In the 2008 election, media organizations and pollsters are relying on an outdated script by treating evangelicals as a monolithic voting bloc. The exit polls (sponsored by the major networks, CNN, Fox, and the Associated Press) provide the data for nearly all post-election analysis. Yet, thus far, exit polls have only asked one party’s primary voters whether they considered themselves “born-again or evangelical Christian.”
A new post-election poll in Missouri and Tennessee, commissioned by Faith in Public Life and the Center for American Progress Action Fund conducted by Zogby International, demonstrates the diversity of evangelical voters and the need for more thorough polling and careful analysis. Large numbers of white evangelicals participated in the Republican and Democratic primaries; majorities of both Democratic and Republican evangelical voters want a broader agenda that goes beyond abortion and same-sex marriage, and like other voters, white evangelicals ranked jobs and economy as the most important issue area in deciding how to vote.
One in three white evangelical voters in Missouri and Tennessee participated in Democratic primaries. Comparatively, only one in four white evangelical voters in Missouri and Tennessee supported Senator John Kerry in the 2004 general election.
While this year’s exit polls in both states identified all Republican white evangelical voters, the Missouri exit polls failed to identify 160,000 white evangelical Democratic voters, and the Tennessee exit polls failed to identify 182,000 white evangelical Democratic voters. In both states, this group of overlooked white evangelicals represents a figure equal to or greater than all African American voters, all voters over 65, or all voters who said the Iraq war is the most important issue facing the country, according to the state exit polls.
But what use would such questions be, if they don't follow the "everyone knows" script? It's not, after all, the job of the news media to discover pertinent facts.