Changing Attitudes on Religion in Politics

After believing they lost in 2004 due to values voters, the Democrats have been trying to convince voters that they are religious:

In this campaign season, if Clinton and Barack Obama and John Edwards are any measure, there will be nothing unusual in Democrats’ talking about the God who guides them and the beliefs that sustain them. Clinton has hired Burns Strider, a congressional staffer (and evangelical Baptist from Mississippi) who is assembling a faith steering group from major denominations and sends out a weekly wrap-up, Faith, Family and Values. Edwards has been organizing conference calls with progressive religious leaders and is about to embark on a 12-city poverty tour. In the past month alone, Obama’s campaign has run six faith forums in New Hampshire, where local clergy and laypeople discuss religious engagement in politics. “We talk about ways people of faith have gone wrong in the past, what they have done right and where they see it going in the future,” says his faith-outreach adviser, Joshua DuBois. Speeches on everything from the budget to immigration to stem-cell research are carefully marinated in Scripture. “Science is a gift of God to all of us,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a debate on increased embryo-research funding, “and science has taken us to a place that is biblical in its power to cure.”

Voters do have values, but increasingly they have liberal values as is seen in a Time Magazine poll on Faith and the Presidential Election. While strong Republican voters, who are not going to vote Democratic regardless of what the Democrats say about religion, believe a President should be guided by his faith in making decisions, Democrats disagree:

By a two-to-one margin (62% to 29%), Republicans say a president should use his faith to guide his presidential decisions. By contrast, Democrats reject this idea by a similar two-to-one margin (58% to 32%). 75% of Democrats say the president should not use his own interpretation of the bible to make public
decisions; while Republicans are about evenly split (46% to 43%) on this.

In a related question, “While the overwhelming majority of Republican voters (71%) agree that religious values should serve as a guide to what political leaders do in office, 56% of Democrats disagree with this.”

Having a President who has opposed the separation of church and state upon which this country was founded may have acted to demonstrate to voters that this is the wrong course:

In May 2004, half (49%) of American voters said President Bush’s faith made him a strong leader while only 36% said it made him too closed-minded. Today, voters have reversed their opinion about the role Bush’s faith: 50% now say it makes him too closed-minded and 34% say it makes him a strong leader.

And while in 2004 only 27% said that Bush’s use of his faith did more to divide the country rather than unite it, today, 43% feel that way. While Democratic voters (66%) are much more likely to say that Bush’s use of religion has divided America, only 16% of Republicans feel that way.

Democrats and Republicans look differently at the social issues which Republicans have used as wedge issues:

On the religiously-charged “hot button” issues of gay rights and abortion rights, Democrats and Republicans clearly differ. A pro-gay rights candidate makes 59% of Republicans less supportive of a presidential candidate and 13% more supportive. The same pro-gays rights stand makes 40% of Democrats more supportive and only 23% less supportive.

The same pattern emerges on abortion rights – but stirs Democrats even more. 49% of Democrats become more supportive of an abortion rights candidate and 26% become less supportive. By contrast, 57% of Republicans feel worse about an abortion rights candidate while 22% feel better.

Democrats and Republicans view religious issues differently, and Democratic candidates should show the backbone to stand up for what Democrats believe. When they try to do otherwise, they are not picking up any new votes. In a year in which the Republican alternatives weren’t so bad this might lead to independents such as myself sitting home or looking at third parties on election day. Despite all the talk of religion by Democratic candidates, most do not believe they are religious. Only 15% of registered voters believe that Hillary Clinton is strongly religious, 22% believe John Edwards is and 24% believe Barack Obama is strongly religious. 24% say they know Hillary Clinton is not religious.

Republicans have often won due to demonstrating they have a clear set of values, even if their values have been the wrong values. In contrast, it has often been difficult to determine what Democrats have stood for. Here is a clear difference in the views of Democratic voters with regards to recognizing that religion is a personal matter which should not influence government policy. If Democratic candidates were to take the lead and stand up for the principle of separation of church and state, as opposed to trying to pick up a few votes by unsuccessfully trying to look like Republicans, they might even win more voters over to their position and pick up a few votes.

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  1. 1
    JollyRoger says:

    It would be a mistake for the dems to try to pander to Jesusistan, since Jesusistan isn’t about Jesus-it’s about hatred.

    Hill gave the best answer I’ve heard regarding religion when she said her beliefs were more or less something she kept to herself, instead of wearing them on her sleeve.

    This notion that somebody is unelectable if they aren’t professedly religious is wrong. America is a broadly secular nation, in spite of all the MSM’s attempts to convince us otherwise. The problem is that we can’t get the secularists to vote in the same numbers the Jesusistanis do.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    “The problem is that we can’t get the secularists to vote in the same numbers the Jesusistanis do.”

    I think part of the problem is that the Democrats are too cautioius in defending sucluarism. I’m certain that lots of quotes can be found, such as your quote of Hillary, but for every one of these quotations we have many more news reports of them trying to blur the line between them and Republicans on religion.

    There is a distinct difference in viewpoint, and Democrats should not hide from it. Doing this only makes them look weaker and less principled. If Democrats would make separation of church and state the major issue which it should be today, many more secularists might come out. The Republcans were successful in bringing out the religious fundamentalists by pandering to them. Democrats should at least make it clear to secuarlists that they are on the same side.

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