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How many evangelical votes can McCain afford to lose?

by Brad A. Greenberg

June 11, 2008 | 9:43 am

I’ve written recently about John McCain’s outreach to evangelical Christians, that oft-mentioned Holy Grail voting bloc that propped up George Bush in 2000 and reelected him (after Iraq got ugly, no less) in 2004. (Disclaimer: I am an innocent member.) McCain hasn’t played as well, which is to be expected because it’s difficult to imagine any politician being embraced so genuinely, but he does have that anti-abortion trump card, and already is running close with Barack Obama in national polls.

Which raises an important question: What portion of the evangelical vote does McCain need to capture to move into the White House?

Christianity Today’s attempt at answering this after the jump:

A Rasmussen poll in May pegged evangelical support for Republican candidate Sen. John McCain at 69 percent, compared with 28 percent for Obama. Evangelicals’ strong Republican affiliation has been fairly constant in recent history. In the last five presidential elections, Democratic candidates have never earned more than 33 percent of white evangelicals’ votes, according to John C. Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. That year was 1996, when President Clinton won reelection against Republican Sen. Bob Dole.

The last time a Democrat nearly captured the evangelical vote was 1976, when Governor Jimmy Carter earned 48 percent and carried the South, according to the National Survey of Religion and Politics. Evangelical support for Republicans topped out at 77 percent for President Bush’s reelection in 2004.

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A Republican drop from 77 percent to 67 percent could swing the 2008 election, Smidt said. If McCain’s support among white evangelicals falls below 67 percent, Green said, that would be a “political earthquake.”

There is some belief, voiced by Beliefnet’s Steven Waldman in this May op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, that Obama’s popularity with younger evangelicals, and his campaign’s ability to mobilize their vote, “could make the difference between victory and defeat.”

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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