A Disquieting Thought

Wait, the turnout was what?!  As the numbers continue to come into focus (and the final vote tally is still days or weeks away), the fact that Romney may underperform (or barely match) the listless McCain in 2008 is the real shocker of the election.  Maybe we should have just run McCain/Palin again.  Obama’s vote total will be down something like six to eight million from his 2008 total; it is unprecedented for a president to be re-elected without adding to his vote total from the first election.  Hardly a vote of confidence.

The white vote, it turns out, was tepid.  If the white vote had turned out to its potential, Romney wins and we wouldn’t need to go through the current hand-wringing about whether the GOP needs to seek amnesty from Latinos.  What’s going on here?  Keep two factoids in mind.  First, according to exit polls Romney won white evangelicals by a four-to-one margin—as high or higher than George W. Bush in 2004.  But second, recall Karl Rove’s theory after the 2000 election that Bush’s missing majority in that train-wreck election was the 3 million or so evangelicals who stayed home and didn’t vote, possibly because they were put off by the late DUI news about Bush.  Finding and (successfully) turning out those voters became the key to Bush’s increased margin of victory in 2004.

It’s going to be a while before we know better whether the total potential evangelical vote didn’t turn out for Romney, and if not, why.  Could it have been that many evangelicals couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a Mormon, and simply stayed home?  I distinctly recall polling data from back in 2008 that found as many as 20 percent of voters said they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon (versus only about 1 or 2 percent for a black or a Jew), and I wondered whether those 20 percent were un- or anti-religious liberals who wouldn’t vote for a Republican in any case, or whether they were theologically conservative evangelicals who are uncomfortable with heterodox Mormon doctrine?  I’ve had numerous conversations with serious evangelical friends over the last couple of years who all said of course I’ll vote for Romney because I can’t stand Obama, but they admitted having doubts about it.  My self-selecting sample are mostly intellectual and politically-engaged evangelicals; what about the kind of evangelical that doesn’t like or follow politics closely?  Keep in mind that a lot of evangelicals eschew politics as a this-worldly dominion best left alone: the City of Man versus City of God.

Sean Trende doesn’t think so.  He thinks rural whites in Ohio just didn’t turn out.  Neither does AllahPundit, who offers some exit poll numbers.  But Charlie Martin thinks maybe so. And see David Mason in the Washington Post today:

Evangelical America has been flogging Mormonism as Satan’s own retail outlet for decades. But the suddenly ubiquitous appearances of the word cult on the eleven o’clock news and in ostensibly serious political conversations in the early primary days gave legitimacy on the national stage to the characterization of me as a glassy-eyed, reclusive loon from whom the neighborhood alley cats run in fear.

One thing for sure: the major media and establishment political analysts won’t touch this with a ten-foot pole.

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