J.C. Watts argues in an article for the Las Vegas Review Journal:
In 2006, 66 percent of the evangelical community did not vote. In 2004, 52 percent of evangelicals did not vote. In 2000, 75 percent did not vote.
I haven’t seen any stats on 2008 yet, but I’m not confident that McCain attracted a large segment of that vote, for whatever reason. He certainly stood for their values and principles more strongly than Obama, but couldn’t seem to close the sale.
When you consider there are approximately 66 million evangelicals — some place it as high as 90-100 million — GOP candidates win when this demographic votes.
Watts hardly gets to the crux of the problem. As I’ve reviewed, McCain selected Sarah Palin in order to secure the evangelical vote. His strategy worked to a large degree, but it carried the cost of alienating many independents, women, and nonsectarian Republicans. If selecting hard-core evangelical Palin isn’t enough to secure the evangelical vote, that proves only that nothing short of an outright theocrat could do so, but such a candidate would further alienate everyone else. The GOP can win on faith-based politics in the South, but the issue is a clear loser in other regions, such as Colorado.
But the category of “evangelical” is also difficult to pin down. I don’t know what sources Watts has in mind, but some fraction of every demographic doesn’t vote. Also, evangelicals do not all necessarily vote the same. For example, around a third of evangelicals think abortion should remain legal. So, by appealing to some evangelicals on faith-based politics, the GOP risks losing even some evangelicals, particularly those who recognize that keeping religion out of politics also means keeping politics out of religion.
If the GOP takes Watts’s advice and becomes more religious, the party will lose even worse, particularly on the coasts and in the Interior West.