The Christian Right and the 1994 Elections:
John C. Green
In 1994, the news media rediscovered the Christian Right, and came away perplexed. The movement seemed to contradict conventional wisdom at every turn. First, many observers were surprised that it was still strong and active, given the responsibility assigned to it for past Republican failures, including the presidential loss in 1992. Second, its activities were neither all successes nor all failures, making the story line difficult to follow. How could a relatively small group with a controversial agenda contribute to unexpected Republican gains in places like Minnesota, while at the same time candidates prominently identified with it, such as Oliver North, were defeated? Why was the Christian Right at once so strong and so weak?
No doubt much of this confusion results from well-known proclivities of journalists, including a penchant for "horse race" coverage, a focus on controversy, and a poor sense of history. There is, however, a deeper misunderstanding at work as well. It is widely assumed that religion is on the wane in modern societies. Thus, its repeated expressions in public affairs, such as the Christian Right, come as a great surprise. In response, many observers are ready to interpret such expressions as temporary aberrations that will quickly fade away. In fact, the Christian Right has been discovered and dismissed in the press at least four times since it emerged on the national scene with the Moral Majority in 1979.
Fifteen years of research by political scientists offers a broader perspective: the real story of the Christian Right is the steady growth in size and sophistication of a political movement that, like other movements, has both strengths and weaknesses. Key to clarifying the movement's role in 1994 is understanding that religion can be an important factor in American politics but that there are also limits to its influence.