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Mainline Protestants and Latino evangelicals surge toward Obama

By Jeff Severns GuntzelTuesday, Oct. 21, 2008
With Sarah Palin on the GOP ticket, there’s been a lot of talk about the evangelical Christian vote in this year’s presidential election. But what about mainline Protestants?

Mainline Protestants are supporting Barack Obama, perhaps an unintended consequence of Republican efforts to  energize evangelical Christians.
REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Mainline Protestants are supporting Barack Obama, perhaps an unintended consequence of Republican efforts to energize evangelical Christians.

When Barack Obama picked Joe Biden a parade of pundits sat before cameras and microphones to talk about the Catholic vote. When John McCain picked Sarah Palin talk shifted to the evangelical Christian vote. You don’t hear much about the mainline Protestant vote. That might change.

Mainline Protestants represent 18 percent of the population of the United States. A 2000 study showed Minnesota with the fourth largest population of mainline Protestants — just over one million. We ranked just behind Ohio, ranked third. Pennsylvania ranks first. They are battleground states all. And among them there are nearly 4.5 million voters. Somebody somewhere has to be talking about the mainline protestant vote.

One of them is Steven Waldman, president and editor-in-chief of and former national editor of U.S. News & World Report. “This used to be a solidly Republican group,” Waldman writes in the Wall Street Journal. “In 2004, they went for President George W. Bush 54%-46%. This summer, John McCain was leading Sen. [Barack] Obama among these voters 43% to 40%, according to a study by John Green of the University of Akron.

“But an ABCNews/Washington Post poll released [last week]…showed Sen. Obama now leading among Mainliners 53%-44%,” he adds, “indicating that the undecided voters are breaking heavily for the Democratic candidate.

“The Mainline shift to Sen. Obama may be partly an unintended consequence of Sen. McCain’s efforts to energize evangelical Christians, including through the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Though fiscally conservative, mainline Protestants are socially liberal — so they would be unimpressed by the Republican Party adopting the most antiabortion platform ever.”

In Minnesota, mainline Protestants are roughly 33 percent of the faith community. “That’s considerably larger than the evangelical community,” says Rev. Peg Chemberlin, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches. “We don’t vote as a bloc. There is a diversity among us and we’ve been ignored because of that.”

The economy and morality issues around the war are central issues for mainline Protestants, she adds, “just like they are for all of the American populace — Sarah Palin may just be the tipping point in terms of mainline Protestants saying, ‘Look we’re here too and we think about these things somewhat differently than the typical evangelical Protestant.'”

Another exodus: Latino protestants
Addelle Banks, a reporter for Religion News Service, highlights another protestant exodus from the Republican base: Latino Protestants. By no means mainline, this group of mostly born-again evangelicals are profoundly swayed by immigration policy.
“The survey of 500 Latino Protestant registered voters found that 50.4% favored Democrat Barack Obama, while 33.6% favored Republican John McCain. Ten percent were undecided,” reports Banks. “Those figures compare dramatically to post-election surveys that found President Bush won 63% of Latino Protestants in 2004 and 32% in 2000.”

“Immigration is a profoundly religious issue for Hispanic evangelicals,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “We will vote our faith and we will vote our values.”

Jeff Severns Guntzel writes about the arts and other topics.