December 18, 2010


Things Fall Apart: How Democrats gave up on religious voters. (Tiffany Stanley, December 18, 2010, New Republic)

On Election Day, Obama made modest but definite inroads among white evangelicals, Protestants, and Catholics. He did eight points better than Kerry with Catholic voters; and with voters who went to church more than once a week, he lowered the GOP advantage from 29 to 12 percent. Voters who attended church monthly actually favored Obama over McCain, 53 to 46 percent (Kerry had lost these voters by two points). Once elected, Obama expanded a Bush-era creation, the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFBNP), and put Dubois at its helm, hiring a number of the party’s faith consultants to work under him. Obama and the Democratic Party seemed poised to command respect among the religious population they had so diligently pursued.

But, when Obama took office, the Democrats’ faith outreach began to fall by the wayside. Several of those who had led the religious aspects of the Obama campaign landed in the OFBNP, which is legally barred from electoral politics, and thus faith-based political outreach. “I accepted this position knowing it would be distinct from the electoral role,” Dubois told me. Another key faith operative, Mara Vanderslice, joined Dubois in the OFBNP, abandoning her nascent political action committee, the Matthew 25 Network, which had been formed to promote progressive Christian candidates. With Dubois and others quarantined in OFBNP, many of the strongest religious-outreach coordinators were removed from the efforts in which they had been so effective.

At the same time, the national party began to strip down its religious outreach programs. The DNC’s faith program had at least seven staffers on hand in the 2008 race; during the recent midterms, it downsized to one, who was also charged with African-American outreach—a throwback to the days when Democratic faith outreach meant showing up at black churches. To be sure, there are significant differences between midterm and presidential elections, but even taking this into consideration, several insiders say that the Democrats’ faith effort noticeably dropped within the last two years. According to Mark Silk, a professor at Trinity College who writes frequently on religion and politics, the Democrats “did take [faith outreach] seriously enough in 2008.” But, he says, “it didn’t happen in 2010.”

Current DNC Chairman (and former missionary) Tim Kaine has made vague statements denying that he would allow faith outreach to falter, but evidence of the DNC’s clear commitment to faith-based coordination is hard to come by. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) will not confirm the amount spent on faith-based efforts during the midterms, but it seems likely that it was less than the reported $82,000 spent on faith outreach in 2008. “I haven’t met or talked to anyone who knows of specific activities that are happening out of the Democratic Party right now,” says Rebecca Sager, a sociologist who studied faith outreach during the last two elections. In the lead-up to the midterms, Sager embedded with the campaign of Virginia Democrat Tom Perriello, who ran a strong religious outreach program in 2008, and attempted to do the same in 2010. In 2010, however, the candidate received little encouragement from the national party to pursue religiously motivated voters, according to Sager. (He ultimately lost his re-election bid.)

The experience of Democratic political consultants, Eric Sapp and Burns Strider, whose consulting company, Eleison, specializes in Democratic faith outreach, further testifies to the newly diminished role of faith-based campaigning. In 2008, Eleison was contracted to work on over 40 campaigns. This year, it was not hired by a single campaign.

...they do deserve some credit for not trying to maintain a fiction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 18, 2010 1:13 PM
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