular mass attenders nearly 60 percent voted for Bush. Even in the Jewish community, reports Lawton, Bush voters increased to 24 percent in 2004 compared to 20 percent in 2000. Among Mormons, 80 percent voted for Bush, but Muslims reversed that trend with 92 percent voting for Kerry in 2004, whereas the majority of Muslims voted for Bush in 2000. Thus, concludes the REN analysis, “the numbers provide stark evidence that the Democratic Party is increasingly out of step with large segments of the faith community.”
Democrats have to face facts true reform and revitalization will only come to the Democratic Party when they take an honest look in the mirror that the public is holding up for them. Changing positions on the social issues or speaking out more on religious topics are merely band-aid approaches to the problem. Any religious emphasis will have to be real to be persuasive; changing rhetoric is not enough, authenticity requires a change of heart.
Years ago George Will lamented the coarseness of American culture and argued in The Washington Post that American needed a “John Wesley-type of religious revival.” Ironically, in a media interview following the election, Doris Kearns Goodwin said that she believes the nation is in the midst of a “religious revival.” Goodwin offered no evidence for her opinion, but another contemporary historian has said that “the future belongs to the committed.” If there is a lesson from the 2004 election, it is that the committed put feet to their faith and turned out in droves on November 2. Nearly 60 percent of the population 120 million people voted and gave George W. Bush more popular votes than any president in our history.
Now, we must pray that we will have the courage of our convictions as well as the wisdom and grace to get the job done in turning America toward greatness and away from coarseness so that we are committed to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all (including those most vulnerable) once again.
Janice Crouse is Senior Fellow of the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank for Concerned Women for America.