By Rick Plasterer
How Christians and social conservatives are to continue after a devastating election with demographic trends against them was the topic at an hour long session at the Family Research Council on Wednesday, February 6. Dr. Andrew Essig, Associate Professor of Political Science at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, and Eric Teetsel, Executive Director of the Manhattan Declaration spoke regarding the components of the electorate that affect social conservatives in politics, and how social conservatives may look to the future.
Dr. Essig spoke first. He indicated that the Catholic vote is “one of the best bellwethers out there” of the direction of the American electorate. Catholics, considered as all those baptized into the Catholic Church, are diverse, and “because of that diversity” tend to indicate the direction of the electorate. The Catholic vote may be broken down either by regularity of church attendance (with occasional attenders more liberal), or by ethnic group (white versus Hispanic, with Hispanics voting far more in line with liberals and against positions taken by the church leadership). Most Catholics “are not aware of the non-negotiable issues” of the church’s hierarchy, and these issues (abortion, traditional marriage, embryonic stem cell research, etc.) tend to be far down the list of priorities for Catholic voters, with the economy the number one issue, Essig said. But while he had expected a greater shift in the Catholic vote after four years of Obama’s presidency, there was only a relatively slight shift away from Obama (50% in 2012 versus 54% in 2008). Obama increased his Hispanic support (76% versus 72% in 2008), apparently due to the issue of immigration.
Key to winning the Catholic vote is appeal to the “Catholic moderate” (characterized by the attitude “I’m mostly Catholic”). This part of the Catholic electorate tends to be pro-abortion and pro-contraception but against “big government.” These voters are critical to winning the Catholic vote, and the Catholic vote is crucial to the large electoral states, most notably Ohio. They do not seem to have been affected by the fact that Obama broke his promises that faith-based organizations would be unaffected by health care reform, but need to have emphasized to them that the government assumption of responsibility for public welfare under Obama is destroying the civil society of private and religious associations which have attended to meeting human needs. It is in these organizations, rather than government programs, that Christians have the opportunity to obey Jesus’ command to “love thy neighbor.” Additionally, this voluntary action is more effective at actually bringing needy people up from misery than the government, and voluntary civil society is vital to democracy. Essig proposed that this is a message that conservatives can use to reach out to “Catholic moderates” and Hispanics, noting that “as the Catholic vote goes, so goes the Presidency.”
Eric Teetsel spoke next, and said that a “style and substance” approach was as important in looking to the future as changing demographics. He noted that Ronald Reagan spent years honing his skills as a communicator, and he was characterized by an “unwavering belief in truth.” His leadership style was characterized by “storytelling, moral clarity, and statesmanship.” This gives a sense of authority, and “authority is an attractive quality.” Ultimately, Teetsel seemed to be advocating a commitment to an irreducible truth as the proper conservative approach to the current political situation. Conservatives have the task of selling conservative values to a generation believing in life’s futility, and conditioned by Hollywood. Like Essig, Teetsel pointed out that conservative values involve real love of neighbor, through direct action, rather than through the government. The Romney campaign did not succeed by its emphasis on the economy, and effort to avoid the social issues, such as marriage. Despite claims that social forces are trending against conservatives, the change of public opinion concerning abortion shows that “trends change in both directions,” Teetsel said. Additionally, while the 2012 election was devastating at the national level, at the state level it was “a banner year” for conservatives. Michigan becoming a right to work state and the victory of Scot Walker’s policies in taming Wisconsin’s public service unions were noted. Teetsel said we should not “quit on what’s true,” but instead take Churchill’s advice that “we ought never, never, never to give up.”