Democrats Are Wisely Chipping Away at the White Evangelical Voting Bloc September 16, 2018

Democrats Are Wisely Chipping Away at the White Evangelical Voting Bloc

Some Democrats are making an effort to convince even a small portion of white evangelical Christians to vote for them in the upcoming election, which they say could sway the results. ­(They’re not wrong.) We’ve long known that Republicans have a stranglehold on that powerful voting bloc, due to their shared stances on issues like abortion, LGBTQ rights, and Israel.

But some Democrats say there are more pressing concerns with some evangelicals. They care about social justice and gun safety and the environment — not your typical culture war battles — and they’d be better off supporting Democrats who will work on those issues if elected.

In the weeks leading up to Election Day, a group of progressive Christians — largely Democrats who are also evangelicals — are organizing small rallies in some 20 battleground House districts across the country. Their goal is to urge Christians to vote for Democrats and counter Trump administration policies that oppose their religious beliefs — especially on immigration, health care and poverty.

The group, Vote Common Good, hopes that shifting even a small percentage of evangelical voters will make a difference at the polls.

“We think they are movable,” said Doug Pagitt, a pastor from Minnesota who is leading the effort. “In the privacy of the voting booth, they might do something.”

The logic is pretty sound. With tight races in many battleground states, any shift in voting from Republican to Democrat would be a big deal. No one’s asking the evangelicals to change their beliefs about more controversial issues (like women’s rights and same-sex marriage), but the group knows that many evangelicals are troubled by the GOP’s refusal to do the sorts of things Jesus would do. These are the Christians who see the Trump administration separating children from their parents at the border, or who see Republicans doing nothing in the face of mass shootings (outside sending some useless thoughts and prayers), and hate how their faith has been co-opted by the Right.

Pagitt makes a good point, too. He knows that most white evangelical Christians won’t publicly say they’re voting for Democrats because they don’t want it to seem like they’re supporting abortion or any number of other social issues. But they could vote their conscience in the booth. (Ironically, we saw that in 2016, when many voters told pollsters they didn’t support Trump but clearly voted for him when it mattered.)

While the Democratic Party itself isn’t significantly invested in this effort to court evangelical voters, there are some liberal Christians who are helping.

The Democratic Party does not have significant resources devoted nationwide to targeted religious outreach, but this effort has support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and many Democratic candidates trying to flip Republican seats are participating.

More Democratic elected officials should be talking about God, and their own personal religious beliefs,” said Representative Ted Lieu of California, a vice chairman for the D.C.C.C. who has informally advised Vote Common Good.

“America has always been a country where faith has played an important role,” Mr. Lieu said. “It’s not a good idea for Democrats to ignore that.”

I’m a little conflicted here. On one hand, I don’t think politicians should be publicly flaunting their faith, because it could give the impression that their faith alone will guide how they vote on certain issues. But I also realize conservative candidates beat the religion drum constantly — and it really does work. If people are going to vote based on religion, it may as well be for someone who actually embodies the views of Jesus.

In addition to pointing out the vast discrepancy between Jesus’ actions and the GOP’s platform, Democrats are pouncing on Trump’s behavior to show Christians how he has failed to live up to their supposed biblical standards.

Democratic candidates participating in the project say they hope to shift the conversation about values in America, which they believe Mr. Trump has betrayed.

“As a child, my family taught me the importance of following the Golden Rule,” said Katie Hill, a first-time Democratic candidate seeking to flip California’s 25th district, outside Los Angeles. She will be attending one of the Vote Common Good rallies.

Republicans, she said, “have shown time and again that they do not follow this most basic value.”

There’s no telling if this effort will pay off — the group’s budget is only about $1 million, which is nothing in the game of national politics these days — but a small dent in the evangelical voting bloc could help Democrats in close elections. No doubt many white evangelicals would prefer their faith not be intertwined with today’s Republican Party and Trump. This is their chance to change that.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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