What to Watch for on Election Night
To both evangelicals and religion and politics scholars, Election Day is about more than just coloring in state lines.
If they had their own CNN magic map, the graphics would show more than just red and blue. The focus would be on state ballot initiatives and where evangelicals land in exit-poll results. It might show whether California was rainbow colored and whether evangelicals were feeling more blue than usual. We asked several political observers what they are watching for tonight.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
Of course, we're looking at the referendums on same-sex marriage, the one in California, the one in Arizona, and the one in Florida. The one in Florida is going to be a tough one because any referendum to the constitution has to get at least 60 percent of the vote. I believe we're going to win in California and Arizona, which require a simple majority.
I will be interested to see what the exit polls tell us about evangelical voting. I don't think it's going to be much different from last time. I think about three-fourths of evangelicals are going to vote for John McCain. I'll be looking at Florida, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. I don't see McCain winning without Ohio and Florida, and if he wins Pennsylvania or Virginia, it's a horse race.
Barack Obama is arguably the most pro-choice candidate ever nominated by a major party. Younger evangelicals are more pro-life than older evangelicals. If Obama wins, it's not going to be with new evangelical votes.
If Obama wins, there will be a pro-life organization fundraising bonanza. They will have a lot more donations to help fight the Obama administration's radically pro-choice agenda.
Whoever is elected, we will pray for him as is mandated in Scripture.
Jim Wallis, leader of the Sojourners/Call to Renewal movement
Obviously, we will be looking to see if there's a significant shift among Christian voters, in all categories: African American churches, evangelicals, Catholics, mainline Protestants, just to see how they vote. Then [we will look at] what the polling suggests their concerns were, what their agenda was. Are there any shifts in voting patterns and agendas? I suspect there will be.
We will be doing some polling about how people voted on a broad range of issues, from poverty, climate change, Iraq, human trafficking, family values, gay marriage. We want to know, what brought them to the polls?
The polls show that Bush got 78 percent [of white evangelical votes] in 2004 and the polls show McCain is down from there. Obama is up 24, 25, 26 percent from 21 percent for Kerry.
I suspect at least 30 percent or more of white evangelicals will vote for Barack Obama. That's up almost 10 points from last time in 2004. I expect more of that in the swing states. Black evangelicals, by all the polling, will be voting for Obama probably in the 90s.
We're praying that whatever happens, there will be a positive spirit going forward to take on the challenge we have as a nation. I do think it's going to be very interesting to see how the different Christian constituencies react. We're going to be needed after the election. We can't make any of the big changes in this country … unless there are real social movements pushing from the outside. No President is going to be able to make those changes without a real spiritual foundation.
Whoever wins, we're going to have to build some bridges, adopt a real spirit of reconciliation, and move forward in a positive way.
Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine
We have all been following the marriage ballot in California. There's also one here in Florida. It could obviously send a message to Washington that states don't want to redefine marriage. The churches out in California have been working really hard, but it doesn't look like it's going to pass.
Also, I don't know that we will learn this today, but we're watching how different racial groups are voting, including the black church and the Hispanic church. We are all kind of weary, and I don't know that we're looking for surprises because there has been so much analysis ahead of time. We have been watching this trend among younger evangelicals voting for Barack Obama and African American Pentecostals voting for Barack Obama.
Among Pentecostals, this has been a very divisive campaign. We have a large African American audience, so there's been a lot of tension, and our readers do not agree with each other. Another unusual element that we're watching, and I don't know how we're going to figure this out, is that there are a number of conservative, traditionally minded evangelicals who are very against women in leadership, such as John Piper.
We're wondering how much that affects the election. If they're not voting for the Republican ticket, are they staying home and not voting? We're curious what percentage of the evangelical population will avoid the McCain-Palin ticket because of their views on women in leadership.
John Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
I'm going to look for the evangelical vote and see how strongly Republican it is versus how many votes Barack Obama gets. I'm also going to pay attention to Roman Catholics. There has been evidence that they may be tending to vote Democratic.
I will also be looking at worship attendance. Have the Democrats been making inroads?
The most recent polls show that evangelicals will stick with McCain at very high numbers, perhaps the same number they gave George Bush. Ten to 12 percent of evangelicals say they are undecided. If they vote Democratic, that would be the kind of gains that some people were expecting. If they were to stay at home or vote Republican, then that could have a different implication. The Democrats will likely do better among African American Protestants. There might be changes at the margins among white evangelicals. In a state like Ohio, Virginia or North Carolina, that could be critical, even if the Democrats get a few percentage points before.