After months of campaigning and billions of dollars spent, Americans woke up Wednesday morning to a familiar political landscape.
Although few changes will occur in the makeup of leaders in Washington, critical statewide ballots on issues like marriage, marijuana, religious liberty and immigration show a divided and changing populace.
With President Barack Obama easily securing a second term over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, months of political politicking by conservative evangelicals appears to have been for naught.
Although Obama narrowly edged out Romney among Catholics (50-48 percent) and easily beat Romney among Jews (69-30 percent), those of other religions (74-23 percent) and those with no religion (70-26 percent), he lost among Protestants (42-57 percent).
Among white Protestants, Obama’s deficit grew (30-69 percent), and he struggled the most with white evangelical Christians (21-78 percent).
Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for Academic Administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, penned a column urging his fellow conservative Christians to “honor the president” even if they did not vote for him.
“Let’s not give ourselves to terms of disrespect, or every crazy conspiracy theory that floats across the Internet,” Moore added. “However we voted in the election, let’s pray for God to bless our President. We can pray for him to be granted wisdom and health. We can pray that God would prosper his good ideas, and change his mind on his bad ideas. Moreover, we can teach our children to respect our President, starting with referring to him as ‘President Obama’ or ‘Our President,’ not as ‘Obama’ or ‘the guy our parents voted against’ or what have you.”
The partisan breakdown of the U.S. Congress will look much the same in the next term – with a Democratic Senate and a Republican House – but a few notable races offer important insights into the electorate.
In Missouri, Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill easily defeated controversial Republican nominee Todd Akin, who fell in the polls after making comments about “legitimate rape” and pregnancy.
Even after nearly all national Republican leaders abandoned Akin’s campaign, Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) leaders rallied to his cause.
Both of the other two Republicans candidates introduced at the annual meeting – gubernatorial hopeful Dave Spence and state attorney general hopeful Ed Martin – also lost.
Despite these efforts, Akin lost by a 55-39 percent margin even as Romney won Missouri by 10 points – even struggling among the evangelical voters Akin and MBC leaders targeted.
While white born-again Christians supported the evangelical Akin with 57 percent of their vote, they supported the Mormon Romney with 77 percent of their vote.
The drop in support among white born-again Christians from Romney to Akin was larger than the drop among those who were not white born-again Christians.
Another Republican candidate who made controversial comments about rape and abortion also lost his Senate bid in an otherwise red state.
Republican Richard Mourdock, who defeated longtime U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar in the primary, lost to pro-life Democrat Joe Donnelly.
In the U.S. House, a couple of controversial incumbents lost even as the overall makeup inched only slightly toward the Democrats.
Republicans Joe Walsh in Illinois and Allen West in Florida both lost to their Democratic challengers after multiple controversies involving ethical scandals and polarizing comments (although West is not yet conceding).
Other congresspeople involved in controversies won re-election, including Democrats Jesse Jackson Jr. in Illinois and Charlie Rangel in New York, and Republicans Michele Bachmann in Minnesota and Scott DesJarlais in Tennessee.
In Alabama, voters returned controversial judge Roy Moore to the position of chief justice of the state’s supreme court.
Moore held the position for nearly three years a decade ago before being ousted for violating federal law.
Moore had installed a five-ton monument of the Ten Commandments in the state’s supreme court building and refused to remove it. After two failed gubernatorial runs, Moore decided to retake his old position.
Even as representatives in Washington experienced few overall changes Tuesday night, a slew of state ballot initiatives showed potentially substantial shifts on issues including marriage, marijuana, immigration and religious liberty. Many of the ballot measures passed despite opposition from religious leaders.
For the first time, voters approved same-sex marriage at the statewide level – as opposed to approval as the result of state legislative action or state court decisions.
Voters in Maine voted to legalize same-sex marriage by a 53-47 percent margin. Voters in Maryland and Washington voted to support previous legislative efforts to allow same-sex marriage. Both initiatives passed by 52-48 percent margins.
Meanwhile, voters in Minnesota rejected a state amendment to ban same-sex marriage with a 51-48 percent split.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, highlighted the marriage votes in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington as proof that election night represented “a catastrophe on moral issues.”
“After 33 victories, last night brought multiple defeats,” Mohler added. “Maine and Maryland (and probably Washington State) became the first states in the union to legalize same-sex marriage by action of the voters. There is no discounting the moral shift that momentous development represents.”
Voters in four states affirmed initiatives to legalize pot. Colorado and Washington approved legalizing the drug for those over 21. The vote passed by a 55-45 percent margin in both states.
Voters in Massachusetts voted to allow medical marijuana with a lopsided 63-37 percent vote. Meanwhile, voters in Montana voted to uphold tight restrictions on medical marijuana, voters in Arkansas rejected an effort to legalize medical marijuana, and voters in Oregon rejected an initiative to legalize marijuana for those over 21.
Mohler briefly pointed to the votes to legalize marijuana as further examples that “the moral shift was evident in the voting patterns.”
In parts of Tennessee, voters approved measures allowing greater liquor sales.
On the immigration front, Maryland voters passed the first state-level DREAM Act to provide in-state tuition levels for the children of undocumented immigrants. The measure passed with 59 percent of the vote.
Maryland voters also approved a measure expanding gambling, with 52 percent of voters voting yes.
In Florida, voters by a 55-45 percent split rejected an amendment that would have banned public funds for abortion. With the same margin, Florida voters also rejected a measure that would have repealed the state’s ban on state revenue supporting churches and religious institutions like schools.
As the dust settles and the last votes are counted, what remains is a deeply divided electorate that mostly returned elected officials to Washington even while signaling potentially substantial shifts on moral issues concerning marriage, marijuana and more.
Now political and religious leaders will have to sift through the results to determine what they mean and what to do next.
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.