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WINNING NUMBERS: African-Americans in line to vote in Miami on Oct. 28 as part of the “Souls to the Polls” effort to mobilize Christian voters.
Associated Press/Photo by J Pat Carter
WINNING NUMBERS: African-Americans in line to vote in Miami on Oct. 28 as part of the “Souls to the Polls” effort to mobilize Christian voters.

Demographic hope

Politics | A sobering 2012 election has political conservatives searching for ways to regain lost ground. Evangelical minorities might be a place to start

Issue: "Divided we stand," Dec. 1, 2012

For Harry Jackson, opposing the reelection of President Barack Obama meant crossing a group that delivered a higher percentage of its votes to the president than any other bloc in the 2012 election: black voters. Exit polls reported 93 percent of black voters supported Obama.

Jackson—the African-American pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md.—was blunt in his pre-election assessment of Obama: He told his congregation the president embraces an “anti-gospel” agenda, and he warned black Christians not to “celebrate your race over grace.”

Among many, it’s not a popular message.

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When Jackson joined conservative groups in Maryland this fall to oppose a ballot initiative to approve “gay marriage,” Pam Spaulding—a black blogger at the popular—took aim.

“The loudmouth carpetbagging preacher tried to pressure Congress to act and review the DC City Council’s vote to recognize marriage equality there,” Spaulding wrote. “And whenever the National Organization for Marriage or the Family Research Council wants a rent-a-homophobic-Negro to put before the cameras, Harry is Johnny-On-The-Spot.”

On the morning after President Barack Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney—and Maryland voters approved “gay marriage”—Jackson admitted his efforts had been blunted. “It’s not an easy road, and I do get ostracized to some degree,” he said in a phone interview. “But there is a price to be paid when you’re at the tip of the arrow.”

For some evangelical leaders in minority communities, being at the tip of the arrow means opposing candidates minorities often support. And it means supporting causes—like immigration reform—that other conservatives resist.

This presidential election offered a dramatic example: A slate of conservative and evangelical leaders in the Hispanic community failed to persuade often-conservative Latinos to oppose Obama in significant numbers.

While former Republican President George W. Bush won 44 percent of Latino voters in 2004, Romney won 27 percent on Election Day. (That’s five points less than Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential race.) 

Hispanics now comprise 10 percent of the electorate nationwide, and in swing states with large Hispanic populations, the opposition of Latinos may have been one of many factors that cost Romney the election.

It’s a conundrum growing worse for conservative politicians. And it’s perplexing for some Hispanic evangelical and Catholic leaders who say Republicans are losing a large swath of a pro-life, pro-marriage community they could be winning.

A Pew study from October 2012 reported Latino evangelical voters make up 16 percent of the Latino electorate, but a study that same month by the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference says Latino evangelicals make up about 28 percent of likely Latino voters. And though more Hispanics overall have embraced legalized abortion and “gay marriage” in recent years, Hispanic evangelicals remain staunch: A Pew Study in 2011 found 70 percent believed abortion should be illegal. (The same study reported 60 percent of white evangelicals held the same view.)

Meanwhile, a recent poll trumpeted 52 percent of Latino voters now support “gay marriage.” But the same study found 66 percent of Hispanic evangelicals oppose it.

One thing most Latinos agree on: They support immigration reform. Though it wasn’t their highest priority in the recent election, it’s a dynamic that continues to influence the vote.

That means Romney made at least two mistakes with Hispanics, according to some leaders: He didn’t promote reasonable immigration reform, and he didn’t emphasize the socially conservative issues many Hispanic voters embrace—even when the Obama campaign touted extreme positions on abortion and “gay marriage.”

In the post-election, soul-searching days ahead, examining both of those dynamics may be crucial for Republicans looking to win over a growing voting bloc.

When it comes to black voters, the hill is far steeper for Republicans, even among socially conservative blacks. And while evangelicals like Harry Jackson don’t expect soon to convince substantial numbers of black voters to support Republicans, he’d like to see the GOP make a more serious effort to win some of the bloc—an effort Jackson and others say didn’t happen this year.

Republican leaders aren’t the only part of the equation: Some Christian leaders emphasize white evangelicals should engage these issues as well. Finding a way to embrace minorities—and their concerns—could be key not only to strengthening political conservatism, but could strengthen the broader Christian community as well—something that might be especially important during a second Obama term that bodes more challenges for Christian concerns.

Immigration reform wasn’t the predominant issue on most voters’ minds on Nov. 6. Exit polls showed the economy ranked first.

Indeed, Obama’s reelection came as a surprise to many, considering the country’s nearly 8 percent unemployment rate and $16 trillion debt that grew worse under his administration. The president also presided over an unpopular healthcare law that threatens deepening fiscal woes.


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