Theo-Political Election Post Mortem

According to nationwide exit polls during the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 2, voters, by a slim plurality, identified moral values” as the most important election issue. “Moral values” was chosen as most important by 22% of polled voters, compared to 20% who chose the economy, 19% terrorism, and 15% the war. (Of course, that means 78% did not consider “moral values” the overriding election issue.)

Seventy-nine percent of those who cited “moral values” as their number-one interest voted for George Bush.

According to CNN exit polls, a majority of Catholics and Christians voted for Bush. He received 52% of the Catholic vote, and 54% of the Protestant vote.

CNN found that two-thirds of self-avowed regular church-goers, comprising 40% of the electorate, voted for Bush. By comparison, two-thirds who never go to church, comprising 15% of the electorate, backed John Kerry, the Democratic candidate.

As was true in 2000, the strongest indicator of voting for the GOP ticket was being a regular church-goer. An Annenberg survey found that 71% of born-again white Protestants gave Bush a favorable rating, up from 63% in 2000. Born-agains make up about 42% of the nation.

The national GOP ran ads in two states blatantly warning that if Democrats won, the bible would be “banned” and gay marriages allowed. Eleven state referenda to outlaw gay marriage, which may have attracted more conservative voters, passed.

Although the GOP took pains not to repeat Patrick Buchanan’s 2002 primetime GOP convention gaffe of openly calling for a “cultural war,” a closed gathering for “Family, Faith and Freedom” was held at the 2004 GOP convention. New York Gov. George Pataki introduced Bush at the Republican National Convention by saying: “He is one of those men God and fate somehow lead to the fore in times of challenge.” The creator of Christian “stealth” campaigning, Ralph Reed, played a key GOP election role.

Also employed by the Republican National Committee was David Barton, founder of “Wallbuilders,” a Texas propaganda group seeking to tear down the wall of separation between church and state. Barton worked as a political consultant for the past year, speaking, as he put it, “below the radar” at some 300 RNC-sponsored lunches for local evangelical pastors, according to

The Christian Coalition, a group called Catholic Answers which produced “Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics” and many other religious groups distributed “voter guides” to churches.

The Christian Coalition’s annual DC convention featured a workshop conducted in the US Senate building. At that annual conference, Rev. Jerry Falwell vowed that evangelicals control the GOP and Bush’s fate. Films and books trumpeting Bush’s religiosity were released as campaign strategies to mobilize the church-based vote.

Bush’s chief political strategist, Karl Rove, aware that 4 million evangelicals stayed home from the polls in 2000, partly because of revelations of Bush’s drunk-driving conviction, openly courted the nation’s 30 million evangelical Christians.

The GOP’s drive to identify and organize “friendly congregations” was exposed by The New York Times in June, when it received information through a Pennsylvania church informant. However, that campaign was nationwide and little follow-up was reported by media.

Many US Roman Catholic bishops and archbishops openly instructed parishioners to vote against pro-choice candidates. Bishop David A. Zubik of Green Bay, Wis., placed a blurb in his church bulletin urging Catholics to vote in the presidential election and base their votes on opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. He specifically rejected Roman Catholic John Kerry’s view that politicians must distinguish between personal religious views and public views: “When you go to your local polls, don’t leave god outside.”

Catholics for a Free Choice filed a complaint with the IRS asking it to revoke the tax-exempt status of the Denver Archdiocese, after Archbishop Charles Chaput used “code words” to make it clear which presidential candidate Catholics were expected to vote for. A similar complaint was launched against Colorado Springs Catholic Bishop Michael Sheridan.

Rev. Tom Cronkleton, of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Cheyenne, Wyo., told parishioners before the election that voting for pro-choice candidates would be a mortal sin.

The election returns are expected to refuel attempts to pass the Congressional Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act, which would exempt churches from IRS regulations barring tax-exempt entities from engaging in partisan politics

The IRS issued an advisory against electioneering by churches in April, reminding churches not to endorse, donate or fundraise for candidates. The verdict is still out on how many flouted that advisory.

Freedom From Religion Foundation