The God Gap
Republicans and Democrats talk about the religious gulf between the parties.
7:20 PM, Sep 1, 2004 • By TERRY EASTLAND
First, that it would be good for those who do the surveys on religion and voting behavior to conduct one after November 2 that would tell us how religious "traditionalists" and "progressives" voted. Past surveys, as the panelists here noted, have regarded the electorate in terms of church affiliation and undertaken to discern the relationship between church attendance and votes cast. The general point emerging from those surveys is that the more often someone goes to church, the more likely it is that the person votes Republican. A problem with the surveys is that they don't tell us enough about the voting behavior of those within a particular religious group. Take mainline Protestants, for example. While they belong to denominations that are, in their governing boards and seminaries, theologically liberal, many hold theologically conservative beliefs. Some would accept the label evangelical. (The best example: the United Methodist George W. Bush.) The theologically conservative mainliners differ from their liberal brethren by taking a high view of the Bible. I'd call them traditionalists, over against the "progressives" in the mainline churches, who, dominating their leadership, see the Scripture not quite as sola. I'd like to know how those traditionalists vote this fall, just as I'd like to know how traditionalists within the Catholic church (defined as those who take seriously the church's teachings) cast their ballots.If we knew these things, we might have a better idea of how actual religious beliefs correlate with voting preferences--of whether, to borrow from the event's title, there is a "Red God" and a "Blue God."
Second, that religious progressivism doesn't have much prospect, at least not in terns of influencing the election. Cromartie, citing familiar data, pointed out that there's a substantial bloc in the electorate that you can fairly describe as "secular," and it votes overwhelmingly Democratic. Kerry appeals to them, for sure. But as Podesta conceded, Kerry comes from a tradition where "my beliefs are mine alone" and he doesn't show them in public (remember what he said at the Boston convention: that he doesn't wear his faith "on his sleeve.") Podesta noted the "moral fire" of religious progressives back in the Sixties and early Seventies and how it blew into the Democratic Party. But he said the party had lost that fire. Even if it were to be recovered--you really think John Kerry could bring it back, in nine weeks?--the party would still face a numbers problem, since theological liberals are not a growing, but a shrinking, bunch. There aren't many votes in them thar hills.