The Republican wave election of 2014, which repudiated Barack Obama’s direction for the country and gave Republicans firm control of Congress, has many story lines. Among them were a superior ground game on the right that appeared to narrow the advantage enjoyed by Team Obama in 2008 and 2012, better candidate recruitment and superior candidate performance by the GOP (of which Joni Ernst in Iowa and Tom Cotton in Arkansas were arguably the leading exemplars), ongoing tensions between the Tea Party and more established Republicans, the fraying of the Obama electoral coalition, and an issue mix that prominently included the economy, the rise of the Islamic State, and terrorism.
But perhaps no theme of 2014 ran more sharply in contrast to the conventional wisdom than the decisive role played by Evangelical Christians and other voters of faith. According to a post-election survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, conservative Christians made up nearly one out of every three voters and voted eight-to-one for Republican candidates, creating the crest of a Republican wave that resulted in control of the U.S. Senate, a likely post–World War II high-water mark majority in the U.S. House, and critical victories in governors’ races.
On Election Day, self-identified conservative Christians made up 32 percent of the electorate and voted 86 percent Republican and only 12 percent Democrat. These voters contributed an astonishing 52.4 percent of all the votes received by Republican candidates. This constituency, the largest and most vibrant in the electorate, is larger than the African-American vote, Hispanic vote, union vote, and gay vote combined. White Evangelicals, meanwhile, made up 23 percent of the electorate and voted 82 percent Republican and 18 percent Democratic, according to the survey.
Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies, commented on the findings. “Republicans rode the wave last night to stunning victories. Waves come from a committed base and a strong showing among swing voters,” Bolger said. “Voters of faith — Protestant and Catholic — are the foundation of the GOP. Without their overwhelming support, there is no GOP majority. With their support, Republicans are celebrating a high tide in the U.S. Senate, House, and around the country.”
The Catholic vote, the swing vote in American politics for a half century, was also critical. Republicans won the Roman Catholic vote (23 percent of the electorate) by a twelve-point margin, 56 to 44 percent. Even more dramatically, faithful Catholics who attend Mass once a week or more often and comprise one out of every ten voters, cast 70 percent of their votes for Republican candidates and only 30 percent for Democratic candidates. No doubt the Obama administration’s attempt to force Catholic hospitals, colleges, and charities to pay for abortion-inducing medication played a role in this outcome, as did the Justice Department’s bizarre lawsuit against the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns that sought an exception to the Obamacare mandate. The fact that every single Democratic senator voted to gut the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act by stripping it of protections for Christian-owned businesses in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case also contributed to the backlash from voters of faith, including faithful Catholics.
These results ran counter to the media narrative of the campaign, which argued that religious folk and the moral issues that motivate them were not a factor in the election at all. This included the marriage issue, which media commentators have assured us is a lost cause for the GOP. Not true. According to the POS post-election survey, the electorate remains evenly divided on the marriage issue, with 46 percent of voters favoring natural or traditional marriage, and 49 percent favoring same-sex marriage. Even on this difficult issue, conservatives can frame the debate in a way that wins overwhelming bipartisan support. In the aftermath of a string of federal court rulings overturning state marriage laws, voters favor leaving marriage laws to the states, not federal judges, by a 68 percent to 32 percent margin. This includes a plurality (48 percent) of Democratic voters. A Republican presidential nominee in 2016 who takes a position of support for marriage as the sacred union of a man and a woman, and argues the final say should belong to state governments and the voters rather than to the federal courts, will hold a winning hand.
The 2014 midterm elections signaled a thunderous rejection of the failed policies and incompetent leadership of the Obama administration. But within that repudiation came a special message delivered by voters of faith, who are hungering for moral leadership and wish to see America restored to spiritual, as well as economic and military, strength. Voters of faith and issues that motivate them are here to stay. And there is no road to the presidency for a Republican candidate in 2016 that doesn’t require going through the toll booth of faith-based voters.