Evangelicals are not a voting bloc

O what heights of investigatory journalism! Hitherto it had been widely accepted that all Evangelicals believed the same things, voted for the same people and acted in the same ways. Was it not common knowledge that all Evangelicals are slavering right-wingers concerned with nothing other than tax reduction and vehement opposition to abortion?

Thanks be to Marcia Pally for showing us that Evangelicals ‘do not vote in lock step’. Without her we would never have come to the knowledge that ‘some [Evangelicals] vote on religious grounds most of the time. But most vote out of a mix of concerns shaped by income, education, and critically, local socio-political culture’. She offers searing insight into the mind of the Evangelical by observing ‘if Evangelicals were motivated only by religion, their voting would be more consistent across the demographic and geographic range’. More radical still, she notes that some Evangelicals even vote Democrat and that two Evangelical ministers were involved in the writing of the Democrat party platform whilst another ran the Democratic Nominating Convention.

How is it that such banal, old hat observation is now being passed for journalistic comment? It is hardly new to suggest that Evangelicals are not a homogeneous bloc. It has long been observed that Evangelicalism is, both theologically and politically, a relatively broad church. One would be hard-pressed to find any social, political or religious group in which those who adopt the identifier hold the same views on all areas of politics, theology and ecclesiology. Why is it so hard to comprehend that Evangelicals will hold differing views and that they will place their emphases in different places?

Pally’s article is particularly poor in two key regards. Firstly, despite arguing that not all Evangelicals vote the same way, she falls headlong into the erroneous view that theologically speaking they are identical. She states ‘If evangelicals were motivated only by religion, their voting would be more consistent across the demographic and geographic range’. This would only be true if Evangelicals were theologically homogeneous, which evidently they are not. Secondly, she assumes all people believe that Evangelicals are homogeneous. The evidence against this is vast, the arguments well rehearsed and the best statements made some significant time ago. This is neither a new observation nor a particularly clever one.

One has to be something of an idiot to think that Evangelicals are identical in their theology, politics, emphases and voting behaviour. What is unclear is whether Pally is the idiot for thinking her statement is something new and insightful; or, whether she merely thinks everyone else is an idiot and would find her article new and insightful when she knew it was no such thing.