Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Quick Analysis of Pew Poll

I found my response to the new survey on religion and politics, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, was taking over the Roundup, so I decided to split it off into its own post.

I'll try to do a fuller analysis later this week.  For now, some quick points.

  1. What's remarkable about this survey is not the differences it points out (though those can be substantial), but the vast areas of agreement.  For example, the public is solidly opposed to political campaigns collecting church rosters, and to Catholic bishops denying communion to pro-choice politicians.  Though the percentages vary, the agreement is overwhelmingly there.  (Sorry to say for my secular friends, this agreement extends to the importance of a president's religion.  Americans still want a "person of faith" in the White House, though it doesn't seem to matter very much what that faith is.)

  2. Despite this broad agreement, the differences detected by the survey matter.  Just one example:
    By more than two-to-one (61% to 29%), people who wish there was more discussion of faith by political leaders back Bush over Kerry in the 2004 election, and by a similar margin (63% to 32%) people who think there is too much of it favor Kerry over Bush. And those who think there is the right amount of religious rhetoric today are divided evenly (50% favor Bush, 46% Kerry).
     Similiar alignments happen on issues like gay marriage.

  3. Though respondents view Republicans as more religion-friendly than Dems, that's not the same as saying Democrats are unfriendly. (That response was only 3 points higher for Donkeys than it was for elephants.)  The biggest difference--a ten-point spread--is in the category of "neutral." I think what voters are picking up on is that Dems operate more of a "big tent," which includes some secular people.  That's not necessarily a bad or inaccurate assessment.

  4. The same can be said about respondents' rankings of important campaign issues. (Notice also how low gay marriage rates, especially for swing voters.)

    Though Repubs scored "moral issues" higher than Dems, there is more than likely a qualitative difference going on.  Republicans, I would venture to guess, see moral issues in terms of personal morality, meaning the president not having a zipper problem.  Dems, on the other hand, probably see morality in social terms, as reflected in the choices they place above the "moral issues" category.

The moral of the story?  Bush seems to "narrowcast" to a very particular segment of even the religious population, much less the elctorate as a whole.  Indeed, the electoral strategy Karl Rove has laid out seems to be to marry this "base" with the "swing voters," meaning traditional conservative elements like small-government libertarians and corporate interests.

That much is not new.  What is new--and refreshing--is that there really is not any "God gap" between Republicans and Democrats.  Sure, the Repubs are stronger with those place a higher importance on religion in their lives, and who attend church more frequently.  But in the "broad middle" ranges, the Dems do just fine.  That speaks well of their ability to fight--and win--an election based on "values."  

It ain't gospel, folks, but this poll is good news.


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