A number of political observers are talking about “the evangelical vote” and what it may mean in the upcoming presidential election campaign. It is commonly acknowledged that America’s fastest-growing religious configuration is the evangelical Protestant community, whose current size is usually estimated to be some 40 million members—or at least 20 per cent of the population. If this percentage is projected to the electorate, it means that of, say, 80 million votes cast in the presidential election, 16 million will be by members of evangelical churches (both inside and outside the big denominations) and by those who identify with evangelical cultural traditions.
Evangelical voters are strongly concentrated in eleven southern states and six border ones (Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, and Oklahoma). They are also found in fairly large numbers in several midwestern and north-central states (such as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska). The southern and border states have 177 electoral votes, and Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska have 33, for a total of 210. This is short of the 270 needed for election, but evangelicals in other states (Ohio and Pennsylvania, for example) could provide the victory margin in a close election.
It is the candidacy of former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist Sunday-school teacher (see May 7 issue, page 37), that has people talking about a possible evangelical voting bloc. Carter’s public expression of down-home religious commitment has raised questions—and eyebrows—for some voters (especially Jewish ones), but it has unquestionably gained him evangelical support. Evangelicals and Carter speak the same born-again, Christ-is-my-Saviour language.
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