Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion Politics

Iowans prove me right!

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The author

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Yes, the Iowa caucuses were a YUGE win for me. By stomping on Donald Trump, Ted Cruz proved me right and by finishing in a dead heat with Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders proved me half right. As I say, a YUGE win against the odds.

OK, so maybe the caucuses were not all about ME. Maybe they were about MY ANALYSIS.

I said the key to Cruz’s victory would be white evangelicals, and that was totally the case, thanks to an even YUGER than usual turn-out of those folks. In 2008, they constituted 60 percent of GOP caucus participants. In 2012, they were 57 percent. This time, it was 65 percent.

Cruz won 34 percent of them, as compared to 22 percent for Trump, 21 percent for Marco Rubio, and 12 percent for Ben Carson. That 12-point Cruz plurality amounts to twice his four-point margin of victory. In a word, Iowa’s conservative Christian machine got the job done for him.

But it doesn’t make him the evangelical paladin of 2016. In 2008. Mike Huckabee had the backing of 46 percent, with no one else in the field over 20 percent. Against Rubio and Trump, Cruz has yet to close the sale with that crucial component of the GOP base.

On the Democratic side, it’s harder to demonstrate my claim that Sanders would do better because of the rise of the Iowa Nones. That’s because the Democratic entrance poll didn’t ask a question about religion (or lack of it).

But there’s good indirect evidence. Sanders piled up his biggest margins among the least religious demographic cohorts: young voters (70 points), single men (36 points), 30-44-year-olds (21 percent), and the very liberal (19 points).

At 24 percent, Iowa has just a slightly larger-than-average proportion of Nones than the rest of the country (22.7 percent). If he can keep up the excitement, Sanders will do well in high no-religion states. In the Super Tuesday Bible Belt, not so much.

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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  • Organization pays off in Iowa caucuses. This makes Sanders’ tie more impressive. I was at an inner city Des Moines precinct, where Sanders was creamed 6-2, & not impressed with his organization.
    Besides myself (a sturdily mainline Presbyterian and longtime political radical), I know the religious affiliations of only two other attendees: The Quaker friend I sat next to on the Sanders side, and of our state rep, an African-American imam who was for Clinton. I suspect that the black vote split among religious lines: the church vote for Clinton, the less religious for Sanders.
    Superior organization also explains the Republican result. As “ramshackle” as the Sanders campaign was (to quote the Guardian) it was far superior to the Trump ground game.