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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Tipping point?

Voters’ core beliefs have shifted massively—and political efforts won’t shift them back

Tipping point?

(Rex Features via AP)

So what will the history books of the future tell us about the influence of Hurricane Sandy on the Romney-Obama presidential election of 2012? Could it really have been that a million voters changed their minds in the final days of the campaign because—well, because Obama just looked so presidentially helpful while talking to storm victims in New Jersey?

Such is the stuff of political analysis. Exit poll data were all over the landscape as voters told how the hurricane had affected their behavior. So to the extent that I get to be an analyst, I suggest that historians—and current pundits too—be very careful in explaining the storm’s ultimate effect on the electoral tally board. The most prevalent query was whether Hurricane Sandy had interrupted some significant Romney momentum in the week just before the election. But folks who were upset with that development had to ask themselves: “What was God up to in sending such a storm right then? Didn’t he know how badly a hurricane might hurt the Romney campaign?” The debate was partly political, partly historical, partly meteorological, partly theological.

In fact, right now is a good time to set aside almost all purely political explanations of what happened in our country on Election Day. Yah, I know it was a presidential election—and collectively, we just spent several billion dollars trying to fine-tune an incredibly complex political process. But in the end, the 2012 election wasn’t all that much about such technical processes. It wasn’t about hurricanes, and it wasn’t mostly about President Obama’s mean-spirited campaign style, or about Romney’s failure to respond adequately. It wasn’t about anonymous donors, and it wasn’t about how the Republicans blew what should have been an easy challenge. All those are side issues, and we shouldn’t waste too much time and energy wondering “if we’d only done this” or “if we’d only done that.”

Elections tell us what voters believe about important matters. And the evidence of the 2012 election is pretty overwhelming that most Americans have now become practical secularists. Their second nature is to believe that government is there to be their helper and provider. Anything that messes with that secularist assumption these days is messing with a root belief of at least 51 percent of American voters. These are folks who got John Kennedy exactly backward: “Always ask,” they say, “what it is that your country can do for you.” These folks are now dominant—and these are the voters who elect presidents. The American public has been going through a massive change—and the evidence grows that that “belief” change has now passed a tipping point, beyond which it may be very difficult to go back.

That is a sobering thought. It means that technical adjustments to the political process—like better political consultants who can tell you how to reach Hispanic young women, or more positive TV commercials, or more effective use of “social media”—will affect elections only on the margins. The determinant factor will be where voters, in their most needy times, look for ultimate help. That, by definition, has to do with whether the culture is still God-oriented or has become more and more thoroughly secular in nature.

So what’s called for are armies of folks—like you, perhaps—who when they think about the next electoral cycle, respond with great discipline and refuse to get sidetracked by what is merely political activity. Such folks will ask instead: “What can I do over the next several years to change the worldview of a few people around me? How can I influence a few ‘takers’ I know to become ‘makers’ and ‘enablers’? How can I persuade them to be ‘wagon pullers’ instead of ‘wagon riders’?”

“Can I work through my church, through the schools where I have input and influence? Can I work through and support appropriate media like WORLD? Can efforts like these perhaps nudge a significant number of folks back from the costly tipping point?”

If we learned anything this time around, it was this: If you don’t change what the voters believe, your chances of changing their votes are pretty slim indeed.

Email jbelz@worldmag.com

Comments

  • Rob's picture
    Rob
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:38 pm

    Unfortunately, even though not so far gone as say San Francisco, the christianity of the south appears to me to be of the cultural variety and thus for the most part is not much more than skin deep.

  • Lubbock Rebel
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:38 pm

    Abortion has been imposed on the Southern states by federal courts. The federal government is now beginning to impose homosexual marriage on the South. I do not expect another Civil War. If the USSR could divide peacefully when it went bankrupt, I would expect the US to be able to do the same.

  • Richard H's picture
    Richard H
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:38 pm

    RICK W,A call for another civil war?  Per the Declaration of Independence secession is long over due.  But secession will not succeed if for only economic and political reasons.  As you pointed out.....Christian values, what I term Christian Worldview, is essential.  

  • Lubbock Rebel
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:38 pm

    If you look a little closer, the results show there are at least two nations. Most Southerners still hold Christian values. Those on the West Coast and in the Northeast do not.  Hence, the longing among many for secession. Southerners see themselves tied to a sinking ship.

  • Richard H's picture
    Richard H
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:38 pm

    Too many Christians don't have a Christian worldview to know how to discern the times and false philosophies in light of Christ's teachings.  They conform to the world, enjoy the entertainment of the world, send their children to be indoctrinated to the world's lies at govt schools and attend lukewarm churches.  They won't know any better unless they are truly transformed by the Holy Spirit.

  •  Neil Evans's picture
    Neil Evans
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:38 pm

    We are pendulum people.  We swing back and forth from serving God to serving self.  Our sin nature swings naturally away from serving God.  But to swing from self to God almost always begins with crisis.  Our culture (and Nation) will likely continue our slide away from God until we realize again that human government is a failing substitute for God.

  • Don Sutton
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:38 pm

    This article is stating something I have said for many years.  The elections are more a refection of the people than the driving force behind any kind of change.  If we change the people we will change the country.  To a lesser degree, even the pastors reflect their congregations as opposed to dictaing beliefs to their congregations.  If people weren't willing to follow the unbelieving pastor, he wouldn't have a congregation.When we (the church) start to care about the lost souls of the people around us and start to take risks to share the good news of Jesus then we will start to win many over to the true family of God.  The politics will follow.As long as the world sees the church as a political agent seeking only to force them into a political belief system in order to protect our own comfort zone they will refuse to have anything to do with the church.  We must convince the world by our actions that we and God truly love them for who they are and not what we can get out of them.

  • Sawgunner's picture
    Sawgunner
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:38 pm

    Never let a good disaster go to waste esp if you can mine it for photo opps. Folks forget Bush atop the rubble hugging the firefighter and speaking thru the bullhorn.
    Sarcasm aside now, while we all werent looking someone shifted our socio-economic-political paradigm. Can we re-shift it? Should we? Some might call for a new conservative Long March to somehow "recapture" various institutions so vital to shaping opinions and attitudes. I would say instead to secede from the dominant socialization institutions and set up parallel organizations.
    And we have done that to a great extent. Worldmag supplanted TIME in our house. I support even vaguely mushy Christian films every chance I get. I home school and hope to save a zillion dollars to put my kids in private openly Christian high school and college. I support parachurch ministry outreach on various secular gummint colleges. I encourage Christian students to infiltrate/burrow deep into all the "shaping professions" esp the law and social work but also journalism and social media

  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:38 pm

    It is difficult to preach the truth when you must worry about offending part of your congregation.  It is one thing to not preach Democrat or Republican but quite another to fail to preach against sin.  The problem we often face is that many university educated people with community clout and a secular mind set are running the churches instead of solid humble and Spirit filled people. What will have to happen to bring us back?

  • Truth
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:38 pm

    How about Pastors teaching the church about what God says about this?  Many evangelicals, even in reformed chruches are die hard democrats and I know many who voted for Obama and here in Wisconsin for Tammie Baldwin.   How is this justified in scripture.  Our pastor won't teach on this and we have to be very careful not to offend these people.  If the church doesn't teach on this, when God himself created government and told us what it was for, who should teach on it?  I am very confused when Pastors are so silent on this and are more afraid of offending than standing up for biblical beliefs.