God Fearing Voters, God Fearing Candidates: Does Religion Really Matter in the 2000 Elections?
E.J. Dionne, The Brookings Institution
Andrew Kohut, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
Michael Cromartie, The Evangelical Community in American Civic Life project, and the Ethics and Public Policy Center
David Devlin-Foltz, The Public Role of Mainline Protestantism project, and the Aspen Institute
Alan Mittleman, Center for Jewish Community Studies, and Muhlenberg College
Peter Steinfels, The project on American Catholics in the Public Square, and Georgetown University
Ronald Walters, The project on the Public Influence of the Black Church, and University of Maryland
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
I want to welcome everybody here today. And I appreciate everybody’s coming. I’m going to be as brief as possible, as I have asked everyone on the panel to be brief, because we have a lot of interesting material to go through. Some of this data is so hot that the paper you’re holding in your hand is hot. And that’s also, I know, true of Mike Cromartie’s data from the Evangelical project. And so we want to leave plenty of time for discussion, comments, and arguments.
The survey information you’re about to get is the result of a collaboration between the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. I want to thank Andy Kohut, and also Carroll Doherty of the Pew Research Center for their very hard and good work on this. I also want to thank Staci Simmons, Ming Hsu, and Andrea McDaniel for hard work on the data and on helping set up this event on rather short notice.
The Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum will be conducting a more extensive study of religion and public life after the election, and I hope you’ll join us then when we put it together and release it. Just a very quick word about the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. It’s a collaboration supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts between the Brookings Institution and the University of Chicago Divinity School in cooperation with Georgetown University’s Public Policy School.
My friend, the distinguished political philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain will be directing the efforts at the University of Chicago. And I saw her yesterday and she’s very sorry she couldn’t be with us today. The forum is dedicated to research, debate, and discussion about the relationship between religion and civic life, politics and public policy. And this seems to be a particularly propitious time for launching such work.
Another day would be another time to say more about the Forum, but one of its purposes will be to work with a series of very fine projects that Pew is supporting in the area of religion and civic engagement. And we hope to bring all that work to as wide an audience as we can. And we’re blessed today, if I may use that term in this context, by having representatives of five of those projects here, and they will be presenting the results of survey and focus group work that they have undertaken. In each case, the projects are independent of each other, so the work is at different stages of completion, but they’re going to tell us what they’ve found.
We have Mike Cromartie, who represents the project on the Evangelical Community in American Civic Life. He is with the Ethics and Public Policy Center; David Devlin-Foltz on the Public Role of Mainline Protestantism project, and he is with the Aspen Institute; Alan Mittleman is with the Center for Jewish Community Studies and Muhlenberg College; Peter Steinfels is with the project on American Catholics in the Public Square, Bob Royal I noticed with that project is also with us today, Peter is also at Georgetown University, and as many of you know writes the Beliefs column for the New York Times; and Ron Walters of the University of Maryland is working on the project on the Public Influence of the Black Church.
Just very briefly, what we’re going to do, Andy will present the findings that you have in your hand from the survey work we did, and that the Pew Research Center did in its latest surveys. I’m going to have very brief comments on that.
Then, I’m going to go through the panelists. I’m going to do a couple of panelists first, turn to the audience, and go back to the panel. I made a deal with every panelist that if they can keep their comments to about five minutes, they can smuggle in everything else they want to say in response to various questions from the audience.
And so, without further ado, again, thank you, Andy, for your work on this, and welcome.
Thank you, E.J. I will try to be brief and give you the highlights of our survey. This is part of a large scale survey that we conducted in the last week of August and the first 11 days of September. It was among 2,000, 1,999 to be precise, registered voters. They couldn’t get me that one more interview. In any event, the overall lead of the survey is that Americans continue to be ambivalent about the mixing of religion and politics, and also the mixing of religion and governance, as you’ll see. Now, obviously, compared to — not obviously, but compared to a generation ago, more people are comfortable with that mix than was the case in the 1960s. In 1965, for example, the Gallup Poll found a 53 to 40 percent majority resisting ministers speaking out on issues of the day. Well, we find the public still divided on this question, but the balance of public opinion is the other way. By a 45 to 51 percent margin, the public favors ministers speaking out or the clergy speaking out on the issues of the day. But still, a solid majority, most Americans say, they’re very uneasy when the clergy speak out about political candidates, and are more directly partisan.
In our new survey, this ambivalence is best expressed by a juxtaposition of two results. Seven in 10 voters say they believe it’s important for a president to have strong religious faith, but 50 percent are uncomfortable when politicians speak publicly about how religious they are, which I think nicely sums up the two-mindedness that Americans have about this issue. We see the same mixed view on policy issues as well. Churches and synagogues, and other religious institutions are overwhelmingly seen as positive forces in addressing society’s problems. Yet, a narrow 54 percent majority supports funding religious organizations so that they can run social programs such as job training and drug treatment services. When we ask a broader question, we find more backing when the issue is recast as allowing religious organizations to apply to the government for grants to do this. But even still, we have one-third opposing allowing religious organizations to apply for such work.
The big surprise in this poll is that more Democrats, 61 percent, favor funding religious organizations for these purposes as compared to 46 percent of Republicans, and 52 percent of Democrats. Support for charitable choice among Democrats is partially driven by strong backing for this measure among African Americans, 74 percent of blacks endorse direct funding for these programs compared to 51 percent of whites.
But the Democrats are less united than the Republicans on regarding the mixing of politics and religion. Republican groups speak in one voice saying it’s important for the president to have strong religious face. Not so the Democrats, 84 percent of the partisan poor component of the Democrat Party believe this, and 82 percent of the social Democrats believe this, that number falls to 67 percent among new Democrats, and only 34 percent among liberals.
The survey found that the Republican Party has lost some of its advantage as the protector of religious values. While it is still seen as more capable in this regard than the Democratic Party by a margin of 39 to 30 percent, its edge on the issue has declined over the past four years. In ’96, it was a 47 to 32 percent margin.
Now, it’s hard to say from this survey data whether this is the effect of Lieberman’s high profile on religious faith, or whether it’s the more centrist moderate tone of the GOP that’s responsible for the Republican Party losing its edge as the better protector of religious values. The evidence, in my view, points to a change on views about the Republican Party.
First, fewer voters see, as in ’96, see the Republican Party as too closely tied to religious leaders. And, relatedly, the image of the Evangelical Christians has changed markedly and is much more favorable than it was in 1996. In 1996, 63 percent — or in the current survey, 63 percent rated Evangelical Christians favorably, compared to 41 percent in 1996, and almost all of this increase or much of this increase came among groups most uncomfortable with the Republican Party and its religious wing, that is among Democrats and among older people.
As to Lieberman himself, there’s no indication in our survey that there’s backlash against the extent to which he has professed his faith publicly. When we take the people who aren’t comfortable, say they’re uncomfortable when a political leader expresses his faith, they have as strongly favorable a view of Lieberman as those who say they are comfortable with it. So there’s no negative association there, even among Independents. In fact, we do find Democrats who are comfortable with this having a more strongly favorable view of Lieberman in that regard, but it’s mostly a matter of intensity not a matter of overall opinion.
Finally, on a more broader troubling note, the poll found a significant amount of public hostility toward Muslim Americans, only by a 5 to 2 margin do Americans say they have a favorable view of Muslim Americans. If we had made the question Muslims, as we made the questions Jews or Catholics, we would have gotten a much more negative view in my opinion. And a very large majority of Americans have an unfavorable view of Atheists or people who do not believe in God as we term them.
And I think those are the — that’s the top of it, E.J., and we’ll just leave it there.
Great. I just want to add a couple of points from going through this data. I think the split that Andy found between wanting a very religious president on the one hand, but people being uncomfortable when politicians talk about religion, how religious they are, does get at the ambivalence in the public. I think it’s one of those glass half-full, glass half-empty questions, because when you look at the way we phrased the question, when politicians talk about how religious they are, you would imagine that some people may just find that that’s pompous, and you might have sort of a 10 point swing, depending on the question wording on that. And I think one of the striking findings of this survey overall is how much difference question wording can make on these questions, suggesting that people’s attitudes are on this are either very fine tuned, or very ambivalent, depending on your point of view.
You will note, for example, on charitable choice, that when the question is posed as the government giving government funding to these religious organizations support for charitable choice is at 54 percent to 44 percent opposed. But when we ask the other half of the sample the same question, but worded it slightly differently, allowing religious organizations to apply along with other organizations for government funding, which is an equally fair way of describing charitable choice, support for it goes up to I believe the number is 67 percent, a 13-point swing. And what we found especially is that the biggest swing from one question wording to the other was among the very well educated. They were more likely, if you cast it in terms of kind of a free choice by government, the college educated went way up.
People further down the education ladder are actually much less ambivalent about their support for charitable choice. And the support among African Americans is really striking. Not only as Andy reported was there overwhelming support for the strong version of the question, but if you asked, would you support allowing these organizations to apply for government funding, 86 percent of African Americans said yes. And Ron, I think, will talk about this. I think some of this is the history of social action by the African American Church in cooperation with government. But I think it’s a very important and in some ways, I think, to a lot of people a counter-intuitive finding that we have so much Democratic support for this.
Two other quick points. I think each party has a problem on religion, and that is underscored in this survey. When the question is asked, are the Republicans too closely tied to religious leaders, are either of the parties too closely tied to religious leaders, 13 percent of Americans listed the Republicans, 6 percent listed the Democrats. But among college-educated voters, 21 percent said Republicans had excessively close ties to religious leaders. Put another way, the college-educated are only 27 percent of the sample, but nearly half of those who thought that the Republicans were too close to religious leaders. It’s also true that upper income voters are more likely to think that than middle or lower income voters.
That suggests that the Republicans do have a real challenge in a group that has often been part of its core constituency on the religious issue. On the Democratic side, as Andy alluded to, their problem is that their party includes some of the most religious voters in the nation, especially African Americans, and also some of the most secular voters in the nation, those most hostile to links between religion and public life. And so, if the Republicans have a kind of defection problem on the religious question, the Democrats have a coalition management problem on the religion question. And, so far, judging from those numbers on Lieberman, they are perhaps managing it pretty well, but I think that’s where things stand. I also think that, oddly, and it’s not fair at some level to the Republicans, it may help Democrats to talk about God, and it may hurt Republicans to talk about God because of the problems they have to solve. The Republicans can’t afford to lose more of these upscale voters, whereas the Democrats need to gain votes among middle income voters, socially conservative groups, and in presentation of some of Andy’s other findings the other day, one of the big gains for Gore in recent months, his big gains have come among socially conservative Democrats, and a group he called populist Republicans. It’s not so much where Bush’s margin is less than it is among other Republican groups.
And before turning to the panel, I would just like to point out that this survey finds remarkable similarities between white Evangelical Christians and African Americans on so many measures of religiosity there is only one big difference, which is, at the end of this analysis one group turns rather strongly toward the Republican Party, and the other group turns rather strongly toward the Democratic Party, a minor distinction in an election year.
I will turn it over, I guess Mike is first on our list, and when did you get these fundings, Mike?
So these are very fresh findings, and if he looks tired, it’s because he poured over them all night long. Mike, welcome.
Thank you, E.J. Yes, the study that I’m reporting to you is done by Dr. John Green of the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron, and he was asked to be on the panel and he couldn’t be here. So, what I’m reading from is emails and faxes that came to me of the data that will be released next month. And so, I have the data, and it’s as fresh to me as it is to you. So, I will report it as it came in.
One of the things about the finding that would be most striking, at least to some people in the room, is that Evangelicals as a voting group are not monolithic in their voting behavior. While they do tend to be conservative, you’ll be surprised to know that 30 percent of them identify themselves as Democrats. I know this is news to at least some people in the room who are in the press. But Evangelicals are not a monolithic voting group on the right. And I take it from what we just heard from Andrew Kohut, that the Lieberman selection is actually, according to someone I spoke to yesterday, has actually caused some Evangelicals pause, that they may still remain Democratic, which is an interesting point altogether.
This survey looked at 5,004 people, a random sample of 4,004, plus it added 1,000 Evangelicals. Out of that 5,000, it found out who the Evangelicals were in the survey, and then it surveyed 1,000 Evangelicals, and it came up with some interesting findings.
One of them is that what you may well know is that 25 percent of American people identify themselves as Evangelicals, 25 percent. Evangelicals, they had two ways of defining Evangelical, one is a traditional Evangelical, and one is a less traditional Evangelical. Here’s a traditional Evangelical, a traditional Evangelical sees the Bible as the infallible word of God and attends church weekly. A less traditional Evangelical attends church once a month.
Now, I have to ask my political scientist, how does a less traditional Evangelical attend church only once a month. I said, that doesn’t sort of measure up to the traditional understanding of what an Evangelical is, which is a fervent person who takes seriously his, not only his Bible, but his church attendance, but that’s for another conversation.
But in that, they found out different results from what traditional Evangelicals believe and what less traditional Evangelicals believe, 60 percent of Evangelicals identify themselves as traditional Evangelicals, 40 percent say they’re sort of less traditional Evangelicals. What does that mean? Well, that means that some Evangelicals are more liberal than are commonly understood. And the less traditional Evangelicals would not at all identify themselves with the religious right.
Now, let me just tell you some of the results quickly. I have less than five minutes. On social issues, the results will not surprise you. Evangelicals are largely against abortion under any circumstances, and that 78 percent would say should be illegal. But the less traditional Evangelicals, only 43 percent of them say it should be illegal. On gay rights, do they oppose gay rights, almost 50 percent of Evangelicals do; less traditional Evangelicals, 26 percent. Now, what might surprise you is on the faith-based issues they surveyed is that Evangelicals are skeptical about charitable choice, they’re skeptical about charitable choice, but they’re not skeptical about vouchers, they’re pro-vouchers. So, for instance, on charitable choice, only 44 percent of Evangelicals support charitable choice, where as 40 percent opposed it. On school vouchers, though, over 50 percent support it, and only 36 percent do not.
Now, on economic issues, according to the data, Evangelicals are economic conservatives as well as being social conservatives. Their ideology is, Evangelicals, by 70 percent among traditional Evangelicals, define themselves as conservative, but in the less traditional category only 44 percent do; 17 percent of Evangelicals in the traditional category define themselves as liberals, and less traditional Evangelicals almost 30 percent do. When it comes to partisanship, 57 percent of Evangelicals in the traditional category identify themselves as Republican, but 30 percent identify themselves as Democrats.
Now, my time is running out, all right, E.J., here’s the most surprising point, among Evangelicals when asked, should religious people be involved in the world through the political process to combat evil in the world, 92 percent said yes they should. Why is this important? Well, this is important because it used to be a sin in the Evangelical community to be involved in politics. Now, it’s a sin if you’re a political celibate, if you will. It’s a sin if you’re not involved in politics. Evangelicals have become politicized. And if you go back and look at the literature of the history of fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, you see all these people gathering momentum, making arguments about why Evangelicals ought to be involved in the world, well, those arguments are no longer necessary. You can move on now and say, now what should we be for and what should we be against. But to make a case about why somebody at Jerry Falwell’s church should be involved in politics, it’s not even necessary anymore. But we can talk about that in the Q&A, because a lot of that is happening.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Thank you very much, Mike. I would just like to point out that it’s always nice when data in one poll confirms another poll, because in the Pew Research Center numbers we also found that kind of skepticism among Evangelicals, in other words, about charitable choice, some doubts about it. And Andy and I were talking about it, and at least I theorized that when you put the word “government” in the question, “government aide to certain forms of social service” you may almost automatically drive down some of the numbers among more conservative groups in the electorate. But I also think that what you’re seeing in Mike’s numbers is a continuation of the strong separationist tradition that has existed among Baptists, certainly, but among lots of Evangelical groups in the past. I thank you very much, Mike.
David, Mainliners in Andy’s telling are one of the key swing religious groups in the country, so we should pay very close attention to what David says.
Well, that’s great. Well, we read it the same way, but what you should pay really close attention to is what Bob Wuthnow says. Robert Wuthnow, a professor of sociology of religion at Princeton is the director of the Public Role of Mainline Protestantism project. And I’m here representing that project, and representing the Aspen Institute that serves as a liaison for it in Washington. So, I’m a skinny ex-English major pinch-hitting for a true heavy hitter among sociologists of religion, as a result any tough methodological I’ll refer to Andy Kohut. Any subtle political questions to E.J. And any really obnoxious questions I’ll refer to my friend Mike Cromartie here.
A definitional confession categorizing religious behaviors and affiliations is, as many of you in this room know, and certainly those of you on the panel know, is a very sloppy business. For our purposes here, Mainline Protestants are defined as members of the six largest Protestant denominations. I’m sorry, six large Protestant denominations, the United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, and the American Baptist Churches in the USA, not the Southern Baptists who would be more likely in Mike’s camp.
The sloppiness, though, comes in distinguishing between these Protestants and their Evangelical brethren and sistren. There are members of the Presbyterian Church USA, for example, who would identify themselves as Evangelical. As Mike pointed out, that’s to some extent a theological issue, and to some extent a political or cultural question. And there are, of course, members of predominantly black United Church of Christ congregations who might show up in Ronald Walters’ data on Black Churches.
Bob Wuthnow, in conducting a survey, a religion and politics survey, employed a series of questions about affiliation to try to clarify as much as possible who is who. Bob’s survey looked at 5,603 adults age 18 and over in the 48 continental states, the large sample size permitted comparisons across religious affiliations.
So a couple of headlines here. The usual story about the Mainline denominations is one of decline. These groups are smaller in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the electorate than they were at their peak. Mainline Protestants represented as much as 46 percent of the electorate in 1960, of the total electorate, by 1996 that percentage declined to about 28 percent. I think Andy gets a slightly different number.
The six largest denominations that I mentioned lost 5.6 million members between 1965 and 1990, but that decline has essentially leveled off now, and there are still about 20 to 22 million Mainline Protestants by our definition, 20 to 22 million, and that’s a sizeable chunk of the electorate no matter how you slice or dice.
They are, indeed, a decisive swing group. Partly because of their movement from being reliable Republican voters to the mushy independent middle. They were, in terms of their share of the Republican presidential vote, Mainline Protestants were 59 percent in 1960, partly driven up by a reaction to John F. Kennedy’s candidacy, but 59 percent in 1960, 45 percent in 1972, 33 percent in 1996. So a fairly steady decline in terms of their percentage of the Republican coalition. Now, that’s partly driven by a change in ideological shift from the rightish towards the centerish, but also simply driven by the demographic decline. There are simply fewer Mainlines available for anybody.
One important distinction here, and then I’ll turn it back over to E.J. between Mainline and Evangelical participation in political life, in public life, Mainlines in general would be characterized by their quiet participation. So, for example, in response to a series of questions about whether they would like to see more of each in the next few years, religious leaders appearing on television talk shows, 50 percent of Evangelicals said they’d like more of that behavior, 38 percent of Mainlines. Religious leaders criticizing our elected officials is about even, 26 percent, 24 percent. Religious leaders running for public office, 58 percent of Evangelicals favored this, 39 percent of Mainline. Religious leaders forming political movements, 42 percent of Evangelicals, 28 percent of Mainlines. When we come back later to some questions, we can hypothesize a little bit about the reasons for that difference in behavior. But top line Mainliners favor a more quiet form of political participation than Evangelicals.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Thank you very much. I want to say, the order we did this is not in descending support for the Republican Party, because then Peter and Alan would have to switch places. It’s actually alphabetical.
But what I’d like to do is get Alan in, and then go to the audience, and then come back to Peter and Ron. Alan has completed a very extensive survey, is in the process of doing another one.
Our data, unfortunately are not red hot, they’re almost lukewarm at this point. The published book is outside. I left some copies, I’ll be happy to take and give you some more. This survey was run in January and February, so it was pre-Lieberman. We are doing a second survey now to gauge the impact of the past couple of months. The survey is based on a Jewish sample of 1,002 Jews and 684 non-Jews. The sample constructed to approximately the Jewish sample. So, therefore, geographically, we did not sample anyone from the South, our apologies to Southern Jews, but we also drew on people with high levels of education and income and Jewish geographic distribution. So the Gentile sample is not fully comparable with some of the other information we’ve heard.
We also had a Jewish leadership sample of over 100 people who are communal activists at the March meeting of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs. What we found, in a sense, confirms what we’ve known about the Jewish community for a long time, that the majority of Jews incline toward a very strict understanding of the separation of church and state. I have a lot of figures on this, and they’re not terribly surprising, and Jews stand an exceptional contrast to even their Gentile peers of the same characteristics.
But one thing that did surprise us is that the Jewish leadership group is far more rigorously strictly separationist than the Jewish public. I’ll give you a couple of examples. The question is, allowing public schools to display the 10 Commandments. The Gentile public agrees with this, 65 percent; the Jewish public would allow the 10 Commandments to be displayed in public schools 38 percent. That surprised all of us that it was actually that high. The figure that didn’t surprise us is that among Jewish leaders only 5 percent would agree with displaying the 10 Commandments. So, there’s a striking disparity between the Jewish leaders and the people they allegedly lead.
This question was asked before the Sante Fe decision came down, [on] allowing public school students to say non-sectarian prayers at sporting events, 69 percent of the Gentile public would allow it, 28 percent of the Jewish public, and 5 percent of Jewish leaders.
We asked the question on vouchers, government-aide vouchers to families for tuition in private schools, including religious schools, 43 percent Gentile public, 22 percent Jewish public, and 11 percent of Jewish leaders.
We asked some more abstract questions about support for the expression of religious views in public discourse. And we found that fewer Jews than Gentiles support such expression, and fewer Jews than Gentiles favor involvement of religious leaders and institutions in political affairs. In response, for example, to the question, democracy in the U.S. works better if Americans are religious, 42 percent of the Gentile public agreed with this as opposed to only 11 percent of Jews. But it’s interesting that 19 percent of Jewish leaders agreed with that. And so, one thing we found out about the Jewish leaders is that although on strictly constitutional issues, they’re more separationist, more principled, rigorous separationists than Jews at large, on issues that have to do with the symbolic expression of religious views in political debate, the involvement of religious leaders in political discussion, churches and synagogues being involved in political issues, the Jewish leaders were much more supportive of this than the Jewish public.
The Jewish leaders were also, I would say, more sober and realistic about anti-Semitism in the United States than the public, they saw this as far less of an issue than the Jewish public. In response to the statement, belonging to a church or synagogue makes one a more engaged and aware citizen, 56 percent of Gentiles agreed, 48 percent of Jews, and of Jewish leaders 55 percent. So, again, more of an endorsement of faith-based civic engagement.
I think I’ll quit here.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Thank you. Thank you very much. Before I turn to Peter and Ron, I want to see if anyone has a burning question or comment.
Could you use a mic? Just so everyone knows, this is being recorded, we’re going to put up the transcript on the web site.
Question: Wendy Kaminer from the American Prospect — This is primarily a question for Andrew Kohut. One of the difficulties I have in interpreting these figures is knowing what people mean by religion. Given, for example, the hostility you found toward Muslim Americans, I suspect that if you ask questions about religion in public life, you’d find lower support for it if you talked about the participation of Muslim Americans in public life. I think that I could get very different figures on the charitable choice question if I posed the question very differently, but no less honestly. If I said, do you support giving government money to the Nation of Islam or the Church of Scientology, if I said do you support giving government money to institutions that practice employment discrimination based on religious preferences, which is also what charitable choice does. So, you know, how do you tease out all of these attitudes when you ask questions like this?
We do this in future surveys. This was the first attempt to get some reaction to this. And I think your comments are absolutely right. If I had had more sample, in fact, I was going to ask that question with specific religious groups broken out in split sample form. We just didn’t have enough sample to do that. But, E.J. and I are going to launch ourselves into a series of surveys, and I think your point is very well taken.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
I think this survey underscores the fact that charitable choice is one of those questions where how the debate is formed is going to have a lot of effect on how the debate comes out. I think you see this may be an issue like Social Security privatization where, depending on how the question is asked, and what problems are posed, you can get support pretty high, or support very low. And just the small change you made here in the question, bumping support up by 13 points, I have a suspicion that there are ways of formulating the question where it would bump down some. But the one caution on that is, there is a sort of deep sympathy for religion that comes out in this poll.
As I pointed out, when you have 45 percent accepting a politician talking about how religious he is, not simply expressing his faith, that suggests a pretty strongly religious public. But Andy and I want to do a much larger survey because on a lot of these questions we do want to test the various possibilities.
Question: Al Millikan, the Washington Independent Writers — I was curious when you brought up the question about defining the less traditional Evangelical. It seems to me, this does assert some sort of compromise. The once a month church attendance that would, I assume, be an average attendance? And also, as far as the Bible as authority, that would be less believed in the less traditional? Is that to be taken for –
No, Al, I think it would be the same view of the Bible, but less church attendance. I mean, the definition of Evangelical has a certain strong understanding of the authority of the Bible. So you can’t be a less traditional Evangelical and say, I don’t — I mean, you can say it, but it wouldn’t work with the definition for Evangelical. So, I think it has to do with church attendance.
Question: Okay. Faith rather than works.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
My understanding of some of these surveys is that there’s a battery of questions that go into forming each of these groups, and sometimes it’s done on the basis of scores on questions, sort of, if you will, how pure are you, or which questions do you check where the response would make you less traditional. I think when this data is fully presented, we’re going to get a definition of that. But Mike’s findings square with a lot of other fundings. A lot of people who go to Evangelical churches, who broadly accept Evangelical views but dissent here or there, not unlike Catholics or Mainliners or people in a lot of other groups, and I think what Al was trying to get at is this significant minority chunk of Evangelicals who do not conform to stereotypes about all Evangelicals being conservative and extremely orthodox.
Question: Hi. I’m Sara Fritz with the St. Pete Times. — Andy, you clearly asked how people felt about a person being personally religious, and also talking about it, but what about acting upon it? Isn’t this something that people fear the most is that they’ll act on their faith in some way that’s unpredictable. Did you do anything that would –
Sara, that’s another good set of questions for a subsequent poll, you’re right. That’s something that certainly bears further explanation and exploration.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
This is going to be a focus group on how to construct the next questionnaire.
Let me jump in on a couple of the sort of distinction questions. I made essentially the point that Mainline Protestants are more “quiet” in their political engagement than evangelicals. That difference essentially goes away with level of education, so that college educated evangelicals, college educated Mainline, essentially the same in response to that set of questions about what kind of political engagement you would like to see. The difference is that there are, forgive me Mike, a higher percentage of Mainline Protestants who are college degree holders than Evangelicals. So, therefore, when you look at the group as a whole, you get this difference.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Mike is vigorously nodding his head.
Not anymore. I’m sorry.
Well, it is by Wuthnow’s data.
But not by John Green’s data.
There you go.
I want to add something, E.J., to Sara’s question. One of the things that maybe gives sort of a hint at the answer to your question is the really profound generational differences that exist in the idea of mixing religion and politics. And that’s notably the way older people, people over 65 years of age, are much more openly religious, but they express much more concern in a variety of questions, not only that question about being uncomfortable, but also the question about politicking from the pulpit, or ministers speaking out. And that goes back to a time where behavior was really very much at issue, and religious freedom was the question that was motivating — religious persecution, rather, not freedom, and bias was a real issue for these people. And I think that’s one of the things that we could have emphasized a little bit more in our analysis. And we’ll again be further exploring.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
To underscore what Andy said, one of the surprising findings I thought was, and I’m not sure it’s in the release, that the support for charitable choice was much higher among under 30s than it was among people over 50. And I want to explore that more to figure out what is going on there. Yet, the under 30s are also, by other measures, less religious. So you have this kind of paradox in this data about that.
On a future survey of this question, it would be important to discern about the concern about whether they’re going to act on their faith or not. You wouldn’t want to say to the Reverend Jesse Jackson, we don’t want you to act on your concern for the poor, we just want you to be concerned about them. So it would be unfair to say to Ralph Reed “We don’t want you to act on your pro-life convictions, but you can hold them.” So discerning what issues you choose as to what they should act on would be tough. I know there are a lot of people in the religious conservative community concerned about Joe Lieberman. They like his faith, but they wonder why he doesn’t act on his concern about partial birth abortion, or what the connection is. And so that’s going to be a tough one. And I look forward to seeing what Andrew finds out in that next survey.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Just in the interest of accuracy, Lieberman’s position on abortion is, he is not — he doesn’t take the same view as Evangelicals do on partial birth abortions, and he doesn’t act on the concern. They don’t understand why he takes that position, not that he’s not taking a position on that.
Please, and then I’ll go to Peter and Ron.
Question: Hi. My name is Elena Braun with the New America Foundation. — I wanted two real quick questions. I wondered whether you have any sense of what percentage of the Evangelical Christians were Black Christians, because when we think of conservative Christian Evangelicals, we tend not to put African Americans there, but based on the sort of definitions you are offering of Evangelicals, believing the Bible is the infallible word of God, and high church attendance, I began to think to myself more and more that sounds like black people. So I wonder if you have any information on that?
And I wondered if you have any information on the breakdown between orthodox and non-orthodox Jews as to the views of separation? Where that question is coming from is, I get a sense that in the same way that the Christian conservatives have been trying to organize with conservative Catholics, they’ve been trying to do some of that with orthodox Jews, and I wonder if that has yet manifested itself in perhaps less support for separation.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
That’s going to be a good segue into Ron. Do you want to take the question on Evangelicals, black and white?
Only that that’s an answerable question. I can’t answer it off the top of my head, but if you will contact us at the Center, we can just make that calculation for you.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
But the answer, when you look at these numbers, what you’ve said is absolutely right, that an awful lot of black Christians are evangelical Christians, and these groups tend to be split up in the polling data mostly because their politics are so different, not because their religious views are different, that is to say white and black Evangelicals.
Anything on the orthodox Jews question, or anything on Evangelicals before we go to Peter and Ron?
About 7 percent of our respondents identify themselves as orthodox Jews, which is consistent with what we know from other surveys of the Jewish community. But we didn’t — our study didn’t break out their opinions as a separate line in answer to any of these questions.
We do know that the Jewish leaders, who are a separate line, are not necessarily more orthodox, but they’re more observant, they have more intensive Jewish commitments than observances and engagements. But they’re no less, in fact, much more strict separationist than the Jewish community at large.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
And I want to turn to Peter. If the Mainliners have become a swing group because they have strayed from the Republican Party, Catholics have become a swing group because they have strayed some from the Democratic Party.
Thank you, E.J.
I would like to make a preliminary observation on Andy Kohut’s general finding about the ambivalence of people about religion and politics. It is my impression that this confirms something I’ve noted in a lot of surveys over the years. When looking at the position of religious people who favor some role for religion in public life, what I see again and again is, they don’t write a blank check for their religious leaders. The cutoff point is often different, sometimes it’s a distinction between what you can say in the pulpit, what you can say out of it. Sometimes it’s a distinction between addressing issues and endorsing candidates. But what I’ve seen again and again for years is, there is some line where people make a distinction. That’s a general observation.
As for the research project on American Catholics in the Public Square, which is being conducted by the Commonweal Foundation in New York which publishes the magazine of that name, and the Faith and Reason Institute here in Washington, of which Robert Royal is the director, our focus has essentially been on the multifaceted question, has there been in the past, is there in the present, and will there be in the future any distinctive Catholic contribution to American civic life.
Now, how Catholics vote is one important part of our study. But I have to quickly add that it is only one important part. We are interested in a lot of other things. And we are, frankly, less interested in who Catholics vote for, whether party or candidate, than in how they go about voting. To what extent are they influenced by formal church positions, by the venerable Catholic philosophical, theological notions of the common good, natural law, and personalism, or by this century-old body of developed Catholic social teachings articulated by Popes and Bishops and encyclicals and pastoral letters. To what extent are Catholics influenced by liturgical and parish experiences, or by their experiences simply in the passage from immigrant status to being mainstreamed Americans.
This week, as part of our study, CARA, the Applied Research Center at Georgetown University is actually conducting a national poll of Catholics exploring to the extent that we can such questions as well as exploring the obvious ones that preoccupy many of us and this city, certainly, at this moment, namely, who are you going to vote for in November.
Those results are obviously not here. We’ll be announcing and analyzing them at a noontime panel discussion on October 27th at the National Press Club. However, starting last year, CARA did pose several political questions in an omnibus survey of Catholic opinion. During the spring and winter this year earlier, CARA oversaw 18 focus groups in different regions of the country, focus groups of inner city and suburban parishioners, young adult Catholics, African American and Hispanic Catholics, religious educators, pastors, political activists, and even Catholics in the House of Representatives. This focus group material is fascinating in itself, but it’s also, of course, guided us in designing the survey which is being taken even as we speak.
In addition, David Leege and Paul Mueller of the University of Notre Dame prepared a painfully numbers crunching analysis of Catholic political patterns from 1952 to 1996, which we have subjected to further criticism and analyses at a conference we held in a recent meeting of the American Political Science Association.
Now, let me mention a few intriguing findings from each of these research components, starting with the last. Leege and his co-author Mueller in their analysis very doubtful I have to say that any of the movement in the Catholic vote, whether liberal or conservative in direction, can be strongly attributed to religious factors rather than economic, ethnic or racial forces.
Second, they challenge a long-standing belief in political lore that Catholics attending church rarely or not at all nonetheless think and act politically pretty much like other Catholics. On the contrary, they find now a sharp difference between regular attenders and infrequent attenders, who in fact are most like seculars in political patterns.
Now, that second conclusion is in some tension with their first one, that’s a detail that needs further exploration. But, it is worth noting that this difference between regular attenders and non-attenders is sharper among Catholics than among any other existing religious group. And that, of course, should affect one’s reading of data that combines these groups, does not make any distinctions between them. Thirdly, however, they find that active churchgoing Catholics are a markedly declining proportion of the electorate, partly because church-going is declining among Catholics. And if they remain important it is largely as a swing vote within certain key swing states.
Now, by contrast the preliminary CARA poll, while confirming much already known about Catholics, including their continuing, but not overwhelming Democratic identification, suggested some real links between faith and political attitudes even, I have to say, and I won’t try and go into the details here, between sermons and political attitudes. And that really, if you’re familiar with Catholic lore about sermons, that really is astonishing information. In fact, there’s some evidence that among non-regular attenders, frequently heard sermons dealing with the life issues, such as abortion, and euthanasia, and so on, increase their likelihood of supporting those positions, while non-regular attenders who frequently hear sermons on economic justice issues are also influenced, but perhaps in the opposite direction of what the preacher is saying.
Finally, of the many intriguing points that could be pulled out of the focus groups I’ll mention three. First, Catholics, just like other Americans, pardon me, E.J., to coin a phrase, hate politics. Any inheritance of the Catholic Aristotelian tradition that politics is more than a necessary evil, it took a long time to kick in in these focus groups. And that’s a very interesting distinction between what Mike is saying about the trend among Evangelical Christians.
- abortion, though it somehow never registers in the polls, remained a real red thread running through these discussions, apparently often operating at some pre-electoral level to shape attitudes. Thirdly, the frequent frank admission of ambivalence and second thoughts about capital punishment, sometimes with explicit references to the hierarchy and the Pope, are another indication that the faith-politics connection remains a live nerve.
As for more details, we’ll see you, I hope, on October 27th.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Thank you very much.
So now we have red hot data, lukewarm data, and still being baked. I just want to say, my dear friend Peter I agree with on almost everything. I finally found an issue I disagree with him on, there is no such thing as painful number crunching. For some of us to crunch numbers is near heaven.
Ronald Walters, please.
Well, I’m in the still being baked category. I’m a political scientist at the University of Maryland, although I also direct an institute on African American leadership. So I was asked by Dr. R. Drew Smith, who also is involved with the leadership institute at Morehouse College in Atlanta, to become involved as a member of the board of the national study that they have undertaken on the public influence of the black church. By public influence they mean essentially the involvement of the black church in politics and public policy. And the data that they have now developed, but not yet analyzed, has to do with chapters on 16 cities, and we’ve been asked to do the one on Washington, D.C., and we’re involved in doing that. Two thousand cases of interviews of black ministers all around the country, and then finally a metropolitan study where we’re looking at the comparison between Washington, D.C., and Prince George County, and Atlanta and DeKalb County. That last one I came in as a member of the board and demanded that they do. And they say, yes, this is very logical, because of the migration patterns of the black population, and because of the rise of what we call black mega-churches. And my graduate assistant is doing a doctorate dissertation on black mega-churches, and she’s making some really interesting findings on that score.
But, let me say a few general things. At our last conference in Atlanta we made a decision as a board to release these data in April of 2001, at a national conference that’s going to be held here in Washington, D.C. So we don’t have any data to release at this time, because we’re all involved in our studies. But I want to say just a few things about the black church in relationship to this data. The first thing I will say is that the function of the black church really has been more comprehensive than the white church in the lives of blacks, by dint of the histories, and the social status of their constituencies. And therefore, the black church tends to be more of a 180 degree institution in the lives of blacks than the white church.
No surprise, blacks have been very prominent therefore, especially black ministers, in political affairs. There was one point in the 1970s when 20 percent of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus were ministers, three ministers, I think four actually, another person had gone to seminary. The black church, as E.J. hinted to, has always been a base for black mobilization in civil affairs. And the church as been, even more important than that, an agent early on of acculturation on the one hand, and socialization on another, which is to say they have provided the guidance of what correct behavior in a white society amounts to. And they have been responsible for helping adjustment patterns, and the broad migration of blacks from the North to the South, and so forth.
So they’ve had an uncommon role in the life of blacks, and part of that of course has been in political affairs. Therefore, it’s no surprise also that Reverend Jackson would participate, as a minister, in the presidential campaigns in ’84 and ’88. I served as his deputy campaign manager for issues, and for a political scientist who was not, of course, a minister it was really an eye opener, because the base of his political support all throughout the South was the Baptist church. As a matter of fact, without the Baptist church he wouldn’t have been able to qualify to get federal funds for his presidential campaign. And throughout I saw just a tremendous sort of unfolding of tremendous support for his campaign among black ministers and black churches.
The black church is a liberal institution, essentially as it addresses civil society, in terms of its ideology. Now, E.J. talked about the congruence between blacks and Evangelicals in terms of the way in which they think. Yes, there is that because of the very strong strains of conservative thought in the black community. The problem is that does not translate into political conservatism, because of the operational issues. When you ask people what do they want, they want change, essentially, and therefore they grasp for the mechanisms of change. And so those mechanisms have taken them in a liberal to progressive direction, and in many respects they’ve overridden the policy conservatism in the black community.
[Gayraud] Wilmore, in his book on black religion and black radicalism, talks about this contradictory dichotomy in the black church is sometimes confusing, because it will lead you in one direction and then in another. In my study, another reason I was asked to do this, because in 1978 we did a study on the black church in Washington, D.C., and it was entitled Exploring the Role of the Black Church in the Community. And what we found when we asked this question of 35 black churches in the city, multi-denominational and regional, politics has no place in the church, 35 percent agreed, 38 percent agreed somewhat. So that the balance of the respondents agreed that politics had no place in the church. But, when you ask the last question, the church should be involved in fighting racial discrimination, it’s 68.7 percent.
So there is this confusion here of what one means by politics, and if you agree then, of course, that you should fight racial discrimination, then it doesn’t make much sense to say that you should not go into the public arena. So there is that contradictory thing, that’s what I meant, in the black church that we found in ’78, and which I’m sure still exists to some extent, although I would venture to guess that there has been also a change in the black community with respect to this question about whether or not people believe that you ought to participate in politics. And I think it’s going to probably drift in the same direction as the Evangelical community has done over time. I think we’ll probably find that when we release this data in the spring.
A final point I would make, this issue having to do with charitable choice is interesting. It’s also caused some problems in the black community, I would note, and particularly Reverend Floyd Flake, who was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, had some serious problems with many of his colleagues over this issue. He resigned from the Congressional Black Caucus. He, I should say to you, runs a large church institution in the City of New York, in Queens, and to some extent would like to be dependent upon, or would like to at least get the contributions of the federal government to his school. But he runs a whole series of social service programs. So he has taken a different position on issues like charitable choice and vouchers from that of many of his colleagues, who do not have churches and therefore don’t have the burden of running these institutions.
I was interested, a final, final point, because I’ve been asked in the last few weeks about Lieberman, and blacks and Jews, and whether or not that would stir up anything between blacks and Jews. The data in this, while you do have some less of a reaction from blacks to the question having to do with the opinion of some religious groups having to do with Jews, blacks at 58 percent, whites at 80 percent. So there is some difference here with respect to the totally favorable response. Still, when it comes down to unfavorable responses, only 13 percent of blacks, and so I would think that you don’t really have much of a basis even in this survey for this sort of public angst that sometimes, I think, the media makes out of the difference between blacks and Jews.
A final, final point I would make about the data is that I think to some extent it’s skewed, and I think it’s skewed because of the sampling issue. Now, I have had a long discussion with the Washington Post over the years about taking a breakout of the 12 percent of the national sample and imputing that to a group. You can’t do that accurately. What happens is that the error rate kicks up. So I’ve tried to, and I think Rich Merin finally got the message, that you really ought to over-sample these groups in order to get the best response. And so I don’t think we have quite that with this. We have some suggestive responses, and I think we probably ought to take them at that level.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Thank you very much.
I just want to underscore something Ron said, not the last point, where I think there is a need to do some over-sampling, although you’re getting some of these differences we’ve found between blacks and whites survive pretty strict statistical tests, and even with these numbers. But, some numbers in the survey very much underscore what he said. This is the point about African-Americans and white Evangelicals on the one side being very similar in their religious behavior, and yet being very different in their politics. Among all Americans, 45 percent say the churches should keep out of political matters, but only 33 percent of white Evangelicals said that, only 34 percent of African-Americans.
Among all Americans 25 percent say they are very involved in the activities of their churches, but 38 percent of white Evangelicals and 39 percent of African Americans, which underscores his point about the importance of the black church. Yet, when asked which party is more concerned with protecting religious values, 62 percent of African-Americans said the Democrats, 54 percent of white Evangelicals said the Republicans.
Thank you very much. Let’s go back to comments and questions, please.
Question: Yes, Jean Chasterie, Agence France-Presse. I’m sorry, I will ask a question which is not directly linked to the surveys. But as an outsider coming from a country which is more secular and less religious than the United States, how can you explain the contradiction of no prayer in school, and the same time Clinton going to the U.N. and saying God bless you all, or in the Senate you have a prayer by the chaplain automatically? And my second question is, are there any surveys being done on the voting patterns among the people from other churches, of sects, Scientology?
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Who on the panel wants to take the first — Peter?
This is not a complete answer to that. But, I think one of the things that gets insufficiently examined, but has a lot to do with instinctive responses is the difference between children and adults. The children are a captive audience in a situation of socialization. Adult members of the House of Representatives have presumably put themselves in that situation of their own free choice, and the anxiety level goes up in all issues from school libraries to the Internet and so on, when you’re dealing with children rather than adults.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Your question on other surveys, there are some other surveys going on in connection with these Pew projects, there’s a Muslim survey that we hope to be able to talk about at some point, where they want to look at what I’m now told are now called non-Abrahamic religions, as well. So we’re going to try to just look at the whole range.
I’m just trying to do it in the best order I can. Go ahead. Okay. Hands up.
Question: Thank you. I’m Peter Tauches [ph] for the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung. The new attention on religion in political life, is that due to the fact that researchers like you are paying more attention to it now, or is there something happening? Is there a resurgence of religion, or is what Eldon Eisenard calls a re-institutionalization of religion, or what you, Mr. Dionne, in your book called the renegotiation of America’s — I forgot the name, but you know what I’m talking about? And do you have a reason for that, can you explain why there is a heightened attention, a new discussion of the role of religion in politics?
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Could I say something very brief, then I’d love for the panel to comment. First of all, religion and American politics have always gone together back from the beginning, it’s waxed and waned, and there have been big arguments about it over a long period of time. One of my favorite jokes is about — this was not invented by the religious right. One of my favorite jokes is about Ms. O’Riley who has always voted straight Democratic, being taken to the polls by her son, he asks her how she’s going to vote. He now splits his ticket, he’s sort of affluent. She says straight Democratic, and he asks her, “if Jesus came back to Earth and ran as a Republican you’d vote against him?” And she replies, “hush, why should he change his party after all these years.”
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
It’s been very common in our political life. Personally, I think two things — there are at least three explanations. One, I think it started to change with Jimmy Carter. I think Evangelicals had been — sort of pulled themselves out of the public square after the failure of prohibition, the Scopes trial, they had become less politically active. Jimmy Carter opened the way. The religious right came along, which created a lot of noise and attention around this issue for conservative Evangelicals, issues like abortion, and prayer in schools motivated a lot of political activity.
On the other side, but I don’t think this is confined to the political right, this is my personal theory, I think that there is a sense that we disestablished Protestantism, not only formally, but as the dominant political language of the country, which it really was until John F. Kennedy’s election, or maybe until at least Al Smith’s candidacy. We went through this period of kind of pushing religion to the margins, and now there’s an effort to figure out is there a civic glue that came from a religious culture that was actually helpful, and is there any way to recreate that civic glue in a very new, and more pluralistic context.
And I think one of the things we hope to explore at the Forum is, how would that come about, and what are the problems with that, because I think it is both an attractive and a problematic idea. But, those are my personal theories.
Does anyone else have –
I would add that there’s also this ever puzzling relationship between religion and American politics. The best evidence, in 1998, when a moral question was the number one question on everyone’s mind, yet it failed to operate in the predicted way. In 1998 Christian conservatives voted less uniformly Republican, even though the Democratic President of the United States was about to be impeached, compared to 1994 when there was no specific moral question on the agenda. This is a really puzzling thing, and the role of religion in politics, in American politics really defies easy and quick explanation, but it’s an important force that comes and goes and acts in unusual ways.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
I think Peter’s point on the inter-penetration of culture and religion, and how difficult that can be to separate out, or ethnicity and religion is also part of it.
We asked a question in our survey as to how the respondents perceive whether religion has increasing or decreasing salience in the public square, and we got very different answers from the three sample groups. Among the Jewish public at large, 31 percent thought that the influence of religion in American public life was increasing, 30 percent saw it declining, and 28 percent thought it was about the same. But, among Jewish leaders, 61 percent saw increasing presence of religion in American life, and only 10 percent thought it was declining, and 17 percent thought it was about the same. And among the gentile public, which is also very different from either of these, only 20 percent thought it was increasing and 43 percent thought it was declining. So the Jewish leaders seem to see religion peeking out from every bush around the public square, it’s the other groups who are much less sure.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Thank you. Mike. And then what I’d like to do is collect — there are so many hands that went up, I want to collect a bunch of comments from the audience before I go back to the panel. Mike.
I was just going to repeat that often quoted comment by sociologist Peter Berger who says that the most religious country in the world is India, the most secular country in the world is Sweden. America is a country of Indians ruled by Swedes. I think it explains a lot about how politicians now see the data that’s been coming out for two decades.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
I never knew we were that Social Democratic in America. Ma’am.
Question: — with the Boston Globe. I wanted you to clarify again the Evangelicals and their views about Lieberman. You said it was giving them pause, and I didn’t know if that meant it was giving them pause to look more closely at the Democratic ticket, or move away from it. And if you could talk a little bit about some of the things that Gore is not emphasizing, like gun control, and abortion, and maybe talking more about Hollywood and values, how those things are trying to appeal maybe to this same group of voters.
Mary, I was speaking to that issue, and this is sort of a criticism maybe of Evangelicals, and a reporter called the other day saying that some of the survey data he has discovered recently is that Evangelicals are impressed with Lieberman, not only for his religiosity, but they may be inclined toward the ticket, because of it, which says something about some Evangelical theology, which says we’ll take a symbol. In other words, we just want somebody to say there’s some transcendent reference point in their lives. This doesn’t go to the question of sincerity of faith. It just goes to the question of some Evangelicals are vulnerable to, whether it’s Ronald Reagan or whether it’s Joseph Lieberman, to appeals to piety and theology and serious religious commitment that says, I’ll take that person seriously, even though I may disagree with them theologically on some crucial points. So that’s why the person that told me this said that there are a lot of Evangelicals considering the ticket, because of Lieberman’s sincere genuine faith.
I have real questions about that. I think there’s movement probably among the Evangelical community toward the Democratic ticket. But, I think it’s been very difficult to figure out why, and I would probably bet on economic issues, because Lieberman was very important in reintroducing Gore, but at this point I don’t think Lieberman is very important in the way people think about that ticket.
And also, it should be noted that even though we’re talking about movement of white Evangelicals toward the Democrats, they are still on the whole a Republican group by a significant margin, in this survey.
Question:Hi, Lou Marano from UPI. I would like to ask Mr. Steinfels to go over three points that he made very quickly, towards the end of his presentation, that I didn’t quite grasp. First of all, the role of the Aristotelian tradition, secondly, abortion as a red thread that’s pre-political, and also your comment on capital punishment. I really didn’t understand, it went by so quickly I didn’t get them.
These were all points that were drawn from a lot of material by me, drawn by me from a lot of material that came up in the focus groups. And as material in focus groups, you cannot say that these are representative until you work those kind of questions into a sampling survey of some sort. Nonetheless, they were striking how much Catholics were like, at least our stereotypical, American in general in their negativity toward the political life. There is a strong Catholic teaching in which politics are not just a necessary evil, but a part of a way in which humans are political and social creatures from the beginning, and this is a way of living out a human life. It took quite a while, I was saying, for anything like that to kick in to the focus group discussions.
Secondly, about abortion, it was only that in most of the poll data we get about elections, the abortion issue is low priority, or kind of a washout, or something like that. In this conversations and representivity, you don’t know what to make of it here, but it did come up again and again as something which clearly shaped people’s general attitudes, their wariness, their suspicions, and this was usually from the point of view of a kind of pro-life, or anti-abortion position.
Thirdly, on capital punishment, clearly most of the people in these focus groups representing the general views of Americans, were supportive of capital punishment. But, the number of people who expressed — quite frankly said they were now having second thoughts, or they were somehow having qualms, and related that to religious events, as well as some of the recent public cases and the Governor of Illinois’ position and so on, suggested that there was, indeed, some actual spin off from religious teachings about which other data in our efforts would make us a bit skeptical.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Did you want to say something, Robert, Robert Royal.?
Question:I’m Robert Royal from the Faith and Reason Institute, we with Peter are doing this Catholic survey. I’d just like to add one point on what I thought was Peter’s very good summary of what our preliminary survey and our focus groups have shown. The part of American Catholics that hates politics, in E.J.’s famous phrase, does so, at least in my reading, because they feel that politics has become something that directly contradicts their usual sense of politics, as an expression of solidarity. So when Peter says that this Aristotelian, this is what we use for short hand, Aristotelian-Thomastic tradition in Catholicism that sense of the state as something positive and not just a necessary evil, you do find further along in the conversations that these Catholics have that they almost uniformly say that they had very high aspirations and they were brought up to believe that public life, particularly among American politicians, among people who were involved in social justice ministries, they tended to see politics itself as a very high calling. It’s just the actual manifestation of it, I think, that unfortunately has put many of them off, and gives you what may be this kind of ambivalent reaction that they have about the very concept of politics.
Question: My name is Mohammad Abdul Auwal. I’m representing Council on American-Islamic Relations. I have a question, maybe Dr. Ronald Walters can answer this. How do you phrase separation of church and state? For example, my experience with the Muslim communities, they would not even go for voting, because they think that their voting is not making a difference. But, once they see that the activism of a few groups in a constituency X made a difference, they are voting. And when they hear that, for example, they believe that they should not interfere with politics, but at the same time when the thing that their — what’s it called, city council acts and rejected their application for constructing a mosque, and then next time, okay, let us go for voting.
So when you phrase questions, whether religion should be separated from politics or not, or whether they should engage in, but when you phrase the question like you said whether we should defend the rights of these people or engage in activities that do social justice they are prompted. So I think the way it is — I mean, the words do not make sense to people unless they are explained in a particular context. And in that sense, I think if you raise your survey questions in a way that — in other words, you operationally define the questions, then I guess you’ll get different answers. Thank you.
Well, first let me say that your organization has come a long way, because I participated last year in a strategy session that they had in Detroit. So they have come not only past the question of whether or not they ought to participate to looking at strategy.
Secondly, I think it does make a difference. I think there’s a learning curve that all groups go through that have been formerly “outside of society.” And I think that with the black community ever since the development of I would say the Moral Majority of the 1970s, that has acted as, I think, a very strong catalyst to black churches, especially in the South, to become far more engaged and involved in politics. Partly for reasons of fear, because of the appropriation of so many other issues, but also because of the fact that a lot of the participation of these groups has been legitimated. And I think that takes away from the prohibition of getting involved.
So it’s had both, I think, a positive and a negative effect, because America has accepted through their fight to actually bring their religion into the public square, that has been legitimated as something that’s okay. So both the positive and a negative I think has brought black religion far more into politics. But I would say that there is this residual fear of church and state, and some separation. I think in this particular survey having to do with on the one hand politics and the affairs of the church, as opposed to preaching from the pulpit. There is that dichotomy, which is to say that people are still cautious and concerned. They want politics reflected in the affairs of the church and its outreach, but they don’t necessarily want it formalized as the doctrine or theology of the church. So there is still that dichotomy there.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
I think I’m curious what Andy thinks of this. I think that you make a very good point, because I think when people are asked polling questions about religion what they bring to the question can be very different. It’s as simple as people on the left may love church involvement in social justice issues, but not on abortion, and people on the right may feel exactly the other way around. And I think one of the things in the work we want to do is try and tease out some of these distinctions, because the same answer to the same question can mean very different things to different respondents. That’s true in a lot of cases, but I think that’s especially true here.
I agree. And to Ron Walters’ point, using these old Gallup questions from 1965, you see the same distinction that you were mentioning. And the wording is, should the churches keep out of political matters, or should they express their views on day-to-day social and political questions. That’s issues. The majority say yes. And then, do you think it’s ever right for clergymen to discuss political candidate or issues from the pulpit, bring in political candidates and you get a 64 percent no. So there is this clear distinction, very much driven by the language, which points to partisan politics or candidate politics versus issues, which are seen as a more legitimate issue for the church.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Jerry Falwell, by the way, has been very candid about his own inconsistency on this. When it was civil rights in the ’60s, he said the churches shouldn’t become political. And then when it became abortion in the ’70s, he said the churches should become political. And he, in his memoir, acknowledges that he switched sides. I think some of the old numbers that we have from back in the ’60s I suspect are influenced by the central role that the church played in the civil rights struggle.
Alan, you wanted to say something?
We asked some direct questions on this, and I think parenthetically, this is a place where the Jewish leaders have their heads screwed on straight. Clergymen can discuss political candidates or issues from the pulpit, only 30 percent of gentiles agree, 35 percent of the Jewish public, but 73 percent of the Jewish leaders agreed with that. Similarly, churches and synagogues should keep out of political matters, 36 percent of gentiles agreed with that, 44 percent of the Jewish public also, but only 14 percent of Jewish leaders agreed with that. And then one on, it’s okay for the right to life movement to use religion in the debate on abortion, 42 percent of the gentile public, only 15 percent of the Jewish public, they certainly don’t like that, but to their credit 50 percent of Jewish leaders said that’s okay.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Please, a couple in the back there. Why don’t we take two questions together. I don’t want to go too far over the time.
Question: Hi, Jed Duvall, EXBTV. Do you discern from your respondents, or do you have any observations of your own to the distant past, to the founding of this country, to colonies that were created on a religious base, or freedom from religion, and the separation from the government, does any of this go all the way back?
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Hold that question, that’s a good profound question to end this on. A couple of other people back there?
Question: Al Millikan, WIW again. Over Labor Day weekend I heard Michael Brown from the podium down on the mall for the Call gathering stating that a generation ago 80 percent of young people were in church. Currently he stated that 88 percent, he’s talking about 13 to 18 year olds, were not in church. But, actually by the time they are 18, of that 12 percent that are in church currently 80 oercent of those will no longer be in church. And I’m seeing that as a very disturbing trend. Obviously, this has been happening over a period of time. And I’m not sure how accurate the statistics are, but my own personal observation is there is something to this, and it seems very disturbing to me, as far as the future of politics, as well as religion in our country.
I have a concern also, even when you’re talking about the Bible as authority, it seems like surveys both among the church and un-church people, there’s a terrible ignorance about what the Bible contains. So even though someone may say they claim the authority of the Bible, they really don’t know what is in it.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Thank you. There are a couple more in the back, if I could.
Question: Hillel Fradkin of the American Enterprise Institute. I wanted to ask Mr. Kohut a question about these two questions about politicians and their religious beliefs. It looks like there’s a group of people, roughly 50 percent of the public, that believes politicians should have strong religious beliefs, and also express them in public. And it looks like there’s also another group that believes that they should have strong religious beliefs, but not express them. And I was wondering whether you have some sense of what they — I can understand in principle combining these two things, but exactly what they would expect from politicians in that regard.
Discretion, and that’s particularly apparent among older people. Having this two mindedness is most apparent among older people. And that’s just a segue to the other point that was made. One of the things that we’ve noticed over time is while the influence of religion has grown, if you look from the ’60s at the number of people who say they are members of various denominations and churches, there are some changes. But, the single largest increase is the number of people who describe themselves as un-church, or secular. And this is a group of growing political importance, as well, often overlooked in discussions of the impact of religion on politics.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
I forgot to bring it down today, but I actually did an analysis by demographic group of where the gap was biggest between those two questions, that is people saying they want their person to be religious, but they don’t want him to talk about it, or one way to read the question is brag about it. And I’ll be glad to share it with you, I just don’t have it with me now.
Question: — Americans for Religious Liberty. I want to ask a question just a brief one, I’ve been doing a lot of research myself over the years, and I’ve found that when you compare the ’92 to ’96 presidential results and ’94 and ’98, I found that the Republican party has always been the white Protestant party in this country, basically, since the 1850s. But, it seems to have narrowed even more deeply. The Catholic vote swung sharply to Clinton in ’96. Clinton won all 12 of the most heavily Catholic states. He carried 24 of the 25 most heavily Catholic metropolitan areas. And you look at the Asian-American, Hispanic-American, Native American, all of those groups trended toward Clinton in ’96. And only among white Protestants, both mainline and Evangelical, was there a slight gain for Senator Dole. And my question is, is the Republican Party really narrowing its base even more toward white Protestants, and can they possibly win a national election only with white Protestant voters?
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
I would like to go up the panel. I just want to make a quick comment on that. When the Republicans get only 38 percent in the Bush case in ’92, or 41 percent in the Dole case, they are down to their base. But if you look at the historical shifts, I think that the Catholic vote, as you know as well as anyone, is more Republican on the whole now than it was in the ’30s or in its peak in the 1950 election, although it’s true that Eisenhower made big inroads. So you had some defection there. And the African American vote, which used to include a big Republican component, that Republican component is gone.
But I think it’s like the gender gap. When Democrats lose, it’s because they have a big problem with men. And when Democrats win, it’s because Republicans have a big problem with women. But what you’ve got often is just a shifting in both groups.
Let’s go up. Any burning comments before I go back to the panel, if anyone wants to say something at this point, and then I want to go up the panel. The last shall be first and the first shall be last. I want to start with Ron and move up in response to all these questions, and also I want to ask David a question in particular, which is if you could address this in the course of talking about this, the shift in the Mainline away from the Republicans: is that rooted more in social issues, moral issues like abortion, or more in social justice issues, if you could keep that in the back of your head, if you could discern that.
Question: I’m just wanting to suggest that somebody poll elites on their attitudes toward religion and religious people. And certainly during my time here, I’ve formed a real — how does one put it charitably, but a real prejudice, prejudice might be too strong a word, but a real disdain for religious people, and I sense that. And there must be some level of low education of intellectual inferiority. I mean, the people I’m suggesting polling are like academics. I mean, these people are probably very hard to poll. But whether Lieberman has changed in any way their perception of who religious people are, I would love to know the answer to that one.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
One component of this project that Jean Elshtain is going to be working on at the University of Chicago very much has to do with the question of the academic world, and the study of and thinking about religion. Mass Mutual Insurance Company actually did the survey you were looking for some years ago. But that one has been around about ten years, but they did a kind of massive league study on religious attitudes that you might be interested in, different kinds of elites and their attitudes toward religion.
Well, very briefly, I think that one of the last things that I wanted noted here is the very strong support in this survey for charitable choice, or at least also the role of various social programs. There’s a question here having to do with your opinion of some programs and proposals being discussed in this country today. The total favor of blacks 86.7 percent, which is more than any other group, except Hispanics, which is 87 percent, which led me to believe that there’s some relationship here between the predisposition of these particular populations toward the role of government in general and the role of the church, and the relationship between the two, and the way in which that falls out in things like charitable choice.
So, I would be interested in looking at a more robust analysis in this in the future of the relationship between the government, and how people see government, because I think there may be, even over time, some changes in the way in which people see the role of government and their attitude toward government, and the way in which they see the church and their attitude toward the extent to which the church ought to be involved in public affairs.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
Could I underscore that I think it’s pretty clear when you break down the results of that question that some people are reacting more to the word “government” than “church,” and some people are reacting more to the word “church” than “government,” and it’s going to be a very interesting question to sort that out as charitable choice gets debated.
I can only say that having had the opportunity to be part of this discussion, I’m just all the more eager to see what our results show us when they come in.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
I think American Jews look a lot like the secular belief that the questioner had asked about. And to me the most interesting thing of the past month has been how the Jewish community went from an initial flush of enthusiasm and pride to being discomforted on some level that the native son is threatening the public policy orthodoxy of Jewish institutional culture. So, I think this is a very important story to watch.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
E.J., in response to your question, I can’t deliver you data on whether it was more social moral issues than social justice issues that caused the movement from Republican Party over that period, but the research at least suggests that it was primarily driven by the attraction to the social justice positions, and its increasing identification with the Democratic Party. But there is great turmoil within, and continues to be great turmoil within the Mainline denominations over these very issues.
One interesting thing, though, again, on this distinction between whether the public believes in more religious engagement on political issues or not, interestingly, very strong wording effect looking at all registered voters, Andy Kohut found that 32 percent think clergymen should discuss politics. In contrast, Bob Wuthnow’s data found that 76 percent thought that religious leaders should express their views on social and political issues. Now, it may just be that the addition of social and makes that much difference to people’s attitudes. So it goes somewhat to your comments before that there is that basic support for social engagement.
Similarly, looking at the public as a whole, this is not just Mainline, this is everyone. Wuthnow found 90 percent of the public saying that government should take an active role in addressing — I’m sorry, that social policy should take an active role in addressing poverty, that legislation to preserve the environment was highly important. So 90 percent of the public saying legislation, that’s a specifically governmental role, across the board, an interesting finding.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
E.J., we’re doing a survey starting next week of Evangelical elites, over 700 Evangelical leaders and parent church organizations are going to be surveyed. And what I would be interested in finding out is whether the Evangelical leadership and elite has the same attitudes as the mass does, especially on this question of the disappearance of fundamentalists and Evangelical separatism from the culture. I suspect that they will be just as strong on this as they will, but this survey will be coming out in the next few months. And if you get one in the mail, please respond.
Two things, we’ve been talking about white Catholics, and white Mainline Protestants as being swing groups. I continue to feel that. I would like to emphasize, though, that their religious beliefs have little to do with their being members of swing groups. They are basically on politically neutral ground. And, therefore, in a close election, groups that are on politically neutral ground, such as middle income voters, or white Mainline Protestants or Catholics, tend to be pretty evenly divided between these candidates.
The other thing that I would say is, I think we have to be careful in watching how people feel about Jews in relationship to Lieberman. This survey shows a decline in favorable ratings for Jews, no increase in unfavorable ratings, but an increase in the percentage of people who said “don’t know” or “unwilling to say” and that increase occurred among those groups that traditionally have less favorable opinions for Jews.
So the question will be as this campaign continues, whether there is a change here, and whether there is some hidden opinion, hidden hostility toward Jews that the polls are not picking up. I certainly didn’t make a point of this on such flimsy evidence in our survey, but it’s something that I will continue to look at in the remaining surveys that I do in this cycle.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.
I just want to close on the question of the gentleman in the back, does this go back to the beginning, and I think the answer is, we have been arguing about this as a nation for 200 years, and that there were differences at the time of the Constitution, there were arguments over state establishment of churches as opposed to federal government establishing churches. There was a riot in Philadelphia in 1844 over which version of the 10 Commandments should be posted in the public schools. So this is an old argument, and I quote it all the time because I think it’s so accurate about us as a country.
Alan Wolfe wrote that, “200 years after the brilliant writings of Madison and Jefferson on the subject, Americans still cannot decide whether religion is primarily public, private or some uneasy combination of the two.” And one of our purposes at this Forum will be to keep getting at that uneasy combination of the two that is very much a part of public life.
Therefore, I just want to make sure everyone who is here, if you want to participate in our future events, please give us your address, and email address. We’ve got a sign-up sheet on the outside.
I just want to thank our great panelists today, our fantastic audience. And Andy will respond to every single proposal for a question that was made there.
Thank you very, very much.