What to Watch for on Election Night
Here in the last days of the campaign, there have been dire predictions of what bad things will happen if Obama wins. Typically in America, we give our leaders a honeymoon. It will be interesting to see if conservative evangelicals give Obama breathing room, give him a chance to perform before they start criticizing him. They did give that to Clinton. The possibility is that the tough rhetoric will continue.
Doug Koopman, political science professor at Calvin College
I'm interested in how the various religious groups will split up between Obama and McCain, particularly among working-class Catholics and mainline Protestants. We have a sense that mainline Protestants are relatively more Democratic than before. Working-class Catholics are theoretically up in the air. There are data to support that young evangelicals are more interested in the environment, less narrowly interested in abortion and same-sex marriage and would be more interested in Obama.
Michigan has a stem-cell research ballot. Given the fact that the economy has dominated the presidential research, stem-cell research is being cast as a job creator, and the moral dimension has been cast smaller.
The one ballot initiative that has received the most attention has been the California ballot initiative. The conservative side is behind in California. I think if it failed and California continues to allow gay marriage, essentially affirming the new practice, I think you're going to look at further movement in other states. California is a good test for a state, because it has had gay marriage for a short period. It's a different thing to roll it back than it is to preserve a fairly conservative status quo. If it is successful in California, that would be a real victory for the traditional marriage side.
James Guth, political science professor at Furman University
According to my exit poll copy, the exit polls are not asking much about religion. If Senator Obama wins a large majority, it will give us an idea that he has made some inroads in some religious groups.
As I've looked at the polls, it looks like evangelical Protestants may move with everybody else toward the Democratic ticket. I think the real critical vote is primarily going to be among Catholics. Over the last few months, they have moved away from McCain toward Obama. That seems to be the group that has moved a lot more than others. One group that will be important are those who are religiously unaffiliated, secular voters. Historically, they haven't voted in high numbers. Obama seems to be eliciting a lot more turnout.
If we see shifts toward the Democrats, it's going to be the response to the economic crisis. Before the financial crisis fully bloomed, McCain was doing a lot better. The economy was a nail in his coffin. Other issues have really taken a back seat. Gay marriage and abortion opponents have really been fighting quite an uphill battle.
The basic structure of religious voting isn't going to change very much, so most of the changes are going to be marginal. Everybody's going to move a little more to the Democrats, but the basic structure of religious votes isn't going to change much from 2000 and 2004. It will be interesting to see if religious conservatives accommodate the broadening of the Republican Party's agenda, or whether they will keep it to certain issues.
Mark Silk, political science professor at Trinity College
Everybody's interested in Proposition 8 in California. It's not going to make a difference in the overall vote. It's a big deal in and of itself for people who are interested in marriage. The other gay marriage referendums have not gotten much attention.
I think the safest bet is that the results are going to look pretty familiar. I will be looking for the state-by-state breakouts of evangelicals. Ohio looks like a place where evangelicals are going to be much more likely or significantly more likely to vote for Obama. Exit polls show evangelicals voting for McCain by 60 or so percent, and if Ohio turns out to be a critical state, in our little world, that's a big story. I don't expect to see evangelicals in Colorado and in the South voting differently than how they usually do.
White Catholics could be anywhere from 50-50 to a few points for McCain, and the same for mainline Protestants. It looks like Jews will break 70 percent for Obama, which wasn't always so expected. The religiously unaffiliated and nonreligious should be about like the Jews for Obama.
In every election, every vote counts. Left-handed plumbers count. I'll change my story when the evidence shows otherwise, but it seems to me that where evangelicals have moved, it is in the Midwest and the Northeast. It's always perilous to try to predict, and there are a fair number of undecided white evangelicals.
Copyright © 2008 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.