Wednesday, November 12, 2014

White Evangelicals Dwindling In South And They’re Taking The GOP Edge With Them

A number of pollsters are suggesting that the Republicans could very well take the Senate in a couple of weeks–enough that Nate Silver predicts (as of Saturday night) that the GOP has a 60.7% chance of winning a majority. And yet, Mitch McConnell can’t make plans to become majority leader just yet. Indeed, he hasn’t been able to close the deal on his bid for reelection to his own seat. The Pollster composite shows McConnell with only a four-point lead over Alison Lundergan Grimes. It’s actually the second election in a row that McConnell hasn’t closed the deal at this late stage in the election. If you’ll remember, in 2008 he only beat Bruce Lunsford by six points–and only then because Barack Obama’s campaign essentially ceded the state to John McCain. So how is it that while the Republicans could win the Senate, their Senate leader still has to fight it out for his own seat at this stage in the game?
A recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute and published in The Atlantic may provide part of the answer. For 34 years, GOP strength in the South has rested largely on using social issues to peel off white evangelicals. That study turned up an interesting finding–the percentage of self-identified white evangelicals in Kentucky dwindled from 43 percent of the population in 2007 to 32 percent in 2013. Kentucky is one of five Southern states facing tight Senate races where the percentage of white evangelicals has tailed off sharply since 2007. The others are Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and my state of North Carolina.
In Arkansas, white evangelicals made up 43 percent of the population in 2007; it’s down to 36 percent in 2013. In Georgia, the white evangelical population has dropped from 30 percent to 24 percent. Louisiana’s white evangelicals made up 24 percent of the population in 2007, they only made up 19 percent in 2013. And in North Carolina, the percentage dropped from 37 percent to 30 percent.  By nearly all accounts, without holding onto Kentucky and the open seat in Georgia and defeating incumbent Democrats in Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina, there is virtually no politically realistic path for the GOP to get to 51 seats. And yet, the Pollster composites show the races in all four states to be within five points or fewer. It’s hard to believe this is a coincidence.
There’s another reason that Republican strategists should be swallowing hard at these numbers. The declines in Georgia and North Carolina can easily be explained–once dark-red areas around Atlanta, Charlotte, and the Triangle are starting to turn more purple as they get more diverse. That’s why Michelle Nunn has a very good chance of retaking the seat that  her father once held, and why Kay Hagan is in a position to make Jesse Helms turn in his grave once again. But Arkansas, Kentucky and Louisiana have turned an unrecognizable shade of red in recent years, at least at the national level. According to conventional wisdom, not only should McConnell have long since put Grimes in his rearview mirror, but we should be saying hello to Senators Tom Cotton and Bill Cassidy. Combine that with the fact that Georgia is one of two reasons (the other being Texas) that the GOP is still even in the game in presidential contests. Once the Atlanta suburbs turn purple, Georgia’s 16 electoral votes instantly come into play–meaning that Republicans will have to spend a lot of time and money in a state where they can ill afford to spend either one.
PPRI also discovered another trend–not only are white evangelicals declining in population, but they’re also getting older. While they make up 29 percent of seniors, they only make up 10 percent of millennials. What it failed to mention was something the Brookings Institution found in a similar study earlier this spring–most young people who identify as evangelicals are considerably more progressive than their parents and grandparents.

The messages here are obvious. The day is coming soon when the GOP won’t be able to rest its laurels on frightening Southern churchgoers with the perils of having those baby-killing, pro-gay libruls in power. And we may be seeing an end to the days of some of the poorest areas of the South giving Republicans ludicrous margins when economically they have no business voting for a Republican. But it doesn’t look like the Republicans are heeding them. After all, they just launched a dedicated effort to appeal to people of faith this spring after three decades of relying on their votes. From the looks of it, the crux of that outreach is the same that it’s been for three decades–all wedge issues, all the time. If these numbers are to be believed, that strategy is destined to blow up in the GOP’s face–sooner than later.
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Darrell Lucus.jpg Darrell Lucus, also known as Christian Dem in NC on Daily Kos, is a radical-lefty Jesus-lover who has been blogging for change for a decade. Follow him on Twitter @DarrellLucus or connect with him on Facebook.


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