How Evangelicals Vote

The same post that Guardiano cited drew this protest from a reader:

You criticize Beinart for using the “Romney lost because evangelicals don’t like Mormons” meme. I’m glad you defend the fact the evangelical voters who voted for Huckabee from the bigotry charge. But you basically accept Beinart’s premise that Romney lost because evangelicals voted based on religion. And you offer up that evangelicals would have voted against a Catholic as well. How unfortunate that that view of evangelicals prevails with the GOP elites.Please explain to me why it is not more appropriate to analyze evangelical voting behavior in terms of strength of stand (and credibility) on social issues or respect for military service? Why is it supposed solidarity on religion is a better explanation for evangelicals to prefer Huckabee on social issues rather than Romney’s relatively recent, and very worrisome, statements and positions in his MA campaigns? Like it or not, the social issues that were problematic for Romney are still raging and still relevant. And why is it not more likely that his creation of RomneyCare in MA roused enough suspicion that he wasn’t really a small government conservative but a Mr. Fixit technocrat or a foolish pragmatist (I’m thinking Bush’s Medicare D here).

Going into the primaries, we had McCain, Rudy, Mitt and Huck. And evangelicals split fairly evenly among McCain, Mitt and Huck. Did they not vote for Rudy, the hero of 9/11, because he was Catholic? Or perhaps it was he was un-apologetically liberal on the social issues (not to mention his messy personal life). For evangelicals more concerned with the war, McCain was the choice for fairly obvious reasons (strong advocate of the surge, his military service). For those strong on social issues Huckabee, but I would posit that Mitt’s religion and it’s reputation on those social issues helped him with evangelicals (it did with me).Evangelicals’ vote was the least concentrated in any one candidate. We spread our votes among the three candidates. As you noted, Mormons were concentrated in one (if I remember, way up there in the 80′s or 90′s). And Catholics and other non-evangelicals gave minimal support to Huckabee, preferring Romney or McCain. Anti-evangelical bias? The fact the we are still accepting the idea that evangelicals’ vote for Huckabee was on the basis of religion (or in opposition to a religion) from Catholics and Mormons (and yes, I hear that spouted out from my Mormon friends still), I suspect yes.

I voted for Romney in the GA primary in 2008. He is not a shoo-in with me for 2012. And it has nothing to do with his Mormonism.

Note that I did not single out evangelicals as being unusually prone to voting on the basis of group solidarity. It was a banner year for identity politics, 2008. Evangelicals disproportionately voted for the evangelical, Mormons for the Mormon, blacks for the black candidate, rich guys for Romney, young and inexperienced voters for the young and inexperienced candidate. The evangelicals who supported Huckabee (like the Mormons who supported Romney, etc.) were surely not all consciously casting their votes on the basis of identity. But they were more likely than other voters to see his merits.

Some Republican primary voters opposed Huckabee because of his religion, but his religion helped him more than it hurt him (just as it helped Bush in 2000). I’d propose a truce based on the evidence: Just as Romney’s failure to get the nomination shouldn’t be attributed to anti-Mormon sentiment, so Huckabee’s failure shouldn’t be attributed to anti-evangelical sentiment. (NR subscribers who want to read more on this topic can go here.)

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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