California: Christian Conservative Influence in a
J. Christopher Soper
The role of the Christian Right in California politics is a study of contrasts. Conservative Christians are the dominant force in California's Republican Party and many candidates supported by Christian Right activism won office in the 1994 election. None of the Republican Party's nominees for statewide office in 1994, however, clearly aligned themselves with the Christian Right, and the two most prominent Republican Party candidates, Pete Wilson for governor and Mike Huffington for U.S. Senate, were both pro-choice and social moderates. Membership in the Christian Coalition of California and the Traditional Values Coalition has grown in recent years and both have become politically powerful interest groups in the state, but California has liberal policies on abortion and gay rights and the state is disproportionately secular and unchurched.
This chapter examines the paradoxical influence of the Christian Right in California politics. First, I show how California's political culture and institutions provided strategic opportunities for the mobilization of the Christian Right in the late 1980s and early 1990s. California's weak party system favored Christian Right activism and enabled conservative Christians to gain control of the state Republican party; once in power, however, those structures limited the ability of conservative Christians to shape party policy and affect policy outcomes. Second, I evaluate the political strategy of the Christian Right leadership in the 1994 election and assess the influence of conservative Christian voters on the races for governor and senator. Leaders of the Christian Right chose not to make abortion or gay rights key issues in the general election and Wilson and Huffington did very well among white evangelical voters. I conclude the chapter with a discussion of the future prospects for the Christian Right in California politics.