ARLINGTON, Va. (ABP) — A political consultant who received national attention for religious outreach for Democrats in 2006 said this year's election results show the party cannot afford to ignore faith and values voters.
Eric Sapp — who in 2008 co-founded the Eleison Group with Burns Strider (Sen. Hillary Clinton's faith-outreach director in her 2008 presidential campaign) — wrote in the Huffington Post that Democrats learned the peril of ignoring the values language that resonates with large numbers of religious voters when they lost both the presidency and congressional seats in 2004.
After that, Sapp said, Democratic candidates began in earnest to court faithful voters, and the results were overwhelming. Democrats saw major gains in their share of the White Protestant and Catholic votes in the next election, and particularly in states where parties and candidates made faith outreach a priority.
Based on that success, Sapp said, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee decided to make faith outreach a key component in the 2008 election. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton expanded on the work as Democrats swept into office by huge margins.
"Unfortunately, once Democrats took power, instead of building on our success, we went back to the political strategies that had failed us in the past," Sapp observed. "Funding and staff were routed away from faith and values work and directly almost exclusively into base turnout. And the results were disastrous."
Compared to 2006, Sapp said Democrats nationally this year saw a 14-point drop in white Protestant support, another 14-point drop with white evangelicals and a 20-point decline with Catholics.
Democrats did 10 points worse with white Protestants compared to 2008, 14 points worse with white evangelicals and 20 points worse with Catholics.
Sapp lamented that fewer exit polls asked this year about faith questions, but Pennsylvania did, allowing for at least one direct comparison.
"Pennsylvania had one of the strongest faith outreach programs in '06 and did virtually no outreach to faith voters this time around," he wrote. "Tonight in Pennsylvania, we saw a swing toward Republicans of 20 points with white Protestants and 18 points with Catholics compared to '06 (exits didn't ask about evangelicals)."
"It's become clear that Democrats ignore faith voters and the powerful values narrative that has worked so well for us in the past at our peril," Sapp concluded.
Jim Wallis of Sojourners, a progressive evangelical leader who has encouraged voters to support biblical values like justice and concern for the poor, also wrote for the Huffington Post, observing that most voters this year came out cast ballots against candidates and policies rather than for them.
"There was very little values narrative in this election," Wallis said. "And there was almost no attention to the faith community and its concerns. But the issues we face now are profoundly moral questions. We have work to do."
Meanwhile, best-selling author Frank Schaeffer opined that one reason Republicans won this year is "because many of their supporters have already given up on this world and are waiting for the next."
Schaeffer, whose late father, Francis Schaeffer, was a key founder and leader in the Religious Right, said the Left Behind theology propagated in 16 novels by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye is both a reason for and symptom of "hysteria" that grips so many conservatives in the Republican Party.
Believing that Americans live not just in "hard times" but rather the "end times," Schaeffer said, fuels fringe views like President Obama is the anti-Christ and his election heralds the imminent Second Coming of Christ.
Convincing folks that Armageddon is on the way "is perhaps not the best recipe for political, economic or personal stability, let alone social cohesion," Schaeffer said.
It also "may also not be the best philosophy on which to build American foreign policy," since it views history climaxing with global war involving Israel.
Schaeffer said the philosophy fits with the new Tea Party candidates who appeal to voters based on revenge and vindication.
"Jenkins and LaHaye provide the ultimate revenge fantasy for the culturally left behind against the 'elite,'" he wrote. "The Left Behind franchise holds out hope for the self-disenfranchised that at last soon everyone will know 'we' were right and 'they' were wrong. They are waiting for Jesus to do to the world what the Tea Party just did to America."
Schaeffer is currently promoting his book, Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism), which came out in 2009.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.