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Topics
Lesson Plan

Jimmy Carter and the Rise of Evangelical Voters

About this Video
This 11-minute video shows students how evangelical Christians responded to the political and cultural trends of the 1960s and 70s by deepening their political engagement, and by increasingly aligning themselves with the nascent conservative movement of the 1970s. This new engagement produced one of the most transformative political developments of the last 50 years, and the video helps students link the role of evangelical voters in the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. Useful for exploring how the cultural and political movements of the 1960s activated countermovements in the 1970s and 1980s, the video helps students identify the broad trends of causation and continuity that gave rise to the current political landscape.
Objectives
  • How Jimmy Carter’s election as president affected the cultural status and political engagement of evangelical Christians.
  • How cultural and political trends in the 1960s and 1970s contributed to the political engagement of many evangelical Christians.
  • How a newly politicized evangelical community was critically important to Ronald Reagan’s campaign and presidency.
Subjects
  • Civics & Government
  • U.S. History
Topics
  • Campaigns and Elections
  • Cultural and Social Change
  • Donald Trump
  • Jimmy Carter
  • Political Parties
  • Political Campaigns
  • Religion
  • Ronald Reagan
  • 1970s America
  • 1980s America
  • The Modern Era (1980-Present)
  • The Postwar Era (1945-1980)
For Teachers
Introducing the Lesson

Evangelical Christians have become such a dominant force in the Republican party, it’s hard to imagine a time when they were not politically engaged.

But it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that they began to organize. And it wasn’t a Republican who got them started; it was a Democrat, Jimmy Carter.

Carter’s 1976 presidential bid put his faith in a national spotlight when he identified himself as a born-again Christian.

That phrase resonated with evangelical voters, who were pleased to hear a presidential candidate talk openly about his faith. Their votes played a key role in Carter’s victory.

That alliance was short-lived. Many evangelical voters found President Carter’s policies too liberal, and shifted their support to conservative preachers, like the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who supported so-called family values and opposed abortion and gay rights.

Falwell rode the growth of televangelism, turning his millions of viewers into the Moral Majority, a force that put Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1980.

Since then, evangelicals have played a dominant role in the rise of conservative Republicans and are a mainstay in the political base of Donald Trump.

Essential Questions
  • What does it mean to be an evangelical or born-again Christian?
  • How did Jimmy Carter’s election affect the political engagement of the evangelical community?
  • Why did many evangelical activists come to oppose Jimmy Carter during his presidency?
  • What was the Moral Majority? What positions did it take?
  • What role did newly politicized evangelical Christians play in the election of Ronald Reagan?
Lesson Procedure
  • What role should religion play in politics? If citizens hold religious convictions, should these beliefs influence the way they vote? Are there risks or dangers created by the confluence of politics and religion?
  • While the presence of well-organized evangelical voters is an established aspect of our modern political system, this was not the case until the late 1970s. Why do you think the evangelical movement arrived with such force when it did? If the Moral Majority was an effect, what were its historical causes?
  • Throughout American history, what are three important examples of national political movements in which religion played a powerful role? How were those movements similar to or different from the role of evangelical Christians within the conservative movement that began in the late 1970s?
  • Why is religion often an extraordinary force in American politics? Why do political leaders often seek to merge their interests or agendas with religious groups?
Additional Resources
Transcript for "The Roots of Evangelicals’ Political Fervor" Retro Report
“Religion and Right-Wing Politics: How Evangelicals Reshaped Elections” Retro Report

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem

Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequences of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact or develop over the course of a text.

Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.

Skill 4.B: Explained how a specific historical process is situated within a broader historical context.

Theme 7: American and Regional Culture (ARC)

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