Death of the Christian Right? Not so fast.

The 2012 elections raise questions for the Christian Right, but are far from a fundamental shift in the electorate.

Post-election recriminations for the Republican shellacking have focused on various suspects: conservative talk radio, Karl Rove and Crossroads PAC, bad polling, bad candidates and campaigns, and, the perennial favorite target when elections go bad for the party – the Christian Right.

Indeed, the 2012 elections constituted a serious setback for the Christian Right. President Obama won a convincing electoral-college victory, and Democrats gained seats in the Senate and House. Voters in three states approved same-sex marriage, and in a fourth state rejected a constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples. Two states passed referenda legalizing marijuana, and two of the strongest pro-life Republican Senate candidates lost in states where the Republicans should have coasted to victory.

View Photo Gallery: A sharply divided America gave President Obama another term Tuesday, choosing him over Republican Mitt Romney to lead the repair of the economy, still the country’s biggest concern by far.

Some pundits have declared the death of the Christian Right, and there is evidence to back up their analyses. The once-dominant Christian Coalition is essentially bankrupt, Focus on the Family is now focusing on the family ministry, not politics, and the Rev. Pat Robertson, once the biggest voice of the movement, has recently called for legalization of marijuana and excused Gen. David Petraeus’s affair. Once leading figures as the former Rev. Jerry Falwell have passed away, and James Dobson is off the air. The movement lacks a powerful organizational structure and it has no leading spokesperson.

We have heard many past declarations of the demise of the Christian Right, usually after elections that favored the Democrats. Yet the movement has persistently reorganized and risen from the dead to contest policy and politics. The core of the Christian Right is white evangelicals, and they remain a sizable voting bloc – about one-fourth of the electorate. In 2012 the exit polls report that they voted about 78 percent for Mitt Romney, or roughly the same rate as Mormons. White Catholics also voted strongly Republican this year. These core groups of the Christian Right comprise perhaps more than 40 percent of the electorate and right now are solid Republicans.

Despite predictions that Catholics would join evangelicals because of anger at the HHS contraception mandate and the president’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, Catholics overall supported Obama 50-48. The president’s better showing among Catholics though is attributable to the huge majorities he commanded among Latinos, who likely were voting on economic and immigration issues, not faith-based ones.

Given the electoral landscape of 2012, how might the Christian Right reconstitute itself for the future? Younger evangelicals are strongly pro-life, but, compared to their parents’ generation, they are more tolerant of gays and lesbians, more concerned for the environment and world poverty. So the next incarnation of the Christian Right may need to moderate on some issues to attract young evangelicals, but this may make building larger religious coalitions easier. It may also look to ways to attract minority voters, especially Latinos, by following the lead of the young evangelicals who also are more likely than the older generation evangelicals to support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and compassionate policies that help the neediest.

In the short term, the election offers different implications for the two core issues of the culture wars. Public support for same-sex marriage has increased dramatically over the past decade, and this trend is likely to continue. There will be additional victories for LGBT activists through legislation and referenda. By 2016, we expect to see states begin to repeal their constitutional amendments that ban same-sex unions.

But polls show the public is actually less supportive of abortion than it was a decade ago, and that younger voters and especially young evangelicals are even less pro-choice than their parents. This year, certain GOP candidates seemed to go out of their way to offend, and the most outrageous statements became for many voters the image of the GOP’s pro-life agenda. Moreover, there was political fallout from the efforts of some in the GOP to further their agenda through legislative measures that angered many citizens. Personhood proposals, bills mandating intrusive ultrasound procedures turned swing voters away from the GOP and contributed to the success of the Democratic mobilization campaign.

In the past, the Christian Right has had substantial successes when it has promoted positions that dovetailed with the views of many voters outside the movement. Restrictions on late-term abortions and on taxpayer funded abortion services, and measures on parental notification and parental consent have passed state legislatures, including in some states that voted Blue this year, because the Christian Right was able to form coalitions with other groups and build majoritarian support for its positions.

The 2012 elections results do not evidence a fundamental realignment of the electorate – no more than did the big GOP triumphs in 2010 and even 2004, the so-called values voters election. If we have learned anything from electoral politics since 2000, it is that the nation is deeply divided and that the fortunes of the parties can change significantly from one election cycle to the next, even with just a marginal shift in voting preferences or turnout rates among certain constituencies.

The Democratic triumph of this year could certainly be followed by disaster for the party in 2014 or 2016. What the Christian Right learns from this election and how it reconstitutes itself going forward will have a big impact on its future and those of the major political parties. Indeed, it will not surprise us if observers declaring the death of the Christian Right today are marveling at its big comeback in two or four years.

Mark J. Rozell is professor of public policy at George Mason University. Clyde Wilcox is professor of government at Georgetown University. They have collaborated on numerous books on the politics of the Christian Right.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Aliferis.

  • nkri401

    One can so hope… No??

  • ckw

    Perhaps the Christian right should let the judgment of homosexuality and abortion to God. Can some explain why it is OK for a Christian to drink alcohol and even get falling down drunk but it isn’t OK to smoke pot. Unless there is some bible passage I missed these shortcommings should be between the individual and God.

  • GordonHide1

    Does this post not advocate that the Chritian right should save itself politically by becoming the Christian lef? (Except for perhaps the matter of abortion).

  • leibowde84

    I’ve always thought that it was ironic when Republicans called for a less intrusive federal government but in the same breath called for making abortion, marijuana, gambling, etc. illegal. It doesn’t make sense. The party will die unless they stop contradicting themselves constantly. If you want a less intrusive government, you have to take the bad along with the good. That’s how freedom works. Marijuana should be legal, but so should prostitution, gambling, and abortion. A conservative government shouldn’t make moral decisions for us.


    You are 100% correct. But you don’t go far enough. ALL drugs should be legal.

    I do not see why a state that considers you completely on your own when you’re signing a multi-hundred thousand $$ mortgage contract; and allows you to rise or fall on your own in the employment market should be intruding on decisions regarding your intoxicants of choice. Laissez faire means hands off.

    First of all, simply legalizing marijuana is going to put a HUGE dent in the consumption of other recreational drugs, simply because it will be easy to get and it will do its job, getting people high, without putting them in a criminal milieu.

    Secondly, there will be reduced harm because actual professional chemists can prepare and manufacture drugs like MDMA (Ecstasy) which are already reduced harm drugs from chemical predecessors like LSD. And they can work on better formulas legally.

  • persiflage

    ‘The Democratic triumph of this year could certainly be followed by disaster for the party in 2014 or 2016.’

    Since it’s unlikely the GOP will change in any fundamental way, I suspect that overall improvements in the state of the nation that are inevitable over time will be directly attributed to democrats. GOP re-alignment of voting districts through the gerrymandering strategy may have even less impact than it did this election cycle. – although they kept the house of representatives.

    And then, if the democrats are smart enough to nominate the right person for president in 2016 (like they did in 2008), it will be a slam dunk repeat win.

    For example, a highly qualified white female candidate would be so massively appealing at the right time and place in history, that a true landslide win of epic proportions would not be unexpected. White evangelical opposition would have zero impact. Will there be such a person? That’s the question…….

  • Charles Grandmaison III

    “I’ve always thought that it was ironic when Republicans called for a less intrusive federal government but in the same breath called for making abortion, marijuana, gambling, etc. illegal. It doesn’t make sense. ”

    It makes sense to prohibit one human from assaulting and killing another, which is what happens during an abortion. That is perfectly sensible. The taking of drugs is a different matter. If people do so in their homes and don’t go out then they won’t harm anyone. Keep them in your homes and out of sight and that isn’t an issue. Wave a joint in the air saying “I’m smoking a joint” and they should be arrested for the mere stupidity of the action.

  • Charles Grandmaison III

    “Perhaps the Christian right should let the judgment of homosexuality and abortion to God.”

    The also leave punishment for rape, or racial discrimination or bullying to God as well. Abortion is one human assaulting and killing another for no other reason than one says the other is “unwanted”. If that is ok, then why not kill a homosexual that someone finds disgusting and unwanted. It’s about the right to choose, right? The right to conscience and we can’t judge someone for an act of conscience. That is what the liberals preach.

    If you know your Bible, you would know that God frounds upon drunkeness, not consuming any fermented drink. Wine is a fermented drink and God tolerates that quite nicely.

  • Charles Grandmaison III

    “I think the Republican party needs to lean more libertarian. They need to get back to being a party for lower taxes along with smaller less intrusive government. They need to do more than just pay lip service to freedom. One problem with wooing all the fundamentalist christians is that now in pandering to these people the Republican party has become the party that wants to run everyone’s lives. They’ve become the anti-freedom party.”

    No, this is the mainline news organizations'(cnn, abc, nbc, cbs) view of the position of conservatives that were put on free on the airwaves, while conservatives had to pay to put out their views.

    Running other people’s lives? Please say how so? Limiting abortions? Those are acts of assault of one human against another. Even doctors should be prohibited from taking money to assault and kill one of the two patients in their office(yes, the fetus is a patient). Those who support such actions are the extremists, not those that want to prohibit it and stop it legally. So liberals and democrats aren’t for prohibititing assasult?

    This is why the idea that Conservatives have to “drop their social agenda” rings hollow. The social agenda is protecting the youngest of humans from being killed by those bigger and older than they are. Liberals actually support that idea, protecting the helpless and the outcast.

    No, the real question is why liberals embrace human ineqaulity when it comes to fetuses, but demands it when it comes to homosexuals? Fetuses can’t help where they live or how old they are. Liberals would usually jump to their defense. They jump to the defense of undocumented immigrants that illegally entered and live in this country. They are alot like FETUSES in that regard. They are in a place that others don’t want them to be, yet the Democrats embrace them.

    Democrats and liberals have alot of hippocracy in their own philosophy and within their own platform to address before they preach to the right wing and the

  • nkri401

    I did not think we would be so lucky…

    I don’t wish death on anyone but demure would be good.

  • persiflage

    ‘How is that unreasonable and why should the Republicans change that at all?’

    Congratulations Charles, you’ve captured the crux of the problem in one sentence. No democrat could have done better ;^)

  • larryclyons

    Frankly it could not die soon enough. Given its anti-science, anti-intellectual and fundamentally dishonest attitudes it deserves a miserable lonely and painful death.

  • larryclyons

    The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 admonishments to heterosexuals. There is also not one specific mention of abortion. What the bible does mention is that abortion is not murder. A fetus is not considered a human life.

    If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life. — Exodus 21:22-23

    The Bible places no value on fetuses or infants less than one month old.
    And if it be from a month old even unto five years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female thy estimation shall be three shekels of silver. — Leviticus 27:6

    Fetuses and infants less than one month old are not considered persons.
    Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them. And Moses numbered them according to the word of the LORD. — Numbers 3:15-16

    God sometimes approves of killing fetuses.
    And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? … Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. — Numbers 31:15-17

    (Some of the non-virgin women must have been pregnant. They would have been killed along with their unborn fetuses.)
    Give them, O LORD: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. — Hosea 9:14
    Yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb. — Hosea 9:16
    Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up. — Hosea 13:16

    God sometimes kills newborn babies to punish their parents.
    Because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the ene

  • larryclyons

    In fact the most the bible suggests is that a mere fine for inducing an abortion, but only if it happens during a fight between two men:

    “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. ” Ex. 21:22-22

  • mikestech

    Oh, so all the Christian Right has to do to survive politically is become less Christian and less right. Just abandon your values, and all will be well. Great plan. If you have to change who you are to win politically, what have you really won?

  • JohnDoRiteG3

    Hey! Religious Right, well, quite often wrong with candidates like Romney, Gingrich, McCaine, West, Akkin, Palin, Nixon, and…. Reagan! Who would have Jesus of Judea voted for had he passed their many versions of Voter Registration and if they really were able to recognize him! Phew! Not even in Florida, oye!

  • JohnDoRiteG3

    Yo! You lost even with conspiracy votes in Florida Allen West. Another prime example of Creation Science!

  • one nation

    The G.O.P. should just unhitch the religious wagon and be the real G.O.P. that they really are. Religion is not part of the American government.

  • KammaRama

    Let’s bring back the Republican Liberal wing. It did not force its religious beliefs down the throat of any American.
    The White Evangelical Christian Southerners (WECS) have wrecked the GOP. They are forcing so many voters who do not want to practice their religion of hate and anger towards liberalism and the Democratic party.
    They have poisoned the GOP with their intolerance and discompassionate, unloving, and un-Christ like vitriol.
    Republicans need to have a choice that does not involve religious extremism and signing destructive pledges, or so many will continue to go Democrat.

    WECS, do your thing, but stop trying to make everyone else in your image. You are not God.