News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Underestimating the Xtians

Friday, January 04, 2008

Underestimating the Xtians

Conventional wisdom of the talking heads is that Huckabee's win seems a fluke. Many of these commentators on the left, like Chris Matthews, say that unlike Iowa, the rest of the country has less evangelical voters. Therefore, Huckabee will not do as well and is probably just a one-hit wonder.

Chris Matthews laughed at Huckabee's lack of current affairs knowledge last night on MSNBC. I think Huckabee might have the last laugh here. For it seems that Matthews is as blind as a bat when it comes to understanding the breadth and depth of the evangelical population. For instance, just in April, the NYT reported:

Johnson and his fellow Christian right activists speak of "values voters," but most of these voters are evangelical Protestants. Evangelicals have a disproportionate part in what pollsters call the "God gap" between the two parties. They make up a quarter of the population—around 75 million people—and a far higher percentage of them are frequent churchgoers than are mainline Protestants and Catholics. Furthermore, the group as a whole has for a decade voted Republican in much greater proportion than the other two groups. In 2000, 68 percent of evangelicals voted for George Bush; in 2004, 78 percent of them did. Last summer, polls showed that the war in Iraq, corruption, and the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina had brought the evangelicals' approval ratings for Bush and the GOP down by twenty points in just two years. But on the last Election Day they turned out in their usual numbers, and over 70 percent of them voted for Republican congressional candidates. White evangelicals have, in other words, become the GOP's most reliable constituency, and they normally provide about a third of the Republican votes.
Where do people like Matthews think all of these people live? I imagine that he and others think they are distributed throuout backwoods and rural America, so-called Red America. It is my experience, though, that the evangelical movement is far and wide and includes urban areas as much as those traditionally believed by the Left to be "religious."

Perhaps someone has done more in-depth demographic analysis of the geographical distribution of evangelicals. I am open to correction and perhaps will do some research on it myself in the next few days.

Matthews and others like him seem to have no clue about Huckabee's appeal. I think Howard Fineman gets it, He even coined a phrase that I imagine he will begin using in his articles, :the politics of intimacy." Huckabee is a charming, disarming person in his interviews. He diverts attention away from polarizing stereotypes and runs hits at the center of the humanity of his questioners.

This is a new take and powerful tack on how to deal with the media and seems especially suited to media-centered coverage. For now, I will coin my own term for Huckabee's approach. He is the "Being There" candidate. Much like Chauncey Phillips in the novel and film of that name, he evokes a sense of sincerity and disingenuousness that belies cynicism so rampant among the media pundits.

Update via Washington Note: Not exactly an objective view but effective anti-Huckabee ad.

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