How strong is the religious vote?Published 11:00pm Thursday, May 10, 2012
On the morning of the March 13 Alabama GOP Primary, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore rode his horse to the polls to vote. As the day wore on it became apparent that he was riding a wave of evangelical support to be returned to his old job.
When Moore hopped off his horse at his voting place in Etowah County, he was hoping to regain the Chief Justice position he lost in 2003. That year a state panel expelled him from office for failing to comply with a federal court order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments that he placed in the Alabama Judiciary Building in Montgomery. Moore accomplished his mission. He remarkably defeated two opponents without a runoff who outspent him over six to one. Moore garnered an amazing 51% of the primary vote. Mobile Circuit Judge and former Attorney General Charlie Graddick got 25% and incumbent Chuck Malone received 24% of the vote.
Moore became known throughout the nation as the Ten Commandments Judge for his bold stand to refuse to remove his monument. His stand reminded many around the country of George Wallace’s stand in the schoolhouse door to thwart integration attempts at the University of Alabama in the 1960’s. Both of these famous stands cast a negative perception of Alabama.
We are indeed different than the rest of the country. Our mores and legacy lend themselves to our favoring segregation of the races and when the issue of integration came to the brink of the forefront of national attention over 90% of white Alabamians loved Wallace’s symbolic stance. In the same vein, probably 90% of the good people of Alabama believe that the Ten Commandments are good moral laws.
We in Alabama and indeed our sister southern states of Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi have been more concerned with race and religion than economic issues when it comes to national politics. For example, Rick Santorum, who became the candidate of the right wing GOP on social issues, carried Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi and would have carried Georgia had their native son, Newt Gingrich, not been in the race. We also voted for Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister from Arkansas, four years ago.
Our zeal for the religious conservative candidates like Santorum and Moore was more pronounced than any in the nation this year, probably because of Moore’s presence on the ballot. The first smoke signal went up around 5:00 p.m. when the Associated Press reported that Alabama was experiencing an extremely large evangelical fundamentalist voter turnout. This exit poll picture proved very accurate and would portend our outcome.
These fundamentalist evangelical voters propelled Moore to a Lazarus like political resurrection. Moore appeared dead politically. He had been drubbed soundly in two races for governor over the past four years. His miraculous resurrection is without a doubt the political story of the year. This resurrection comeback kid scenario may be one of the best stories in Alabama political history. Moore gives all the credit to God and there is no pragmatic explanation to refute Moore’s analogy. He has been nicknamed Moses for a decade. He may now take the mantle of Lazarus.
A good many middle to upper income Alabamians, especially those in urban areas, were shocked by Moore’s victory. They lamented that it cast a negative image on the state. They posed the question to me, “How can this happen?” I turned the question back to them, “Did you vote in the Republican Primary?” They looked at me sheepishly and replied, “Well, no I didn’t.”
The explanation is simple. Moore’s supporters are older white rural folks primarily in North Alabama. They turn out in GOP primaries for president to voice their conservative religious beliefs. Whereas, the majority of upper income young professional urbane voters, especially in Birmingham and Huntsville, skip the primary. They lean Republican and will vote Republican in the General Election but tend to not participate in the primary. Therefore, Alabama may not be as conservative or religious as we may be perceived around the country. We still have a higher percentage of religious fundamentalist than other states. However, it is not as pronounced as some people may think.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.