Friday, August 25, 2006


The New York Times reports today:

A new poll shows that fewer Americans view the Republican Party as "friendly to religion" than a year ago, with the decline particularly steep among Catholics and white evangelical Protestants -- constituencies at the core of the Republicans' conservative Christian voting bloc.

The survey found that the proportion of Americans who say the Republican Party is friendly to religion fell 8 percentage points in the last year, to 47 percent from 55 percent. Among Catholics and white evangelical Protestants, the decline was 14 percentage points.

The Democratic Party suffers from the perception of an even more drastic religion deficit, but that is not new. Just 26 percent of poll respondents said the Democratic Party was friendly to religion, down from 29 percent last year....

The number for the Democrats is unsurprising, but what's up with the number for the Republicans? What more do they need to do to satisfy America's deeply religious populace?

I can't figure it out. Can you figure it out?

(By the way, this poll was conducted in July, long before the approval of over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill, so this doesn't seem to be a news-based dip.)


I have more to say about this below, but here's something to think about first: If evangelical white Protestants think the GOP is not friendly to religion, and if a great deal of the GOP base is demanding no compromise on illegal immigration, isn't there a very good chance that the '08 GOP presidential nominee could face a third-party challenge from the right?

Don't forget who's leading in the polls for that nomination -- McCain and Giuliani, neither of whom is considered compatible with the Bush base on "values" issues or immigration. If one of them gets the nomination, defections are a distinct possibility. We could be looking at a very interesting race.


OK, so why the religious dissatisfaction? Details on the poll, at the Web site of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, don't offer much by way of explanation.

No, it isn't because there's a huge contingent of religious liberals. In fact, one of the poll's few revelations is that people who characterize themselves as part of the "religious left" aren't very left-wing:

The survey finds that about a third of all Christians (32%) identify themselves as "liberal" or "progressive" Christians....

On many matters of politics and policy, the views of progressive Christians are not much more liberal than those of the general public.... For example, about half of progressive Christians (52%) oppose gay marriage, compared with 56% of all Americans, and 66% of non-progressive Christians....

Generally, progressive Christians tend to be more moderate than left-of-center politically. Slightly more than one-in-four (27%) report they are politically liberal. Just as many (26%) say they are politically conservative while 45% characterize themselves as moderates....

Here's the key, I think:

Since the late 1980s, polls have consistently shown that most Americans think religion's influence on the nation is waning....

Today, roughly six-in-ten (59%) say religion is losing influence on American life, while 34% say it is gaining influence. And, overwhelmingly, Americans favor more, not less, religion in the country.

Put that together with the GOP's declining "friendly to religion" numbers and it seems as if Republicans are starting to hurt themselves by constantly spreading the word that religion is under attack in America. The public agrees -- and thinks the GOP isn't mounting enough of a defense.


The scariest numbers in this poll, if you're a secularist like me, are in this chart.

Look at the "18-29" line. Among voters under 30, an astonishing 27% consider themselves members of the "religious left" or "religious right." They're evenly split, but no other age group is as religious.

The young aren't rejecting liberalism (or at least moderation) -- but a hell of a lot of them are rejecting secularism.

That's a trend that bears watching.

(Unless, of course, it's just that secular young people didn't have the patience to sit through the lengthy Pew poll -- which really may be the case.)

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