Religious conservative leaders faithfully turned out their vote again for Republicans this year but enhanced their targeting efforts substantially by digital technologies.
Those who have been involved for decades in getting evangelical Christians to the polls believe the upgrades may give them an edge in 2016 to counter the digital tether that Democrats created so successfully to mobilize young and minority voters in the past two presidential elections.
“Democrats have been able to get away ignoring the evangelical vote because Barack Obama has overperformed with minorities and young voters,” Faith & Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed said. “If the Democrats don’t have that advantage with a different presidential nominee in 2016, they’ll have a serious problem.”
“If the youth vote is 20 percent of the total vote and Democrats aren’t winning it by 2- or 3-to-1, the inescapable logic of the math will come back to haunt them as it did when George W. Bush ran successfully,” Mr. Reed said.
A fourth of all voters Tuesday identified themselves as white born-again Christians or evangelicals and three-fourths of them voted for Republican candidates, exit polls showed.
The reliability of exit polls has been uneven over election cycles, but the relative proportion of evangelical voters and their propensity to vote Republican has remained essentially the same.
The impact of white evangelical Protestants and Catholics who attend Mass four or more times a month has remained a constant for so long that secular Republicans and social liberals in the party generally and often reluctantly agree that they can’t win without the help of the religious right.
“The religious conservative vote was critical to Republican electoral success this time, as it has been in past cycles,” veteran Republican Party pollster John McLaughlin said.
Whether Republicans win or lose a presidential election or midterm elections, about a fourth of all those who vote are evangelicals or conservative Catholics. The difference is voter intensity.
When Republicans in general are enthusiastic about voting for their presidential nominee or their Senate or House candidates, they come out in greater numbers overall than do Democrats.
“Without a muscular turnout of evangelical voters, Republicans cannot win in many races,” said Mr. Reed, who headed Pat Robertson’s now-defunct Christian Coalition in the late 1980s and the 1990s.
At a National Press Club briefing in Washington on Wednesday, Mr. Reed said Iowa Republican Joni Ernst would not have defeated Democrat Bruce Braley for the U.S. Senate, and Republican David Perdue would not have avoided a runoff with Democrat Michelle Nunn in Georgia, if not for the Christian conservative vote.
Mr. Reed said Georgia ranks third in the nation in the number of Southern Baptists.
Another evangelical organization had its own extensive voter turnout program at work Tuesday.
One such program was designed to directly reach 1,000 to 1,500 pastors in several battleground states and conservative Christian churchgoers who rarely vote, said Steve Michael, national field director of the “Stand Up Sundays” series for David Lane’s American Renewal Project — which former House Speaker Newt Gingrich dubbed “Pastors and Pews,” a name that has stuck.
The $2 million Pastor and Pews’ turnout program used the latest campaign technology to identify evangelical voters with a low propensity for going to the polls. It sent direct mail and used volunteers to knock on doors, make phone appeals and issue voter guides.
Did evangelicals put more effort into their turnout program this year than in previous elections?
“No more effort than typical,” said Mr. Michael. “The difference was modern technology and tools were used to help target individuals.
“Election night showed that with increased sophistication in our approach, we have real ability to move the evangelical constituency,” he said. “This new approach to an old problem will have tremendous impact on 2016 elections, as long it the modes and methods used to motivate and cultivate continue to be reworked and refined as new technology becomes available.”