Murky Math: Why Ralph Reed’s Latest Political Claims Don’t Add Up
When he ran the Christian Coalition, Reed had a history of exaggerating his influence. (The less charitable might say he told big, fat lies.) It seems he’s up to his old tricks. The Times reported that Reed has compiled the “largest-ever database of reliably conservative religious voters.” He told the newspaper that his organization will call 17.1 million registered voters in 15 key states and that two million people will receive personal visits.
Of special interest to me was Reed’s claim that the Faith & Freedom Coalition will distribute 25 million voter guides in 117,000 churches. Yeah, I’ve heard that one before.
The Times dutifully reported all of this. Yet a little simple arithmetic shows that it’s almost certainly not true. According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, there are estimated to be 350,000 religious congregations in the United States, many of which would have nothing with Reed’s group.
A large number of Christian churches are affiliated with mainline Protestant denominations. Reed’s group has no headway with these churches. They disagree with his agenda. Catholic and Orthodox churches account for about 24,000 congregations. The Catholic bishops decided years ago to keep voter guides issued by advocacy groups out of the pews.
Obviously most Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. congregations are not going to help Reed out. That leaves him with evangelical congregations. To be sure, there are many of them in America, but even here Reed would encounter difficulties.
All signs indicate that evangelicals are getting weary of the constant political drumbeat. Polls show that most Americans - especially younger churchgoers - attend services for spiritual reasons, not to hear political rants.
But let’s say by some miracle there were 117,000 churches friendly to Reed’s group. The amount of work required to coordinate with them would be staggering - not to mention extremely expensive. One would have to spend years laying the groundwork, yet Reed’s Coalition, until recently, had an annual budget of less than $1 million.
Publicly available documents show that the budget for Reed’s group jumped from $743,015 in 2009 to about $5.5 million in 2010. Reed claims he’ll spend $10-12 million this year. Obviously some well-heeled right-wing fat cats are pouring money into the effort. Reed will clearly connect with some voters and churches, but he’s not going to reach 33 percent of entire American religious community.
I’m also suspicious of the claim that the Coalition will contact 17 million voters. Reed may have access to some high-tech toys, but that number is more than 10 percent of all who voted in 2008. Again, meaningful contact with that many people - as opposed to just sending them a spam e-mail - would cost a lot of money.