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You Would Be Amazed At How Little Some People Know

There are all sorts of possible explanations for it.  Taranto gives us two useful ideas to start with: One is that the religious leaders don’t actually exercise as much power as we’re constantly hearing.  Another is that the religious right is actually far more thoughtful in their political picks than they’re often given credit for.  As a variation on that, I’d suggest that the religious right just isn’t as monolithic a group as it’s often characterized. Suggestions that they always act in concert, lurching along like some troop of zombies, forget the myriad regional and personal differences amongst religious, socially conservative voters.   ~Peter Suderman

I agree with Peter that there are all sorts of explanations for why some evangelical voters may say they prefer Giuliani right now.  One of the explanations may be that there are Republican and other voters ignorant enough to believe that Rudy is himself a born-again Christian and therefore “one of them.”  I am really not kidding. 

According to Diageo/Hotline’s February poll, 17% of Republicans, 14% of independents and 13% of Democrats say they would describe Giuliani as “born-again” or “evangelical.”  If those numbers are reliable (and Hotline’s numbers usually are), that represents a lot of people who know nothing about Giuliani and who instead are probably imposing their hopes (“Hurray, America’s Mayor is an evangelical!”) or fears (“That no-good authoritarian is an evangelical!”) on him.  Interestingly, Giuliani does the “worst” of the six big candidates in this area, except for Romney, since roughly one-fifth of those polled think that all of the others could be fairly described as evangelical.  Hillary, born-again?  17% of Republicans would agree with that label and 26% of Democrats, who would presumably be better acquainted with Hillary in all her complexity (ha!), say the same.  Maybe some Democratic voters think “evangelical” means “she believes in God.”  Kudos to the guys at Hotline for thinking to even ask this question about “evangelical” identity, which seems so bizarrely unnecessary to ask for almost the entire field (except for Brownback, Huckabee and Tancredo) and yet reveals all kinds of things about the people being polled that we would never know otherwise. 

These are poll results that convey the kind of staggering ignorance of large swathes of the voting public that makes me feel vaguely terrified of elections.  This is not a fairly technical policy question like, “Does Tom Vilsack want to index Social Security benefits to prices or to wages?”  Lots of people might not get the right answer to that one and not be considered fools.  But this is simple labeling: evangelical or not evangelical?  Even allowing for a broad definition of evangelical, it is very hard to think of any of the six top candidates as being correctly labeled with either of these names.  McCain, born-again?  19% of Republicans think so.  Roughly one out of every five or six voters cannot figure out this most basic detail for any of the major candidates except for the one whose religion has become a major focus of media attention.  Even then, 7% of all voters think Romney is an evangelical!  These are people either fooled by his “I share your values” shtick, or they are really not paying attention, which means that their statements of candidate preference at this stage are virtually worthless (except to the extent that we in the chattering classes reify these meaningless preferences into “momentum”). 

So, consider that for a moment and reflect on the kind of stupefying voter ignorance that it represents.  Meanwhile, let me address these two tropes that have been making the rounds in the Giuliani/Christian conservative discussions.  These tropes are 1) support for Giuliani among evangelicals can be explained by saying that evangelicals are savvy, sophisticated multi-issue voters and not the single-issue yahoos they are supposedly made out to be; 2) evangelicals are diverse and won’t all necessarily respond to a candidate in the same way.  The first one simply makes no sense to me.  The second one makes a good deal more sense on its own, but when it is marshalled in support of the first one it creates problems.  Let me explain.

I say the first idea makes no sense to me because I don’t accept the idea that it demonstrates sophistication and savviness that voters are overlooking their core beliefs in support of a candidate whose chief qualification, as far as they know, is, as The Onion might put it, that he was mayor of New York on 9/11 and no one else can say that.  This is the height of unserious, celebrity-driven voter preferences.  This shows these voters to be not the complex, priority-balancing realists of pundit legend, but easily-led (yes, I really do want to use that word) and gullible people who will chant the name of any politician if they have heard it often enough in a positive context.  God help us, but many of these people may have concluded that Giuliani is their guy simply because they have seen him on TV more often than they have seen the others.  Yes, I do think it is that bad. 

So it would make sense to note the diversity of evangelicals and social conservatives if the evangelicals and social conservatives supporting Giuliani were doing so based on his record as a reforming mayor or based on his (very dubious) promises to appoint “strict constructionist” judges, but if they are supporting him based in misconceptions (i.e., that Giuliani is an evangelical) or simply because of his celebrity the real diversity of these voters becomes almost irrelevant.  If anyone is lurching along zombie-like it would have to be the voters who are rushing en masse to the banner of Rudy because they have heard his name somewhere and get a good feeling when people talk about him.

A lot of smart people are working very hard to come up with serious explanations for Giuliani’s early popularity (leadership! national security! tough-guy persona!), but all of these clever explanations rest on a base of knowledge that the actual Giuliani-preferring voters don’t possess.  Virtually no one outside of the Five Boroughs knows squat about Giuliani’s mayoral administration in any great detail, and furthermore nobody who didn’t live in New York at the time really cares all that much.  I fear we have reached a stage in our nation’s political life where the dynamics of presidential campaigns may be better understood by the sort of celebrity-watching media of the Us Weekly and In Touch variety.  As informed citizens with a strong interest in these things, political pundits of all stripes really want to believe that issues, resumes, qualifications and, well, the actual facts of a candidate’s personal history have something to do with whether voters support this or that candidate.  It may simply be the case that we are horribly, horribly wrong about so many voters that it renders all of our analysis moot.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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