It's politics 101. If you don't spend time talking to a group of voters, engaging them, or showing them they matter, you tend to struggle with them on election day. And you struggle all the more when the group you ignore are faith and values voters because they make up such a larger portion of the electorate and because the values language that works with them resonates strongly with most voters across the ideological and political spectrum.
This was a lesson Democrats had seemed to finally have learned after another Presidential loss and relegation to the minority in 2004. Following that disastrous election when the best indicator that a person would vote Republican wasn't Party ID but whether they were a regular church attender, Democrats finally began investing in outreach and communication with America's faithful.
Democrats did faith work differently than Republicans had in the past, focusing on authenticity of narrative and humility in how they brought faith into the public square. And the results were overwhelming. Democrats saw major gains nationally in their share of the White Protestant and Catholic votes, but most striking were the races where state parties and specific candidates made faith outreach a priority (and there were exit polls to measure success). In PA, OH, MI, Democrats saw gains above the national Democratic average of 21 points with White Protestants, +17 with white evangelicals, and +6 with Catholics in a year where national Democrats made major gains with Catholics.
Based on that success, the DCCC decided to make faith outreach one of the key components of their extremely successful Red to Blue program in '08, and both Obama and Clinton expanded on this work as Democrats swept into office by huge margins last cycle.
Unfortunately, once Democrats took power, instead of building on our success, we went back to the political strategies that had failed us in the past. Funding and staff were routed away from faith and values work and directly almost exclusively into base turnout. And the results were disastrous.
Compared to '06, Democrats nationally saw a 14 point drop in White Protestant support, 14 point drop with White evangelicals, and a whopping 20 point decline with Catholics. Compared to '08, Dems did 10 points worse with White Protestants, 14 points worse with white evangelicals, and 20 points worse with Catholics. White Protestants made up 44% of electorate and Catholics made up 20% this cycle.
I can hear some people saying, "well of course we did worse with these groups...Democrats did worse in this midterm election than we did in the last." A fair point, but if we compare our national faith losses to our total losses this year, Dems saw a swing of 10 points toward Republicans with all voters compared to '06. So these losses of faith voters are between 40%-100% larger than the overall losses Democrats suffered.
The best comparisons though are to look at specific states. Sadly, the exit polls this year did not ask faith questions in MI and OH, but they did ask questions in PA which allow for a direct comparision. PA had one of the strongest faith outreach programs in '06 and did virtually no outreach to faith voters this time around. Tonight in Pennsylvania, we saw a swing toward Republicans of 20 points with White Protestants and 18 points with Catholics compared to '06 (exits didn't ask about evangelicals).
It's become clear that Democrats ignore faith voters and the powerful values narrative that has worked so well for us in the past at our peril.