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After a grueling election cycle from which the GOP emerged with a net loss of eight seats in the House, two seats in the Senate, and no White House, one might expect Republicans to reconsider their view that the electorate has given a solid mandate to conservative hardliners. But no: From the fiscal cliff talks (where only 29 percent of Americans approve of the work GOP leaders have done), to the inflexible stance on guns post-Sandy Hook amid an eight year high in public calls for better gun control, the party seems to be largely in denial about where the policy mandate lies. And that, in turn, highlights a longer-term problem: The right-wing base is less vital than it used to be. The challenge can be seen most evidently in a movement I know from personal experience: the religious right.
To be sure, the movement remains a major player. The politically active core of the conservative Christian block, white evangelicals, still compose 26 percent of the voting population nationally, equal to the portion of African-American, Asian, and Hispanic voters combined and they are up 3 percent from their 2004 numbers. Just 30 percent of those voters cast their ballot for Obama this past November (compared to Clinton’s 36 percent in 1996, and Jimmy Carter’s whopping 41 percent in 1976).
However, let’s take a look at another fact: evangelicals have increased primarily in their strategic strongholds. In Iowa and Ohio, the white evangelical voting population went up by 5 percent from 2004. The South is as (if not more) evangelical as ever, most notably in Mississippi, where white evangelicals increased by 2 percent from 2004 to 2012, going to a whopping 50 percent of the entire voting population and Alabama, where white evangelical voters went up by 4 percent.
During primary season, evangelicals often make up the majority of Republican voters in these states. In my home state of Georgia, for instance, 68 percent of Republican voters were evangelical. In Alabama, the figure was 80 percent. Florida: 47 percent. Iowa: 57 percent. And in Ohio, evangelicals made up 49 percent of Republican primary voters.
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