For the moment anyway, it is simply no longer appropriate to describe evangelicals as a single voting bloc. “Reporters always generalize somewhat because they have to,” Jewell told me. “But the biggest mistake the media has made is to lump evangelicals together as a monolithic community.” Despite this, Jewell admits that the press has gotten better at covering evangelicals over the last ten years. The real problem comes, again, from the volume of coverage, which, by sheer repetitive wondering, delivers the take-away message that a single, large body of conservative voters might throw its support to the left.
A columnist for USA Today predicted that the 2008 election might settle the question of who speaks for America’s evangelicals by defining a new church leadership, and then it will be easier for journalists to once again pack evangelicals into a single voting bloc. It may. It may not. As National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” noted recently, under the headline “Evangelical Voters May Be Up for Grabs in ‘08,” even if “a small percentage of these new evangelicals stay home or vote Democratic, that could translate in a couple of million votes.” A sliver of a large demographic can make a big difference, but it can also thwart political consistency. New messages are not enough. Until a better messenger comes along and unites the old and new Christian leaderships, politicians and the press will, as Jewell put it, have a tough time pigeonholing “values voters.”