06-18-2004, 07:45 AM #1AR-Hall of Famer / Retired
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Churchgoing closely tied to voting patterns
Soo..... yes, if you vote for kerry, you are MUCH more likely to be an atheist, after all....
By Susan Page, USA TODAY
Where will you spend Sunday morning? Will you go to church or Home Depot? Sing in the choir or play golf? Answer that question and you've given the most reliable demographic clue about your vote on Election Day.
Voters who say they go to church every week usually vote for Republicans. Those who go to church less often or not at all tend to vote Democratic.
Forget the gender gap. The "religion gap" is bigger, more powerful and growing. The divide isn't between Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Gentiles. Instead, on one side are those of many faiths who go to services, well, religiously: Catholics who attend Mass without fail, evangelical Christians and mainline Protestants who show up for church rain or shine, some Orthodox Jews. On the other side are those who attend religious services only occasionally or never.
The religion gap is the leading edge of the "culture war" that has polarized American politics, reshaped the coalitions that make up the Democratic and Republican parties and influenced the appeals their presidential candidates are making. The debate over same-sex marriage is expected to make it wider than ever this year. Gay rights, partial-birth abortion, definitions of patriotism and other "values" issues are likely to exacerbate the divide between the most observant and others.
Vote in 2000 by church attendance
More than once a week 68% 32%
Once a week 58% 42%
Once or twice a month 41% 59%
A few times a year 40% 60%
Seldom 39% 61%
Never 35% 65%
Source: National Survey of Religion and Politics, University of Akron
Republicans target the most faithful for political conversion so aggressively that critics say they skirt the law. At the White House, President Bush has courted people of faith with his policies and language. They are a huge group: In 2000, one in four voters said they attended church every week.
Democrats are divided over whether to respond, and how. Presidential candidate John Kerry is taking some first steps to reach out to observant voters.
"Once social issues came to the forefront — abortion, gay rights, women's rights — it generated differences based on religious attendance," says John Green, a University of Akron political scientist who studies religion and politics. "More observant people tend to have more traditional morality, and they moved in a more conservative direction because of those issues."
Since 1960, a transformation
Consider the contrast between this year's election and 1960, the last time a Catholic was nominated for president.
John Kennedy didn't have to take a position on abortion; it wasn't a prime political issue until the Supreme Court in 1973 recognized it as a constitutionally protected right. He received support from nearly 80% of Catholic voters.
But he did face hostility from conservative Protestants. In a campaign speech in Houston, JFK assured an audience of ministers that he believed in an "absolute" separation of church and state — that his policies as president would be independent from the Pope.
Now, the challenge to Kerry, who is Catholic, isn't anti-Catholic feeling by evangelicals. He faces objections from conservative Catholics that he has failed to follow the dictums of the church closely enough. Some bishops threaten to deny him and other Catholic politicians Communion because they support abortion rights.
Bush, a Methodist, has the support of most Catholics who attend Mass every week. Kerry is ahead among those who don't.
"When John F. Kennedy made his famous speech that the Vatican would not tell him what to do, evangelicals and Southern Baptists breathed a sigh of relief," says Gary Bauer, a Republican presidential contender in 2000 who now heads a conservative group called American Values. "But today, evangelicals and Southern Baptists are hoping that the Vatican will tell Catholic politicians what to do."
Social and "values" issues have dominated American politics before. But with the Depression and the New Deal, economic class became the fundamental political divide. Franklin Roosevelt was elected and re-elected by a coalition of white Southerners, Northern blue-collar workers, ethnic minorities and blacks.
"During the New Deal era, people voted more on the basis of their perceived economic interests than their perceived values," says Ken Mehlman, Bush's campaign manager. "From the '60s forward, values became a more important dividing point between the two parties and between political candidates." White Southerners have joined the Republican coalition. Some affluent voters, particularly women, have become Democrats.
The religion gap didn't exist before 1972. Voters who said they went to church every week didn't vote any differently than those who did not. But after the tumultuous 1960s, President Nixon appealed to the traditionalist views of the nation's "silent majority." A significant gap, 10 percentage points, opened in the '72 election.
That gap narrowed to single digits for nearly two decades. Then it exploded in 1992. Bill Clinton, dogged by rumors that he had dodged the draft and cheated on his wife, won the election because of his promise to address voters' concerns about the economy and health care. But those who attended church each week were much less likely to support him than others. In 2000, Bush emphasized the role his born-again faith had played in turning around his life. The gap got even bigger.
There are exceptions to the pattern. African-Americans who often attend church are as reliably Democratic as those who don't. Frequency of church attendance seems to have limited impact on the voting patterns of Hispanics.
But among whites, the political differences that church attendance signal are striking. The religion gap now dwarfs the gender gap, Green calculates. In an election that was evenly divided in 2000, women chose Democrat Al Gore over Republican George Bush by about 10 percentage points. Frequent churchgoers chose Bush over Gore by 20 points.
Politics and religion
The more frequently Americans attend religious services, the more conservative they are likely to be, an examination of USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Polls found. Frequency of church attendance and how respondents viewed themselves politically:
Church attendance Conservative Moderate Liberal
Once a week 54% 33% 13%
Almost every week 47% 39% 14%
Once a month 38% 42% 19%
Seldom 31% 45% 24%
Never 26% 40% 34%
Source: USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Polls taken from February 2003 to May 2004. More than 7,000 respondents combined from seven surveys; margin of error: +/- less than 2 percentage points.
That pattern held true even for voters who identified themselves as members of the "religious right," a group generally considered part of the Republican base. Bush was supported by 87% of those who said they attended church each week. But his margin plunged 31 points, to 56%, among members of the religious right who attended church less often.
Republicans say concern over the moral direction of the country and gay marriage in particular has created an opening for them to motivate supporters and reach out to new allies among the faithful.
A year ago, Bauer was one of several leaders of advocacy groups who began meeting informally to discuss strategies to oppose gay marriage and promote a constitutional amendment that would ban it. "In the beginning, the attendees were fairly predictable — white evangelical folks," he says. "Now it's branched out to Catholics and Orthodox Jews as well as significant numbers of Hispanics and African Americans." The issue has "electrified" the most observant Americans, he says.
An 'organizational engine'
In the White House, Bush has taken care to address issues important to observant Catholics and Jewish voters as well as evangelical Christians. Bush, who has called Jesus his favorite political philosopher, laces his speeches with phrases that echo familiar hymns and Bible verses.
"I believe it is in the national interest that government stand side-by-side with people of faith who work to change lives for the better," he said Tuesday at a White House conference on faith-based initiatives. Bush signed an executive order in 2002 making it easier for religious groups to get federal funds to provide social services.
On Tuesday, the Bush campaign sent an e-mail to supporters in Pennsylvania seeking to "identify 1,600 'friendly congregations' where voters friendly to President Bush might gather on a regular basis." The campaign asks for a volunteer coordinator for each congregation.
Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, calls the e-mail "a breathtakingly bad merger of religion and politics" that asks churches to violate their tax-exempt status. Tax law forbids political activity by churches. Steve Schmidt of the Bush campaign said the outreach was to individuals, not to churches.
"White conservative evangelical churches have become across the South the organizational engine for the Republican party the way labor unions became the organizational engine for the Democratic Party in the industrial heartland in the 1930s," says Mark Silk, a political scientist at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and editor of the journal Religion in the News.
There are risks for Republicans. Heavy-handed moralizing repels some voters, including many upscale suburbanites who help decide elections. "Whenever you talk about any of these issues, you have to demonstrate compassion and tolerance, so it's not a judgmental thing but a reflection of values," says Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for the Bush campaign.
Meanwhile, Democrats haven't reached a consensus on a strategy to narrow the religion gap and regain voters the party has lost. Some say that Kerry and other candidates should emphasize pocketbook issues of jobs and health care instead. Others argue that voters who frequently attend church would be receptive to an appeal that recasts some traditional Democratic issues — protecting the environment as the stewardship of God's creation, for instance.
"The Democratic party is very much divided about whether these sorts of appeals are legitimate and whether religion should play a role in electoral politics," says James Guth, a political scientist at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., who has studied Bush's use of religion. While many Democrats attend religious services, others are secular.
A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee was unable to identify a staffer who works on religious outreach. But the Center for American Progress, a liberal group based in Washington, is starting a multiyear project next week to "amplify" religious voices in the party. Democrats "fell into talking about program and individual components of program, and less in a language that really was about values," says John Podesta, a White House chief of staff for President Clinton who heads the group.
A month ago, Kerry hired a "director of religious outreach": Mara Vanderslice. The 29-year-old evangelical Christian, who has worked for church-based programs on international hunger and health, is on her first campaign.
"The most important thing to start with are opportunities for John Kerry to share more openly with the American electorate about his faith experience, how it's inspired his commitment in public service and how it's influenced his life," she says. A first step: A "people of faith network" on the campaign Web site. She hopes it's launched by the end of the month.
06-18-2004, 08:00 AM #2
Polling and research is actually how I make my livelihood. I find all of this stuff very interesting, but given my occupation, none of these facts and figures are surprising to me.
Bush MUST do a WHOLE LOT better than he is currently doing with the voters that consider themsleves to be religious. They are his base and if he isn't pulling in 70% or more from them then he's going to have a tough time in November.
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