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The other ‘values voters’ in Alabama

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Supporters of Doug Jones celebrate his victory in the Alabama special election at the Doug Jones election headquarters on December 12th, 2017.

By Daniel Burke, CNN Religion Editor

(CNN) — Going into the Senate race in Alabama, much of the attention was focused on Republican Roy Moore’s conservative Christian base. Would they turn out to support him despite the allegations that he molested and harassed teenage girls decades ago?

They did, according to exit polls. Eight in 10 white evangelical voters cast their ballots for Moore, who is himself a white evangelical. That’s roughly the same percentage President Donald Trump won among white evangelical voters nationally in 2016.

In the Alabama Senate race, white evangelicals made up 44% of the electorate, a sizable slice that suggests turnout was roughly on par with previous elections.

But Moore lost in large part because another group of “values voters” — African-American women — voted overwhelmingly for his opponent, Doug Jones. A whopping 98% of black women voters cast their ballots for Jones, giving the Democrat a huge boost, exit polls show.

Black women, and men for that matter, aren’t usually categorized as “values voters” in the media, which usually reserve that term for conservative white Christians. But perhaps it’s well past time for that to change.

First of all, according to the Pew Research Center, nearly 15% of black Americans are themselves evangelicals, though a majority (53%) attend historically black Protestant denominations. More than 80% say they believe in God and attend church at least once or twice a month, and three in four say religion is “very important” in their lives, according to Pew. That makes African-Americans one of the country’s most devoutly religious groups.

African-Americans are also more likely than white Christians to blend religion and politics in church, according to a separate Pew study conducted last year. Nearly 60% said clergy at their house of worship had encouraged the congregation to vote in the general election for president, and half said the same about the presidential primaries. That’s a higher percentage than any other group, including white evangelicals.

Where African-American churchgoers differ is in the political issues they’re likely to talk about in church. White evangelicals were most likely to discuss religious liberty, abortion and homosexuality. Black churches, too, talked a lot about homosexuality — 39% told Pew they had heard clergy mention the issue. But they were also far more likely to talk about economic inequality and environmental issues.

So perhaps in addition to expanding the definition of “values voters,” it’s time to expand the idea of the “values” that religious voters care about as well — in Alabama and elsewhere.

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