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Religion and Politics in the 2008 Race


For more on the role religion may have in determining our next president, we've called John Green. He's a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and often helps us sort out these issues.

John, good morning again.

JOHN GREEN: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So let's set aside the fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon for a moment. He's reaching out to evangelical Christians and that makes him like a lot of Republican presidential candidates in recent years. Is that evangelical Christian vote as important in 2008 as it has been in some other recent elections?

GREEN: Well, certainly in the Republican primaries, which will be well underway this time next year. Evangelicals and other social conservatives will be very important. A lot of the early primaries are in places like South Carolina, where evangelicals are numerous will vote in Republican primaries.

So in terms of the Republican nomination, they are a very important group. Now exactly how important they'll be in the general election next year remains to be seen. It'll depend a lot on who gets the nomination.

INSKEEP: Well, you wonder about this because a lot was made of the evangelical vote in 2004, later people wondered if it was really that significant. And then in 2006, Democrats seem to succeed in getting voters to focus on a different set of issues, their issues rather than conservative Republicans' key issues.

GREEN: Well, the evangelicals are a very important part of the Republican coalition. So they're likely to matter to some degree in any event. But a lot really will depend on what issues are in the forefront of the debate. If social issues are very prominent, then they may play a somewhat bigger role because it will be easier for candidates to mobilize from around those issues. But if the issue again then changes to other matters, they may not play quite as big a role.

INSKEEP: Are you basically saying either the issue is Iraq, which then you have a certain kind of election, or people manage to change the subject to something else?

GREEN: You know, I think that's a good way to look at it. But it may not be Iraq, it may be the economy and may be the environment. It's a little bit early to determine what exactly that issue agenda will be, and it's the issues that engage religious voters.

INSKEEP: Are Democrats who've acknowledged not being very good at all in reaching out to religious conservatives getting any better?

GREEN: You know, I think they were trying very hard. All the major candidates - Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, Senator Edwards - are working very hard to reach out to religious voters. They're talking a lot about their faith, trying to connect their issue positions to religious values. This may be important in the very competitive Democratic primaries next year, but it may be even more important in the general election, where Democrats would like to do better than John Kerry did in 2004 and perhaps win a close election.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about one possible Republican candidate, Rudy Giuliani, who's stepping closer, the former mayor of New York City. Now there's a possible Republican candidate who does not have a lot of issue positions that would automatically appeal to social conservatives.

GREEN: That's right. And being a former mayor of New York and having pretty liberal positions on a lot of the social issues that evangelicals and other religious conservatives care about will be a challenge for Mayor Giuliani. That doesn't mean he can't win the Republican nomination, but it does mean that he'll have to find another way than trying to get a majority of the social conservative vote.

INSKEEP: Some people might have said that it would mean that he couldn't win. Now you're saying that things are - have things changed slightly, that he does have a chance?

GREEN: Well, things may have changed. The issue agenda may be a bit more complex. Not all the Republicans are social conservatives. There are lots of other kinds of conservatives in the Republican Party. And also, we're looking at a crowded field where there are a lot of people competing for the conservative religious vote. And in that context, another type of candidate might be able to do quite well.

INSKEEP: Mr. Green, always good to talk with you.

GREEN: Good to talk to you as well.

INSKEEP: John Green is a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. And by the way, you can find the results of public opinion polls on politics and faith at


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