Evangelical voters are again playing a key role in the 2008 presidential election, causing both major political parties to redouble their efforts to court the important voting group.
Dave Jeffers, the author of Understanding Evangelicals: A Guide to Jesusland, spoke to The Christian Post this week about how evangelical voters think and what they are looking for in next U.S. president.
CP: What is Jesusland?
Jeffers: It actually came from a disparagement that I found on the Internet after the 2004 election when the primary reason given of why people re-elected President Bush was values. So immediately after that there was this map called Jesusland and it showed the United States and Canada. Jesusland is basically the heartland of the United States.
What I was doing [in the book] was trying to explain to people what motivates evangelicals to vote the way they do and why we take stance on certain issues because it just doesn't seem like people understand who we are and why we vote and take the stance we do.
So that is where it came from. I didn't come up with it on my own.
CP: Many people have commented that evangelicals are not a monolithic group – there are conservative, liberal and centralist evangelicals – how is it possible to know how evangelicals vote when they are not one group?
Jeffers: The first thing I tried to do in my book is explain who are evangelicals because you are right, there are so many definitions and so many types of people who call themselves that. I go with the traditional view of evangelicals, those who believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, salvation comes only through regeneration through Jesus Christ, and that we are commanded to go forth and spread the Gospel.
You put those three things out there and many people who describe themselves as evangelicals might not own up to all three of those points.
I tried to narrow it down and that is when I said there are nearly 7 million evangelicals who did not vote in 2004. That was based off of that definition of a more narrow, conservative form of evangelicalism.
CP: How did you find out there was 7 million evangelicals that didn't vote?
Jeffers: I went to the Barna Research Web Site and it had its own definition of a broader born-again Christian and what he described as evangelicals. Of that group of evangelicals, 80 percent that fell in that group voted in 2004. So there is a 20 percent of a more traditionalist evangelical that did not vote.
I looked at the numbers and did the math and it came out to 6.75 million, nearly 7 million evangelicals that didn't vote in 2004.
CP: Do you know why these 7 million evangelicals didn't vote in 2004?
Jeffers: I couldn't really find a lot of information on that. But I would imagine that
80 percent is quite high (evangelicals); if we had an 80 percent voter turnout in America that would be phenomenal because we only had 55 percent total turnout in 2004.
I'm sure apathy had something to do with it. Some people are probably not pleased with the war. Many evangelicals are to the point now they won't vote for the less of two evils. They are tired of plugging their nose and some folks stay away for that reason.
That is why in 2006, I would guess the number of evangelical Christians that did not vote is close to 10-11 million because they were not happy with the choices and primarily what the Republican Party was doing in 2006.
When the Republicans lost control of both houses in Congress in 2006, many conservatives, Republicans, and evangelicals stayed home out of frustration.
CP: In your opinion, what are these evangelicals looking for? In other words, what do candidates have to do to gain the support of this important voting constituency?
Jeffers: Number one, the litmus test is the abortion issue. There so many people that will not vote for anyone who is pro-choice. Even if you say you oppose abortion personally but you still stand on pro-choice, then you will not get a traditionalist evangelical's vote. It is not going to happen. Like it or not that's the truth.
Because the foundation of our country is life and the constitution protects life. Whether that is born or unborn it is still the same. That's the first thing.
The same sex "marriage" issue is huge. If you don't come out and stand up for traditional marriage, and I am not talking about civil union but traditional marriage, and stop the homosexual agenda then you are not going to get their vote. If you are not a friend of Israel (pause), well I think foreign affair there is probably a little more room and leniency.
Economic – I believe what the Bible says about if a man does not work he shall not eat. He doesn't say if he can't work, if someone is hurt or circumstances come. We understand they need help once in a while, but that is not the government's job that is people's job, churches should go and help.
The first and foremost is the abortion issue and some try to downplay that or get away from that but that is the bottom line.
CP: President Bush seems to have all these qualities. Why is it that some evangelicals are still apathetic or unhappy with him?
Jeffers: In 2004, he probably got one of the best voter turnouts in the evangelical group, so in fact, they are the ones that put him in office.
But in 2006, with the immigration issue, some of the Supreme Court justices nomination – primarily Harrier Miers – I would say those are the two big issues that really set folks off.
Evangelicals are conservatives. If you get behind a candidate that an evangelical would support, almost every conservative would support that person. Especially in 2006, people were fed up – you saw the revolt in May last year on the immigration issue. That was a large group of evangelicals that was part of those who called Congress and said, don't you dare pass this bill.
I guess the thing is that we are tired of being lied to and told to us what smells is not smelly. We are common sense folk people and when you sit there and try to tell us something isn't amnesty when it clearly is, not only are you not listening to what I'm saying but you are insulting my intelligence. Clearly that comprehensive immigration bill was amnesty.
The difference between Reagan – people argue that he had that [amnesty in immigration reform] – well Reagan called it amnesty. And he had conditions on it. And unfortunately Congress did not fulfill their duties in paying for all the measures that would keep immigration flow down. Then when they came out, including President Bush, and accused us of being bigots, that was like one of the last straw.
And so many folks were mad and stayed home in 2006. And I will tell you it shocked me. I really did not think that was going to happen. I actually believed that evangelicals and conservatives would still come and vote so we could keep both houses of Congress. I miscalculated the angst of evangelicals and the conservative base.
CP: There are some evangelicals who point to the Old Testament and its mandate to care for the aliens and strangers in the country. How would you respond to these evangelicals who hold the opposite view as you on the immigration issue?
Jeffers: They are misquoting it [the Bible] because when it was speaking about aliens and foreigners they were people who were allowed to be in their country. Also back then it is hard to say, "Ok, we have these clear borders." A nation today has border and they have the rule of law.
When you violate borders and you violate the rule of law then that is not biblical. I don't care how you want to wrap it up in the compassion blanket. Am I compassionate? Absolutely. But is it compassionate to enable bad behavior. And I don't think it is.
I am not against immigration. I am pro-immigration. I am a second generation American. My mother is a first generation American and my grandparents emigrated from Portugal. My grandfather and grandmother met here, both immigrants and they worked really hard and made a good life for them and their family.
My grandfather could not read a lick. He took his citizenship orally; he had a great memory. I would read to him the news. He would listen to the news and have someone read to him the paper because he stayed up on news. He thought being an American is the greatest thing ever and I guarantee you he would not be for what is going on because there is a right way and there is a wrong way.
The Bible also says, "Woe be to the nation who declares good, evil and evil, good" and breaking the law is not good. That is just plain and simple. They are breaking the law.
I'm an elder in my church. If a family comes to me and the father needs some counseling because he messed up his finances, well I'm going to show him the right way to do things. I am not going to keep throwing money at a bad habit. I have to show him his behavior is why he is where he is at. You don't reward bad behavior.
CP: A big issue right now is the evangelicals coalescing behind Gov. Mike Huckabee. What is your opinion on this? Do you think he represents what evangelicals are looking for?
Jeffers: I think it might be [that growing numbers of evangelicals will support him]. But more and more people are stopping to take a closer look at his record. I think part of it was just the momentum and the fact that he was addressing issues that are near and dear to our heart.
[But] we as a voting block have to be just as careful as any other voting block to not be pandered to. Just because the candidate says the right thing and wants to change things [we have to ask] what is it that he wants to change and what is it that he stands for.
I agree with helping people with a better life, but how do you want to go about it? I think one of his problems is he tends to rely more on the government than most conservative evangelicals are comfortable with. So I think the more scrutiny he gets, especially in the last few days during the debate, the glitter is starting to fade a little bit on him.
So I think they are probably still going to get behind him because of his values. I think he is definitely going to pull many, many evangelicals because of his values.
I for one am not sold though.
CP: Is there anything you like to add?
I would encourage people to get my book - both for people who don't consider themselves evangelicals and for those who do consider themselves evangelicals. I based everything on the Bible so it isn't Dave Jeffers thinking only. I attack all the big issues that we are facing and show it in light of what scripture says. It is a primer, i a quick read and will give you a taste of where we are at and why we take the stance we do.
Dave Jeffers is a retired Army Master Sergeant who served on active duty for 22 years. He is also a Sunday school teacher, a lay preacher, and a military instructor in his home state of Florida.