Where did all the Evangelicals go?

“Evangelical Christians” have been considered a constituency within the Republican Party ever since the days of the Moral Majority and the Reagan years.  Prior to that time, they were not really considered a voting constituency, and it was widely believed that many of them shunned the political process because they viewed it as potentially corrupting, or that it was something that was better left alone, “rendering unto Caesar,” so to speak.  Ironically, the awareness of the presence of “Evangelicals” was heightened by Jimmy Carter, whose self-identification as a “born-again” Christian attracted a lot of interest and attention, as well as criticism, from the media.  However, it was the entry of “Evangelical Christians” into the electorate that turned the margins, particularly in the Presidential elections of 1980 and 1984, opening the door for Reagan’s election.

Since that time, the turnout of Evangelicals has been credited with victories for some, and the lack of turnout has been blamed for the defeat of others.  It has become clear that a majority of self-identified Evangelical Christians tend to support Republicans, and that core of support, which is estimated to be somewhere north of 60% of those who fall into that classification, has become one of the most influential constituencies in the GOP.

The failure of Evangelicals to turn out in large numbers in 2012 is one of the main reasons cited by Republicans for Mitt Romney’s defeat.  The claim is that about 4 million fewer Evangelicals turned out in 2012 than in 2008, failing to support Romney because of his Mormon faith, or because he just wasn’t really “their” candidate.  That’s not really consistent with what the exit polls showed, but that’s the claim.  And one candidate, Ted Cruz, has even suggested that 54 million Evangelicals still don’t vote, and somehow need to be activated for the GOP to win in 2016.

I’m not sure what sources he uses for his numbers, but I don’t think he’s anywhere near the ball park.  In fact, as the polling data, and religious survey data both show, the number of people who identify as members of Protestant churches in the US is in decline, as is the number of those who are identified as “Evangelicals.”  And my point here isn’t so much to lament the decline of their political clout as it is to point to some inherent problems that are indicating a decline of church participation in the country in general.  There are several reasons why Mr. Cruz’s numbers don’t add up.

How is the term “Evangelical Christian” defined? 

The Association of Religious Data Archives says that there are 26,344,933 people who are members of churches that are considered part of Mainline Protestantism in America, and 39,930,869 members of churches that are considered “Evangelical” Protestants.  The means of distinguishing the two is primarily related to the emphasis placed on the “social gospel,” with Evangelicals being somewhat critical of those they consider “Mainline.” Evangelicals are much more involved in activity which they see as witnessing, and preaching the gospel aimed at getting people to convert to Christian faith, while Mainline churches are more involved in activity which is aimed at addressing social problems and not necessarily involved in winning converts.

Many Evangelicals are involved in non-denominational churches and groups that don’t show up in religious surveys or censuses.  Non-denominational churches that identify as either conservative, or Charismatic, have a collective membership of about 12 million that is probably not all added into the figure reported by ARDA.  If that’s the case, then those who are identified as “Evangelical Christians” among Protestants in America, probably number somewhere around 50 million.  And if they are registered to vote at percentages that run 8 to 10 percent higher than the general population, which is what the surveys and polls show, that means there are about 32 million voters who are classified as Evangelical.  And that number is consistent with the percentage of the electorate that self-identified as “Evangelical Christian” in exit polling in 2012.

More Evangelicals Voted in 2012 than in 2004, or 2008

According to Ralph Reed, head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which would probably be the top Evangelical PAC in the country, the number of Evangelicals who turned out in 2012 was a record, higher than the 2008 percentage that turned out for John McCain.

“Evangelicals turned out in record numbers and voted as heavily for Mitt Romney yesterday as they did for George W. Bush in 2004,” observed Reed, the day after Romney’s defeat.  “That is an astonishing outcome that few would have predicted even a few months ago.”

So where will Cruz get more Evangelical voters?

The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation’s largest Evangelical denomination, and counts among the members of its cooperating churches Republican Presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and former candidate Lindsay Graham, as well as John McCain.  My friend and fellow blogger Bob Cleveland, who writes Eagle’s Rest (http://www.mightyfowl.blogspot.com/) has pointed out on more than one occasion the SBC’s irregularities in keeping track of its membership.  The SBC reports that it has 16 million members in approximately 45,000 churches located in all 50 states, but primarily in the South.  However, on any given Sunday, the collective worship attendance of those churches is between 6 and 6.5 million.  In addition to that figure, the SBC reports that more than 7 million members of its churches are considered “non-resident,” that is, they have an address not in the same general area as the church to which they belong.  Most are probably not active in church, and many are, at this point, probably either dead, or just phantom numbers that can’t be connected to a name.   Bob’s guess is that about 60% of the membership of most Southern Baptist churches is inactive, not attending, and generally not supportive of the denomination’s ministries.  He compares that with other churches in other denominations, in which 50% of the membership falls into the inactive category.

If Bob’s figures are correct, and I see a lot of evidence to support what he says, then the number of Evangelical Christians in America is probably closer to 30 million than it is to 54 million.  If you figure that among the 30 million is a percentage of children not yet old enough to vote, and calculate a slightly higher percentage of registered voters among the eligible membership, you get a figure that supports the claims of the Faith and Freedom Foundation, and that is consistent with what the major network exit polls indicated in 2012.

Mitt Romney got a higher percentage of the evangelical vote in 2012 than any candidate since George W. Bush in 2004, and a higher percentage of the white vote than any candidate since George H.W. Bush in 1988.  He lost.  In both the exit poll analysis, and in the Faith and Freedom Foundation’s Analysis, the increase in the number of younger voters under 35, and the percentages in which they supported President Obama, made the difference in 2012.

That makes a couple of statements.  From a political perspective, the number of younger voters continues to increase, and they have become the new constituency for the Democrats that Evangelicals once were for the Republicans.  But that’s not as concerning as the fact that there are relatively few people in that particular age demographic that consider themselves Evangelical Christian.  That’s the alarm bell that should be ringing, and its more important than figuring out how to get more Evangelical votes in an election.

Notes:

1.  The figures provided by the Faith and Freedom Foundation reflect their definition of “Evangelical,” and there’s no specific information included to determine how they arrived at that definition.  Given the percentages that they report in support of Romney and Obama in 2012, it is likely that they are excluding the membership of historically African American denominations in that total.  While those denominations are generally more conservative theologically than their white counterparts, and because of their intricate involvement in the African American community, produce more converts per capita, they are also highly involved in social action, which, in the opinion of those within Evangelical political organizations, categorizes them as Mainline, or separates them out as a different category of “Historically African American, rather than Evangelical.  The largest African American denominational grouping is Baptist, most of whom would be considered Evangelical from a doctrinal and theological perspective, along with another large African American denomination that is Pentecostal, the Church of God in Christ, while the other large denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, is Mainline. With 96% of the African American vote going to the President in 2012, that explains the discrepancy between the high percentage of “Evangelical” voters going to Romney in 2012 as reported by the Faith and Freedom Foundation, and the lower figure that virtually all of the major television networks, including Fox News, reported. 

2.  There is an observable perspective among conservative candidates like Ted Cruz in particular, that because there is a clear majority of support for their political position among those in the Evangelical constituency, the minority that doesn’t support them is “wrong.”  Almost every philosophical argument comes down to the Republican platform’s plank regarding abortion.  The insistence that this issue trumps all others, and that somehow candidates are going to be held accountable to the platform hasn’t worked out in practice.  Many Republican candidates simply ignore the pro-life issues once they get into office, and some of them are outspoken opponents of it.  There’s no party apparatus that makes candidates tow the line on issues.  The voters do that, and there are many pro-choice Republicans who are in office because Evangelical voters cast ballots along party lines, instead of examining the candidate’s views.  The next big issue with religious overtones is that of same-sex marriage, which many Republicans also support.  Many Republican candidates for office openly cite the fact that they know Evangelicals are one of their most reliable constituencies, and that they can pretty much take their support for granted.  And they do.

3.  I believe that the decline in Evangelical membership and participation, which is getting close to the percentages that Mainline denominations have been experiencing for years, is due in part to the corner that they have painted themselves into from a political perspective.  It’s hard to expend the kind of energy and support for political issues that Evangelicals have spent, and continue to maintain commitments to missions and evangelism.  It’s also much harder to reach people who think that your primary purpose for conversion is to convince them that your political perspective is the right one.  Whether Evangelicals are directly involved or not, the kind of language and approach that is taken in politics by many conservatives, including vitriolic personal attacks, name calling, the “our view at all costs” approach, and all the mud-slinging, is a turn-off for most Americans.  The majority of the country’s population doesn’t attend church regularly, or at all, and depending on whose research you look at, between half, and two thirds of today’s Millennial generation has no connection to a church or faith at all.  But the church isn’t having any success at all in reaching into that population.  The data, whether secular polls or religious surveys, points to a shifting here and there within the church, but to a downward trend in winning new converts and gaining members.  Churches are not even able to hold on to most of the children raised within their walls.  In the 1980’s, the figure was 70% of those raised in church, and active in their childhood and youth years dropped out by the time they were 30, and only about half of them came back.  That figure is now up around 80%, and the return rate is fractional.  They are not coming back. 

I’m not opposed to Evangelical or Christian involvement in the political process, and in fact, I believe that it is essential for the survival of the Democratic Republic that is the United States of America.  But a partisan expression of that causes polarization, and limits the effectiveness of the church as it remains true to its mission and purpose.  Evangelicals, and those who see that a secular, humanist government is also opposed to the social gospel, operating as an independent political entity, would be a powerful force, influencing the government from both sides.  As long as most of the American church resides in a polarized, political climate, it will continue to experience decline.  And while I’m not a prophet, it’s not really hard to see what will happen as the current generation reaches adulthood, with somewhere between 8% and 12% of their number counted among active church membership, as they raise the next generation. 

 

 

Happy New Year, 2016

This is my 58th New Year’s eve.  I don’t remember a whole lot of the early ones.  In fact, I was probably nine or ten before my parents would let me stay up until midnight.  When I was in high school, our church started having “Watchnight” services followed by a fellowship breakfast, and those are really the first New Year’s eve celebrations that I can actually remember.  You might not think that it was much fun, spending New Year’s eve in a Baptist church fellowship hall where there was a lot of adult supervision, but I wasn’t really the type to find a party with a lot of contraband booze, and if the church hadn’t had something going on, I’d probably have stayed home, or gone on a date to a movie, or something like that.  While I was a student, my world operated on an academic calendar, so the last day of school generated more excitement, and, well, that hasn’t changed much, since I’m still in education, and I still operate on an academic calendar.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen as much doom and gloom around a new year as I have about the approach of this one.  That’s probably a perception that has come about from the increased presence of social media in our lives.  We have contact with more people, so we hear more griping.  There are a few people who pull out some of the standard cliches in response.  Jeremiah 29:11 shows up a lot, since most of the people I’m in contact with on social media are Christians.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m not belittling the message of Jeremiah 29:11.  Jeremiah, of all of the Jewish prophets, takes us to the very depths of despair, allowing us to feel, through his words, the grief and broken heart of God over his people, and then, in places like this specific verse, can bring us back to the heights of joy.  And in its context, these particular words have been particularly promising and comforting to me.  They are far more than just a cliche, to be pulled out when others around you are negative and critical.  Likewise, the New Testament verse about all things “working to the good for those who love the Lord” gets used as well.  There’s a lot more meaning there, too, than just as a cliche to counter a negative attitude.  But I won’t get into that here.

For many Christians, each succeeding new year is a sign of the times, a calendar date to check off on their Armageddon calendar as the rapture approaches, with a list of Biblical prophecy matched up with current events as proof of their perspective that we are living in the last days.  There was a time when my eschatology was pretty settled, mostly the result of a collection of futurist books I’d read.  If I learned anything from seminary, it was caution about drawing a conclusion, or having a completely settled eschatological perspective.  And while we are moving forward in time, inevitably toward the return of Christ, I don’t see the New Year, or the litany of problems that developed in the previous one, as specific signs of the times.  When has the world ever been able to resolve its own problems?  When will it?

Even in the relatively short history of our own country, there have been plenty of times, facing the arrival of a New Year, when the Armageddon calendar planning got a helping hand.  There have been many times when the future looked bleak, when current event seemed to line up with what the scripture describes, and when people were convinced that the rapture of the church was right around the corner, and they would see it in their lifetime.  Futurist eschatology is a relatively recent development in church history, from the nineteenth century, related to an era when a whole lot of world-shaking events were taking place.  It prompted some very strange movements and activities, including a group that became known as the “Millerites,” after the leader who actually predicted dates for the rapture and the second coming of Christ.  William Miller, a Baptist preacher, made not one, but two mistaken predictions of the date of the second advent, and in spite of the first mistake, which he explained away by citing Jewish and Roman calendar differences, continued to draw followers right up to his ill-fated second false prediction.  Even after the second failure, he still had plenty of followers who eventually codified their beliefs and doctrines, and formed a major denomination.

You can imagine the impact of events of such major historical significance as the Great Depression, and the outbreak of the Second World War must have had on the attitude toward the future as each new year approached.  American theology has developed the idea that God’s blessings are directly connected to both personal and collective prosperity, so the Depression certainly had an impact on how people felt about the future, and about God’s blessings.  With the idea that developed regarding a specific, and literal personage known as the “Antichrist,” there were plenty of people who thought, initially, as things developed, that Lenin, and then Stalin, personalized those kinds of characteristics.  And if you read most of the eschatology of the time, the name Adolf Hitler is frequently mentioned as a reasonable candidate.  The Apostle John tells us that the spirit of Antichrist is anyone who denies that Jesus is the son of God, doesn’t apply the term to a specific individual, and doesn’t use it in Revelation, but rather in I John, his epistle to the church.  That’s a broader definition than that which is generally accepted in futurist eschatology, I think.  But it certainly makes it a whole lot easier if you have such a clear definition, to apply it where it is appropriate and accurate.  It doesn’t leave a lot of room for speculating about who, or what, Antichrist is.  Clearly, the term is not intended to be applied to a specific politician or world leader, especially one that we don’t particularly like.

So as I look ahead to 2016, I won’t make a prediction as to whether or not this will be the year that Jesus returns.  I’ll allow that it’s a possibility, not because of any specific events that are happening, or because declaring that the times are bad is a backhanded way of slamming the politicians who are currently in office, but because the scripture does say that this is a matter of decision for a sovereign God, who isn’t going to clue us in as to what’s on his mind, at least in this regard.  I’ll look forward to a full year, and I’ll plan for it, after praying and asking God for his guidance in what he intends for me to do in it.  It’s also OK to have a pretty good idea, based on past experience, of exactly what that might be.  Predictability doesn’t mean you don’t trust God.  I happen to think it’s a pretty good sign that you do.

 

Living Close to Fear

“Do not be agitated by evildoers; do not envy those who do wrong.  For they wither quickly, like grass and wilt like tender green plants. 

Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely.  Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.”  Psalm 37:1-4, HCSB

“There is no fear in love; instead perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment.  So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love.  We love because he first loved us.”  I John 4:18-19, HCSB

Social media, cable and satellite news outlets, and access to information instantly has had an effect on our culture and society, and not all of it has been good.  We are almost on top of dramatic events when they happen, cameras may even be rolling and showing scenes before something is over, on the other side of the world.  That brings the event close, right into your living room, on your lap, in your mind.  We can relate to what we see, so it makes us vulnerable to fear.

The writers of scripture had a lot to say about fear.  It’s one of those concepts that, when translated from the original languages of the Bible into English depends a lot on the context in which it is used.  The idea of approaching God with “fear and trembling” carries with it the idea of ultimate respect, not only because of what he can do, but because of who he is, by nature, of the authority that he has, and of what he has done for us, whom he created.  Conversely, the kind of fear that terrorists generate is a perversion of the same concept.  It is a twisted form of respect that depends on their unpredictability and the perception that they want to create, through extreme actions that are counter to the respect for life that directly results from God’s creation of it.

It’s no accident that terrorists have become adept at the use of modern technology and communication.  That has been a vehicle they’ve used to enhance the effect of the fear they want to create, so that they can experience more immediate results.  They cannot win an ideological battle up front, nor do they have the resources to win by military conquest.  ISIS/ISIL has introduced the concept of an Islamic “caliphate” to terrorism, setting up a state to use as a means of gathering resources and having a base of operations to carry out their terrorism.  Though their approach is different than previous terrorist organizations have taken, the goal is the same.  They use terror to get their perceived enemies to abandon their principles and values in exchange for a sense of security.  In so doing, they achieve their ends.

Compared to air attacks and ground battles in the Syrian and Iraqi desert, the Paris attacks, and the shooting in San Bernardino, if it is indeed ISIS-directed, ISIS-inspired, or merely a copy-cat act, are small potatoes.  But if the public reaction to these events is any indication of the way people in the United States, and in Western Europe, are thinking, the terrorists may be losing ground in the Middle Eastern military fight, but it won’t take much to win the philosophical and ideological battle.  Here’s the evidence of that.

Many Americans, including government officials and politicians, are willing to completely abandon a fundamental core principle of American ideology, which distinguishes our nation from the rest of the world, in exchange for some nebulous idea of “national security.” 

Our national identity is inexorably linked to the concept and history that we have cultivated as a refuge for the oppressed and persecuted people of the world.  Even as children, when we read about people who were persecuted for their faith, or because they were a minority under a monarch or dictatorship, or because of famine, we automatically thought, “Why don’t they just move here?”  That’s a simplistic answer of course, but the bottom line is that the world believes that America is a nation that does not abandon the oppressed to their fate.  There have been times in the past when, because we are human, and we are prone to mistakes, we have allowed prejudice and bigotry to interfere with this principle, but the national will has always been to strive for this ideal.

Now, we’re hearing rhetoric about registering Muslims, putting Mosques under surveillance, and we’re seeing a rise in threats and attacks against Muslims in this country.  That should scare us a whole lot more than terrorism.  It’s time to study the biographies of Father Bernard Lichtenberg and Deitrich Bonhoeffer again, and take a look at history, and what happens when people are singled out for their religion or race.

The immediate access to information, and video images, along with the availability of internet technology seems to remove the ability to think, and to understand facts, and pushes people to react to rumors and propaganda. 

That’s frightening.  Look at the facts.

The Muslim population in the US is about a half of a percent of the total, with approximately 2.5 million adherents.  However, the US Muslim population represents as broad of a diversity of practice and belief as any group of Muslims in the world.  Many of them are here because of the US’s extensive involvement in the oil business, and a fairly significant percentage of them, almost half, are native born Americans of either Caucasian or African American descent, and have family roots here that go back for generations, many of them into the colonial days.

Conversely, hundreds of thousands of Americans live and work every day in countries with significant Muslim populations, and are, by comparison, safer there than they are in the US, where the statistics on deaths by shooting are comparably higher.  From teaching in a Christian school in Texas, I met many families who had lived for an extended time in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UAE, Qatar, and Kuwait, and remote places like Kazakhstan, and our school had a high percentage of students who were born in those places.

The idea that the Koran teaches Muslims to rise up and murder “infidels” can be argued from a literal interpretation of some verses, and those are places which fundamentalist, radical Islamic clerics rely upon to motivate their followers.  But from the evidence, it is clear that few Muslims of any branch of Islam take those passages literally, and interpret them as being relevant for their faith today.  If that were the case, living and working in Indonesia would be impossible, since there are more Muslims there than any other country in the world, and being in Saudi Arabia would be a danger that would actually outweigh the profit motive.  Wouldn’t it?

Are Christians abandoning scriptural principles to give in to fear?

It appears that might be the case in some instances.  There are Christian leaders who see what is happening, and are speaking the truth in love.  But these days, speaking truth that’s not politically correct and aligned with the political view that some church leaders and church groups have adopted as dogma can be hazardous.  I know Christians who will not speak to other Christians because they don’t agree on political candidates, or political positions, and as far as God’s word is concerned, that’s wrong.

The passions were inflamed, and the words were strong in support when Kim Davis’ religious freedom was apparently violated when she was jailed for not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as ordered by the courts in compliance with the law.  But it doesn’t seem that the same principle applies to American Muslims.  They can be subjected to violations of their religious freedom, based on the extreme actions of what is a relatively small handful of extremists, without the same consideration.

That is frightening.  Where does it stop?  If Muslims can be singled out as a group, and held accountable for the actions of a few extremists, then no religious group is safe from persecution.  The threshold will be breached, the principle broken.

I cited the first few verses of Psalm 37.  That is scripture, you know.  Do you really believe what the Psalmist says there?  Do you understand that the context in which that Psalm was written was every bit as intense, and occurred in a time that was far more dangerous to the writer and his nation than the problems we face now?

“Refrain from anger and give up your rage; do not be agitated–it can only bring harm.” Psalm 37:8, HCSB 

Do you really believe that?  I think, like Jesus’ words, “love your enemies…”, the scripture isn’t getting much attention among many Christians who post on social media.  And we’re seeing some Christians, including some pastors and church leaders, come up with some interesting convolutions when it comes to interpreting and applying the parts of scripture that address these issues directly.

When Americans abandon fundamental founding principles of the nation, the terrorists have achieved their goal.  When Christians abandon the truth of scripture in the face of fear, the enemy wins, and you are giving the kind of respect that only God deserves to those who use terror to get their way.

 

 

 

 

Much for which to be thankful

Of course, I’m thankful for my wife, my job which is also my ministry, my family.  I’m thankful for my health, which, though not great, is still manageable.  I’m going on two years cancer free, and that’s a blessing.  I’m thankful for my Gracie, my beautiful dog, who is a wonderful companion.

I’m thankful that I have a roof over my head, and plenty of food to eat.  And I’m thankful that this past week, my awareness of the needs of other people, not just for material things that I take for granted, but for the simple acknowledgement from me of their existence, was increased.  I’m thankful that opportunities have come up which have allowed me to put into practice my new awareness.

I’m thankful that, in the movement of human history, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been put in a place where I don’t have to make a run into a strange country to preserve my life, and be safe, risking the safety and security of family members in order to pursue a distant, almost impossible dream of freedom.

On this Thanksgiving Day, when we have so much for which to be grateful, I won’t abandon either my gratitude, or my principles and values, in the face of fear.

More Thoughts on the Syrian Refugee Issue

The identity of the United States of America is as a country that is a refuge from oppression and conflict.  We’re a land of liberty, the home of the free and the brave, the hope of mankind.  It’s a personal belief that I hold, but I believe the concept of “America” resulted from the pioneering spirit of the oppressed and persecuted people who came here as a means of escape, and to start a new life.  The toughness that was required to survive, and to build a new life produced character.  That character, blended with a strong faith in God, “Divine Providence” as the founding fathers referred to him, left a rich deposit of values that defined America as no other nation in the world had ever been defined, or has been since.

My Southern Baptist upbringing is responsible for my feelings about missions.  By extension, that has helped to develop a deep regard for peace, and a strong disdain for violence of any kind.  My background as a Social Studies teacher, with a passion for modern American and European history, blends in with those Christian convictions.  The end result of that is my understanding of an America as a refuge for the oppressed and persecuted, which is an essential core value that goes to the very character of the nation.  Most of us who are Americans today have ancestors who came here because they were oppressed or persecuted, and sought the promise of a better life by starting over and working hard.

It is very difficult for me to understand how fear, coupled with a heavy dose of misinformation, and blended with destructive partisan politics, can so easily cause people to even consider abandoning this core value, much less actually doing it.  We hear an awful lot about the faults of the mainstream media, but some of the things I’ve read and seen on social media, which is basically the same thing as gossip, are incredible in their inaccuracy, bigotry, twisting of the truth, and outright lying.  I’m not in favor of, as one post said, “Flinging open the borders and just letting everyone come in.”  No one is advocating for that.  In fact, in light of the size of the crisis, and the numbers of people who are involved, the world’s wealthiest country agreeing to accept 10,000 thoroughly vetted and screened refugees seems like a small issue, and a very paltry response.

Maybe some factual information is in order.

  1.  The US has already taken in, under existing quotas and immigration law, thousands of refugees from the Middle East’s recent upheavals, including Syria.  To date, there is no record of any Syrian refugee being involved in a radical Islamic terrorist attack in the US, or anywhere else for that matter.
  2. The US has, at several times in modern history, taken in huge numbers of refugees, screened them thoroughly, and allowed them to settle without much in the way of difficulty.  That’s partly because the screening process to be admitted to the US is so secure, and so rigorous.  Remember the fall of Saigon?  The Mariel Boatlift?  There were inherent problems with screening the Vietnamese to make sure that no Communist plants got in with the crowds, likewise with the Cubans, as Fidel Castro opened up his prisons and attempted to pour criminal elements into the US.  But we did it.
  3. In the wake of the Paris attacks, like 9-11, fear seems to be the driving force, and reason is being abandoned.   Why aren’t we clamoring for a shut off of refugees from Belgium, or shutting down airline flights from there, or refusing to allow people with Belgian passports into the US?  That’s where the Paris attackers came from, at least, the ones who didn’t already live in Paris.  They were a combination of Belgian and French citizens, most of them native born. The news that one of the terrorists came into the country posing as a Syrian refugee has yet to be confirmed by the French.
  4. Few Syrians are involved, or ever have been involved, in Radical Islam.  ISIS or ISIL is an insurgency that has welled up in the vacuum created by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq that deposed Saddam Hussein who was one of the stabilizing forces in the region preventing an Islamic insurgency.  The other upheaval is the Syrian revolution against the Assad dictatorship.  The Obama administration has hesitated to get involved in that conflict, because of the uncertainty of who we would be supporting against Assad.  Now we know.
  5. No doubt among some Radical Islamic elements, there is an expressed desire for world rule, and the destruction of democracy, Christianity, Judaism or any other world religion.  But it takes a very in-depth understanding of Muslim history, from the time of Mohammed, to understand the idea of Caliphate as ISIS or ISIL is attempting to establish, and why.  And attempting to interpret the verses of the Koran that have been cited in support of those who want to believe that all Muslims hold this worldview requires much more than a surface reading of them.  Muslims don’t accept an English translation as authentic, and the key to understanding their language about “killing infidels” requires understanding how the Imams interpret the Arabic text.
  6. I’m not going to argue against the inevitability, or the high likelihood, that the United States will experience another terrorist attack.  The pressure never lets up.  We’re a big piece of geography with long borders and coastlines, and all of that is tough to control.  Donald Trump’s wall, notwithstanding, however, given what has developed in the world since 9-11, the fact that the US has experienced far less Islamic terrorism than other parts of the world is due directly to how our security has been improved and updated, to technology we have, and that most of our enemies don’t, or don’t even know about, and the amount of resources that the US puts into national security.  On a per-capita, per-person basis, we spend far more and have a much higher level of security than France, or any EU country for that matter.  And the political liability of budget cuts and policy that opened the door for the 9-11 attacks is high enough to be a motivating factor to keep security high, on the cutting edge, and in massive quantities for both Congress and the President, whoever he or she may be.

Terrorism isn’t aimed at winning by conquest.  It is aimed at winning by causing a shift in ideology.  It was never the intention of the Islamic revolution in Iran to take over the United States, but the Ayatollah Khomeini manipulated the hostage crisis in such a way as to intentionally damage Jimmy Carter’s re-election chances, and then claimed he helped Reagan get elected, and thus controlled who was the President of the United States.

These terrorists didn’t even attack the US, they were attacking France.  They might be tempted to think that it is quite easy to get Americans to abandon the core values and principles of the country if this one came about so easily.

 

The Loss of Christian Compassion

Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for him; do not be agitated by one who prospers in his way, by the man who carries out evil plans.  Psalm 37:7 HCSB

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus” inscribed on the Statue of Liberty

The fear from the Paris attacks of Saturday night is beginning to find its expression in the United States, and elsewhere.  Fear is the weapon that terrorists wield to make their point, to advance their cause and to get their way, mainly because it works.

One of the seven terrorists involved in the Paris attacks, one, had been able to enter France through the corridor of refugees streaming into Europe from Syria.  One.  The others came in from neighboring Belgium.  It was an attack that would have happened regardless of the presence of that one.  But fear has a way of distorting perspective.

In relatively short time, the fear has crossed an ocean, and is finding expression in voices on this side of the water who are speaking out against receiving any Syrian refugees at all.  These are people who are fleeing the same terror that we are fearing, except that it is happening in their streets and in their cities, on the heels of a revolution that has already claimed lives, destroyed property and impoverished millions.  And here’s the even bigger irony.  Many of the American voices opposed to taking in Syrian refugees are Christians.  It’s disappointing to even make that statement, but it is true.  Do you realize that 10% of the population of Syria is Christian?  That many of these people are your brothers and sisters in Christ?  That they have been victims of persecution because of the revolution, and are now victims of ISIS, too?  And there are American Christians who want to slam the door shut and keep them out of the one country that the world looks to as a refuge from oppression and persecution, because of its Christian heritage.

Religious beliefs should not make a difference here.  But they do.  In spite of the noble poetic reference on the Statue of Liberty cited above, the United States has often been a very selective and exclusive refuge for those seeking freedom from religious persecution.

Remember Hitler?

Pernicious immigration policy prevented most European Jews wanting to escape Nazi persecution from getting into the United States.  The State Department used a number of policies, including strict quotas based on national origin, not religion, to block the entry of European Jews prior to World War II.  Jews jammed into Europe’s neutral countries, like Switzerland, Sweden, Spain and Portugal, where they were safe, but where their numbers eventually overwhelmed the government’s resources, and caused them to stop allowing others to enter.  Private resources from Jewish sources in the United States could have been provided in almost unlimited quantities to transport and house hundreds of thousands of Jews that were piled up in the neutral countries, opening up room for more to escape the Nazis, but the state department pulled out all the stops to prevent Jews from entering the United States.

Six million Jews died in the Holocaust.  The United States, the bastion of liberty, freedom and justice, managed to rescue somewhere around 100,000.  Between 1939 and 1941, when the US entered the war, the only way European Jews, in countries occupied by Hitler, could enter the US was under the quotas from their country of origin.  Most were in Poland, but the number of immigrants allowed into the US from Poland was miniscule.  Jews from Germany were limited to the quota of Germans allowed into the US, and most of those spots were taken by anti-Nazi German citizens who wanted out.  Following the lead of their northern neighbor, Latin American countries limited their acceptance of Jewish refugees.  Great Britain and Canada accepted more Jewish refugees than the United States, and so did Spain.  Tiny Portugal saved almost as many.

The state department hid behind the same excuse that is popping up in the calls for refusal of Syrian refugees.  We can’t let in all those Jews because the Germans may send saboteurs and terrorists in among them.  So you’re telling me that the United States, with its military resources, cannot equip its FBI and CIA, and its state and municipal police forces, with the ability to screen refugees?  After the fact, we determined that gross negligence allowed the 9-11 attackers in.  We haven’t experienced an attack since then.  There’s been a learning curve.  Perhaps an attack is inevitable, but whether it is or not, taking care of a few thousand Syrians isn’t going to make it any more or less likely.

Terror is a weapon that is used to force people to give in to fear, and in so doing, give up their values.  Take a look around.  Fear is causing the abandonment of Christian compassion, and of a core founding principle of this country.   Isn’t that what the terrorists are trying to do?

 

 

 

An Unusual Evangelistic Opportunity

No one should be surprised that a mass of refugees has pushed its way across Syria’s borders and out of the country toward safety elsewhere.  The civil war between the dictator Assad’s government forces and the various rebel groups had done enough damage and created plenty of upheaval, but the addition of the ISIS insurgency has blocked off the border to the east with Iraq, and pockets of ISIS control have increased the safety risks along with the shooting and bombing.  And realistically, Europe’s prosperity, combined with a cooler climate, make the prospect of living in a refugee camp infinitely more attractive than camping out in the bare, hot desert of Jordan or Saudi Arabia.

I may get a bit sarcastic here, but bear with me as I make my point.  I think it’s a good one, worth making.

As Syrian refugees by the thousands streamed into Eastern Europe, overwhelming small, poor countries like Kosovo, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Bosnia, where the ravages of war haven’t been completely repaired yet, either, Europeans reached out to them.  Of course, many of the people living on the Balkan peninsula are Muslim, and so reached out to their fellow Muslims as they moved north.  But there are also many Christians among the Syrian population, since more than 10% of the country was Christian at the time that the civil war erupted.

Europeans of all nationalities, including the Serbs, Croats, Greeks, Hungarians, Austrians and Germans in particular, collected resources and sent help.  The crisis did prompt some countries, especially those who were small and felt overwhelmed by the flood of people, to take steps to close off the refugee stream as well, but Europe, yes, liberal, socialist Europe with very few practicing Christians among the population, saw the humanitarian crisis develop, pulled together the resources to feed, clothe and house the massive numbers of people, and helped.  And they’re still helping.

One of the greatest needs, aside from providing basic services, is to relieve the crush of people on the European countries where they’ve taken refuge.  So, they look to the United States to help.  You know, us.  The country with the statue of Liberty and the poem that is engraved at its base, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…”  Well, where does the world always look when it needs help, right?

Not surprising, our government comes up with a plan to help relieve the crush of refugees by taking a pretty good sized number of them ourselves, including working out a way to get them across the ocean, far, far away from the troubles in their own country, and as a means of helping Europe, particularly Germany, Hungary and Austria, where most of the refugees have landed.  And, given the political mindset in our country these days, not surprisingly there is a strong, vitriolic, negative reaction to taking in Syrian refugees, on religious grounds.  Most of them are Muslim.  Taking in such a large number of Muslims will ruin the country and open the door to Islamic insurgency and Sharia law breaking out all over the US, right?  Keep them out.  We didn’t invite them.  After all, Muslims are violent terrorists, right?

Of course, the numbers we’re talking about aren’t that big.  I think its something like 75,000 altogether, not exactly a flood tide, or even comparable to the number who have flooded through small countries like Kosovo or Croatia, into Hungary and Germany.  Nor have any of these people exhibited the insurgent, radicalized tendencies of ISIS or Al Qaida.  In fact, these people are fleeing from that sort of rule of law, because they are just as much in danger from ISIS as they are from the Assad regime.  But that doesn’t seem to matter.  There are voices, some of them among the Christian community, being raised against allowing any Syrian refugees to enter the US.

Turning refugees away from America on the basis of their religious faith seems completely incongruous with our American heritage, and history.  We’ve done it before, because of pernicious and obtuse immigration policy that is too complicated to get into here.  Just look up and read the story of the ship the St Louis in the summer of 1939.  But this is 2015, and our government has opened the door to freedom, as it well should, given our resources and our heritage and history.

American Christians should be particularly anxious to help collect resources, and to serve these people when they come with welcoming, open arms.  Aside from the fact that such action is the only one I can think of in a situation like this that is consistent with what we claim to believe as Christ followers, it is an unusual evangelistic opportunity.  There are some Christians among these refugees, but most of them are Muslims, coming from a country, and an environment, where any sharing of the gospel has been highly restricted, and most of anything these people have heard about the Christian faith has been wrong, or from only a Muslim perspective.

All of a sudden, there are hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in European countries where there’s absolutely no restriction whatsoever on sharing the gospel, and they are in need in such a way that kindness shown to them would go a long way toward opening a door to at least being able to see the real Jesus, and real Christians.  Noting that Canada, our secular, socialist neighbor to the north, has opened a door to Syrian refugees not only to find freedom from fear in a camp somewhere, but to put their skills and education to use, and make a permanent home in Canada, if they choose.  That’s the sort of opportunity that Christians should be promoting, eh?

Fear and lack of understanding are enemies of freedom, which means they are restrictions on the forward movement of the Kingdom of God.  Here’s a real opportunity and a real calling for Christians in America to set aside the accumulation of resources for our own enjoyment, and do something positive to advance the kingdom of God.

Stop Whining, and Answer the Question Please!

Perhaps I’m old fashioned, and my expectations of political candidates are at odds with what is expected these days, but I think the GOP field, and the RNC, have made a calculated error in their recent criticism of CNBC’s moderation of their most recent debate, and their suspension of further moderation by the NBC network.  And while I understand the level of frustration caused by the lack of individual face and response time in televised debates, these are not paid infomercials for the candidates.  There are too many candidates, and that’s one problem.  But it seems like what the candidates want now is the opportunity to determine the questions in advance, and avoid having to answer on the spot, on their feet.  Silly me.  I thought that was the whole purpose of a presidential campaign debate.

We’ve long since abandoned the rules and form of debates when it comes to politics.  Enforcing the time limits, and the rules, and sticking to some kind of expected form for scoring and evaluation was never really the goal of a political debate, anyway.  The idea is to put candidates together so that people can see where they differ, and observe their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the responses.  For me, the best debates are those that take place once the parties have named their nominees, and the general election is coming.  These debates with candidates lining the stage, and each one getting perhaps five minutes, while the dominant candidates interrupt, and attract the attention away from others, aren’t doing much except frustrating everyone, and precipitating attacks on the stage, and then later on when the dominant candidates hog the interview time.

Personally, I think scattering the debates among several media outlets, to bring in a variety of questioning techniques and perspectives, was an excellent idea, and fits with what the party should be trying to accomplish in these days before the primaries begin.  The whining began early, when Donald Trump attacked Megyn Kelly and the Fox News debate team following the first debate which they moderated.  Fox News?  Really?  They weren’t exactly easy on the candidates, though the line of questioning was certainly much more compatible with the GOP’s expressed views, and the rest of the candidates were more comfortable with it.

At some point, the President of the United States is going to have to deal with up front, open, honest, and sometimes incredibly biased questioning from the media.  Whining about it is the least effective response.  Most of the candidates did shift their response, when they sensed where the questions were going, and planned their strategic responses, in order to stay on focus and keep their message coming forward.  The problem, of course, was that they didn’t really have the time they needed to come across that way.  So, when the tension broke, and frustration hit the ceiling, a few of the candidates hid behind the “liberal biased media” accusation, and let that become their debate statement.

In the long run, that’s not a good idea.  The core base will agree, but across the board, the base doesn’t have enough votes to win a general election for you.

Can you imagine Ronald Reagan whining about the questions he was asked in a Presidential debate?  This is his party.  Hopefully, someone in the field of candidates will start acting like it is.

So, It’s November 2016, and the winner is…(Part 2: The GOP Nomination)

If you read the initial post in this topic, you know that I’ve used a variety of background information sources to look at some numbers and make Hillary Clinton the odds-on favorite to win the Presidency in 2016.  I also made two clear statements.  1.  Things can change, but the prediction is based on the things that pundits use to make these kinds of predictions, including previous exit polling, current polling data, and factors that have an effect on voting trends.  2.  My prediction does not necessarily reflect the way I will cast my ballot.  I wanted the St. Louis Cardinals to win the world series, and predicting the Royals as the winners doesn’t change my loyalty at all, it is just a reflection of the reality of the way things are now.

The best assessment I’ve seen of the current state of affairs in the GOP primary campaign is characterized by the party official who put his head in his hands and said, “My, my, we’ve got a mess.”  Yes, but it’s a political mess, which means that unpredictability and sudden reversals of fortune are always possible, and things can change at the drop of a hat.

Too Many Candidates

The biggest problem on this side of the campaign is simply the fact that there are too many candidates running.  The debates are not giving any candidate, well, I should say most candidates, the kind of face time they need, and the inequities of campaign financing are drowning out the candidates that don’t have a huge war chest of finances.  It also means that too many minor issues are getting too much attention, and the entire field is suffering from lack of ability to articulate a position or a plan on the things that matter to the American voters.  That causes frustration which, in turn, causes some of the candidates to lash out and blame the media, like they did following the most recent debate.  And that makes the whole field look bad.  I mean, are you kidding me?  In what debate do the debaters get the opportunity to pre-select the questions, or criticize the moderators for the kinds of questions they asked?  You take what comes, and make the best of it.

There may be one advantage to the large field.  If there’s no clear nominee by convention time, after the first round, the committed delegates are free to nominate and vote for whom they please.  It’s been a long time since that happened, but it might be a good thing for the GOP in finding a consensus candidate who can unify the party and draw support from the various factions which do not seem inclined to unify behind a candidate now unless he or she reflects their exclusive perspective.

Will Following the Money lead to the end of the Trail?

One of the best arguments in favor of the Citizens United decision might well be the effect that cash is having on the GOP primary race.  Trump is spending huge amounts of his own money, but has come to the point where he has also started asking for contributions, which may mean that even he has a limit on the amount of his own fortune he will invest in this campaign.  Comparatively, other candidates who are creeping up on his poll numbers are spending relatively little cash, their own or that which has been contributed, because they simply don’t have large amounts of it.  That would include Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.  Ted Cruz has a supporting billionaire, and a pretty good sized campaign account, along with a lot of PAC money, but hasn’t picked up a lot of traction with it.  Marco Rubio’s numbers are better than Cruz’s, yet he has spent about a fourth of what Cruz has paid out.  And of course, Jeb Bush is the fundraising king, and still has a bundle in his PAC, but his poll numbers are dropping like a stone in a well.

It seems that Carson and Fiorina are making the most of their media face time and debate appearances.  In addition to that, I don’t think I’ve seen any GOP candidate on Facebook to the extent that Carson is.  His campaign staff seems to be young, and tech-savvy, both important factors in this election cycle.

If money was the key factor in the GOP primary, Bush would be fighting with Trump, neck and neck in the polls.  For what he’s laid out, Trump’s numbers are small, and Bush’s are miniscule.

On the Issues

Carson and Fiorina, who are both “outsiders” when it comes to politics, seem to be hitting on the issues that voters want candidates to discuss, at least more so than most of the other candidates in the field.  They each have proposals and plans in response to issues like health care, education, and foreign policy, which come to the top of the list.  They’re not ignoring social issues, but they aren’t focusing their campaigns on themes that haven’t really resonated with voters for a while, like most of the other candidates are doing.  Trump has tried to nail down the “anti-Obama” theme, which has garnered him 25% of the Republican polling, and 75% who are saying “I’m voting for someone else, thank you.”

Who Isn’t Going to get the GOP Nomination

This is probably an easier question to answer than figuring out who will get it.  My number one answer to this question is Jeb Bush.  Nominating Jeb would be telling the country that the Republicans are no longer interested in the Presidency, and are content to work with a majority in, perhaps, one house of Congress.  I’m not in favor of judging one family member by the actions of another, but I’m pretty sure, looking at the numbers and the preferences, the electoral history and the exit polls, that the Bush family will not count another President of the US among their family members, either sons of George H.W. or grandsons.

Rather than a paragraph as to why each of the following won’t be the nominee, I’ll just make a list of names and let you figure it out:  Chris Christie, Bobby Jindahl, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, George Pataki, Jim Gilmore, and Rick Santorum.

It won’t be Rand Paul.  For obvious reasons, he just doesn’t have the personality or the ability to attract voters.  He’s not even as popular among right wing extremists in the GOP as his father was.  Nor will Donald Trump get it.  There’s no way he can, drawing only 25% or so of the support.  At each primary stop, someone will come out ahead, and he won’t be able to handle it.  The possibility of a Trump candidacy scares the RNC to the point where they are openly opposed to it, and surreptitiously working against it.  He resonates with a more extreme, anti-government segment of the far right, and that’s not palatable with moderate Republicans who wouldn’t do it openly, but who will vote for Mrs. Clinton when they are safe within the confines of the private voting booth.

My own preferences, by the way, are in that list, so I am being fair.

Who’s Left Standing

Looking at the list in the previous paragraphs, that leaves Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio as potential candidates.  Each one of them brings something to the table that the GOP desperately needs to help move forward.  Don’t discount the racial or gender issues here.  Even if those are just surface issues, and they have to do with the image the GOP projects, the fact that three of their most viable candidates represent the two largest minority groups in the US, and one is a woman, is a decisive issue, IMHO

If you look at head to head polling, name recognition is going to be a major issue for Carson and Fiorina, neither of whom are polling as well as Mrs. Clinton.  Looking at the numbers and at the odds, Rubio emerges as the best possible candidate that the GOP can field.  He can gather enough of the Hispanic vote to close that gap, and the potential for carrying Florida is there, though he does not .  His biggest problem may be convincing the conservatives in his own party to turn out for him.  I’m not saying this will be easy, but Rubio, more than any other candidate, makes it doable.

Evangelical Christians will have to come to grips with Rubio’s Catholic faith.  And there have been problems related to misinformation regarding his parents and their immigration from Cuba to the US, during the Batista dictatorship, not Castro, as Rubio once claimed.  However, Rubio seems to be the strongest candidate that the GOP can field, when you look at the numbers.  It remains to be seen if he will be able to win enough delegates to have it sewn up before the convention, but he’d be a great candidate nominated from the floor.

So, It’s November 2016, and the Winner is…

You don’t think I’m really going to step all the way out on that limb.

I am, however, going to do some educated speculating, based on my background in history and political science, and on the observations of a number of non-partisan pundits who often get these things right, or at least are in the ballpark when it comes to accuracy of their predictions.  And it’s not too early to at least put forth some odds when it comes to some of the candidates, based on all of the analytical tools that are used in accurately pinpointing what the results of an election might be.

Such an analysis does not necessarily reflect my own political perspective, nor how I will be casting my ballot.  I’m only pointing to the odds, with the data that is available to do so.  Obviously, I’m not Nate Silber of the New York Times, or even Quinnipiac or Pew Survey.  But all that data is available, so I can at least have some fun with it, and see where it goes.  It’s still a crowded field, and it is early in the season, but there is some data that places likely odds on certain candidates when it comes to their taking the oath of office in January of 2017.  I will repeat that this has nothing to do with my preferences, it is simply taking a look at the numbers, everything that is available, past trends, and expert analysis across the spectrum, and making an educated guess with supporting evidence.  I used to be somewhat amused at the amazement shown by my former social studies students over my accuracy in predicting election outcomes.  It’s a matter of observing, knowing what the pundits use to make their guess, and using several sources.

Predicting that someone might win is not the same as unqualified support for that candidate.  You know, it’s kind of annoying when the fans of a particular football team are asked who is going to win tonight’s game, in spite of glaring evidence to the contrary, “our team is!”  If you’re looking for that kind of cheerleading, you probably need to stop reading now.

Based on data, including 2012 exit polling and analysis, current polls and trends, and the information from several of the more reliable pundits, my guess for the best odds of winning the White House in 2016 is Hillary Clinton.  Here’s why.

Benghazi is Over

It would probably have been expedient to wait on making a prediction such as this after the hearings were over, though all indications, including the six or seven prior investigations, pointed to this issue amounting to either nothing, or to nothing that would actually harm Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.  The problems and issues that came from previous investigations should have been a clue that this one would also prove to be little more than political grandstanding.  I’m not sure that our Congress is capable, in today’s political climate, of conducting a genuine investigation into a matter that has impact for one side or the other in a politically charged atmosphere, which is a symptom of what is gravely wrong with the partisan, “winner take all,” no compromise politics that are status quo these days.  When the Speaker of the House decided to resign under pressure from a far right caucus in his party, I figured this would turn in Hillary’s direction.  Then when a former committee member confessed to the political objective of the Republicans on the committee, and its GOP chairman, Trey Gowdy (R-SC) broke ranks and essentially confessed and repented on Face the Nation the weekend before the hearings, I figured it was over.

Americans were already divided pretty much along political lines over Mrs. Clinton’s culpability and involvement in the Benghazi situation anyway.  She’s picked up support among independents in the wake of the committee’s toned-down and soft conducting of the hearing.  A majority of American voters now believe that the committee was politically motivated, and that there’s really nothing to investigate when it comes to her email server or the incident in Benghazi.  And that’s huge, when coupled with the other developments related to this election.

Core Constituents

Minority voting will be a major factor in the 2016 election.  More Americans of Hispanic and African American heritage will cast ballots than ever before.  And if current trends hold out, as most polls seem to indicate they will, the GOP candidate will have to pull down more than 65% of the white vote to win.  Romney, by contrast, got 59% of the white vote, as high a percentage as any recent Republican except George H.W. Bush, who got 59% of the white vote in his 1988 win.  The white vote is predicted to drop by about 4% between 2012 and 2016, while the minority vote, boosted by major increases in Hispanic voter registration, will increase by about 5%.  Mrs. Clinton polls favorably among 93% of African Americans, 88% of Hispanics, and 76% of Asian-Americans, and 42% of white voters.  If that holds, 58% of the white vote will not be enough for the Republican to win, whoever it happens to be.

Mrs. Clinton also has substantial polling numbers among voters under 35, which has been a key constituency for Democrats in Presidential election years, though they don’t materialize as well during mid-term elections.  Her polling numbers among this constituency are about the same as President Obama’s were at this time in the last cycle, though the population of this group is larger than it was then.

The Blue Wall

We love to look at the national, head to head polls, but keep in mind, the Presidential election is based on electoral votes, not the popular vote.  Both parties have build geographical strongholds across the map.  The difference between the one the Democrats have built, and the one the Republicans have built is population, and by translation, electoral votes.

From the Potomac River north, east of the Ohio, the Democrats have built a supportive constituency that provides double digit percentage differences in the votes between their candidates and those of the other party.  The upper Midwest adds states to that “blue wall” like Michigan and Illinois, which are part of the ten most populous in the country, and rich with electoral votes.  The wall is anchored by the West Coast, including California with its mother lode of electoral votes.

If you look at the core states in the blue wall, those that Democrats have won by 10+ percentage points in each of the last six election cycles, the electoral votes add up to 240.  That means that from the remaining swing states, or states that tend to lean Democratic, the candidates need only 30 more votes to nail down the election.  Add Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado, which have been reliably Democratic, and you have more than enough.  Democratic majorities have also developed in Ohio, resulting from the boom in the auto industry, and Virginia, where growth in the number of voters in the counties adjacent to Washington, DC have switched the state to blue.

Mrs. Clinton’s poll preferences in virtually all of the blue wall are substantial, indicating that she will likely do as well here, or better, than her predecessor.

Incidentally, Mrs. Clinton also has higher polling numbers than the GOP candidates do in red states like Arkansas, where she was once first lady, and in Arizona, which her husband was the first Democrat to carry since Truman.

Winning on the Issues

By an almost two to one margin, Mrs. Clinton has gained support on the issues that the American people want their candidates to address over her Republican rivals.  I’m not sure whether it’s the nature of the Republican debates and the sniping that has created this bump, or whether she just sits where most Americans think she can do some good.  A majority of Americans are with her on health care, education, on most jobs and economy issues, and on foreign policy.  That may change as some of the lesser known, non-politician Republicans like Ben Carson get more recognition and face time, but right now, she can truthfully say that most Americans are in agreement with her position on these issues.

The Trump Campaign theme of “make America great again” seems to have a lot of attention, but only from a fractional percentage of Republicans who support him.  The media hasn’t really pointed it out, but even a majority of Republicans don’t think America has fallen from greatness.

The Realities of the Campaign

Citizens United has gone a long way toward changing the structure of political campaigns, particularly on the federal level.  And it will most definitely have an impact on the 2016 campaign, though perhaps not in as predictable a way as was once thought.

Realistically, Mrs. Clinton isn’t going to have to spend much money winning the Democratic nomination.  Once the candidates are out of the gate, and past the initial primaries, particularly New Hampshire, Vermont is the only other state that Bernie Sanders has any realistic hope of winning.  Estimates are that Hillary will raise at least $1 billion to spend on the head to head race against the GOP nominee.  Several major Republican contributors have already tossed in the towel, as far as what they are planning to give, and it’s gone to candidates who aren’t even going to win the nomination, like Jeb Bush.  Even Donald Trump, who up until now had spent his own money, is hitting the fundraising trail.

It’s not just the fundraising, though.  Mrs. Clinton is laying the groundwork for a campaign on the offensive, and I would guess that she will take full advantage of the snipes and swipes that Republicans are beating each other up with now.  Polling data from the 2012 election, which underscored some solid reasons why President Obama, in spite of an incomplete economic recovery, and continued problems in the Middle East, was able to craft a message that resonated with the voters, and won a fairly convincing re-election under difficult circumstances.

Mrs. Clinton’s core support is in the same ball park that President Obama operated from in 2012.  While Bernie Sanders may make a strong showing, and capture the support of the left wing of the party, his voters will step into the Clinton column if he doesn’t win the nomination, and she’ll get his support.  That may not be the scenario that develops on the other side, where some conservatives have publicly declared that if it takes letting the other side win to send a message to their moderate core, they’re willing to do so in 2016.

Part 2

So, later on I’ll discuss the odds of who I think is the most likely potential GOP nominee.