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What to Watch for on Election Night

Scholars and Christian leaders look beyond the red and blue map.

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.

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.

Related Elsewhere:

For more politics coverage, see Christianity Today's campaign 2008 section and the politics blog.

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