Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion

The Virginia GOP’s shrinking white evangelical base

Virginia gubernatorial 2013If you want to know why Republican Ken Cuccinelli lost the governorship of the Old Dominion yesterday, look no further than white evangelicals. Four years ago, when Republican Bob McDonnell won, they constituted 34 percent of the electorate. This time, it was 27 percent.

In Virginia these days, over 80 percent of white evangelicals vote Republican regardless of the candidate. Eighty-three percent of them voted for McDonnell in 2009 and Mitt Romney in 2012; 81 percent voted for Cuccinelli (with two percent hiving off for the Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis). Meanwhile, non-evangelicals voted for McDonnell’s Democratic opponent Craig Deeds 55-44, for President Obama over Romney 64-35, and for Terry McAuliffe over Cuccinelli 61-31.

In 2009, McDonnell was able to maintain his evangelical base while attracting a sufficient number of non-evangelicals to win in a landslide. But even if Cuccinelli had not picked up a larger percentage of the non-evangelical vote, he would have won narrowly had the proportions of evangelical and non-evangelicals been what they were four years ago.

There’s every reason to think that the proportion of the white evangelical vote in Virginia will continue to shrink. The bottom line is that the future looks bleak for hard-shell social conservatives like Cuccinelli running for statewide office.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


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  • Don’t you love spin? What a myopic and incorrect view of reality. Cuccinelli almost won despite being abandoned by the GOP and out spent significantly. That should scare the Dems. Let’s hope it doesn’t and they pay the price for their hubris.

  • Nothing but good news. The GOP takes a hit and white evangelical Christians are on the decline in Virginia and else where. That means this country will one day be the great country it strides to be.

  • Cuccinelli got splattered because Northern VA’s economy has a major Federal Civil Service component to it. They got PO’ed at Republicans for shutting down the government during that last hissyfit.

  • I think you mean “drivel,” Frank. But be that as it may, your point about the lack of GOP support for Cuccinelli is worth pondering. My guess is that it wouldn’t have gotten many more white evangelicals to the polls, and that it would have had to run against Cuccinelli’s own campaign in order to make him more appealing to moderates.

  • The “Cooch” was toxic. GOP operatives begged Gov. Christie to go to Virginia and campaign for him, but he wanted nothing to do with him–not that Christie would have helped him with evangelicals.