Understanding Religion’s Role in the 2006 Election
Key West, Florida
Some of the nation’s leading journalists and distinguished scholars gathered in Key West, Fla., in December 2006 for the Pew Forum’s biannual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life.
To help journalists better understand the role religion played in the 2006 midterm election, Pew Forum Senior Fellow John Green and American Enterprise Institute Resident Fellow Karlyn Bowman analyzed polling data. Issues addressed included whether the Democrats closed the “God gap,” which religious groups were “in play” this election, and whether or not religion polarizes voters.
A question-and-answer session with journalists followed their presentations.
Other Forum resources on religion’s role in the 2006 election include an analysis of post-election poll data and a transcript of a discussion featuring political activists Eric Sapp and Charmaine Yoest.
Michael Cromartie, Vice President, Ethics & Public Policy Center; Senior Advisor, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Editor’s note: The survey data to which John Green refers are embedded in the transcript below, as are some of the data referred to by Karlyn Bowman. Because some tables are referred to more than once, readers may wish to download and print a PDF of Tables 1-17.
Portions of this discussion deemed “off the record” have been omitted from the transcript and speakers have been allowed to review and edit their remarks.
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: We’re delighted to have two of the best political demographers and interpreters of polls here with us today.
JOHN GREEN: Before I begin let me call your attention to a couple of good resources on this topic. First is the analysis of the 2006 election results posted on the Pew Research Center website.
Second, a transcript well worth reading is the conversation between two political operatives after the 2006 campaign– Eric Sapp with Common Good Strategies, someone who worked very hard on faith-based politics on the Democratic side, and Charmaine Yoest from the Family Research Council, who was involved on the conservative side. They both offer some insightful comments.
Finally, do take a look at the most recent Pew Forum poll on the elections.
Today I’d like to do three things. One is work through data from the 2006 exit polls that has been cleaned up a little bit. Once the 2006 exit poll data sets are released, we’ll probably do a full report in which we will clean it up even more. This is not to fault the exit pollsters. They do a terrific job of getting the information out on election night, but there is a limit to how much they can do. So it’s worth sharpening up some of their religious categories. Then I’ll talk about some data on issue priorities and political contacting among religious voters. Finally, I would like to make a couple of summary comments about the role of faith groups in American elections.
Let’s turn to Table 1.
These categories are a little different than what you see on the World Wide Web or the CNN website, thanks to Scott Keeter at the Pew Research Center – who worked with the exit polls and was able to get some crosstabs that have not yet been made public.
White evangelical Protestants are on the very top line of Table 1. The posted exit poll data is for “white born-again Christians.” In our data, we’re able to separate out white mainline Protestants. This gives us a more precise look at the vote of these important religious communities, and it also allows us to look back at 2004 and 2002 with some precision.
Interpreting these data sets is more of an art than a science. Exit polls have all kinds of interesting data problems. If you have questions about the data, I’d be more than happy to discuss them, but let’s not get into those details right now; let’s just look at the general pattern.
One of the weaknesses of the approach represented on this table is we were unable to separate out non-white voters. So that category of “non-white voters” includes black Protestants and Latino Catholics, two very important groups. In this particular election, both groups voted strongly Democratic, so combining them is not that problematic.
This table and the next three tables refer to the vote for the House of Representatives.
We compare the 2006 data to the 2004 and 2002 elections. The first was a presidential election, and the second was the previous midterm election.
Generally speaking, white evangelical Protestants tended to stay in the Republican column, with the Democrats making some small gains. If you look at the far right-hand side of Table 1, you can see the change in the Democratic vote, from 2004 to 2006, and then from 2002 to 2006. In 2006, the Democrats made a 3-percentage-point gain over their vote in 2004 and a 2-percentage point gain over 2002.
These changes were small, but in a group as large and Republican as white evangelicals, even small shifts can be important. Of course, these are national figures. This change was concentrated in certain key races. A good example would be Ohio. The data we have from Ohio is not as good as what we have from national exit polls, but there is reason to believe the governor-elect, Ted Strickland, did very well among evangelicals in that state, while basically breaking even among white Protestants as a whole. It was quite an important gain.
We didn’t see gains like that everywhere in the country, and that is why we see only a small change in the white evangelical category at the national level. This point is especially important given the large number of close elections in 2006.
White Mainline Protestants showed a similar pattern to white evangelicals, about a 3-percentage-point shift. However, the shift was entirely off of 2004 and not off of 2002.
The big change occurred among white Catholics, and there we have two stories. One is a significant shift in the congressional vote from 2004 to 2006, a 5-percentage-point change in the Democratic column. But notice that is much less of a change from 2002 when the Republicans won this group by a small margin. We might conclude there are a lot of swing voters among white Catholics, and in 2006, they swung Democratic. But in 2004, they had swung Republican. They may swing differently in the future.
The other thing to note is that even in 2006, despite a 5-percentage-point gain among white Catholics for the Democrats, the white Catholic community was still evenly divided, with 50 percent for the Democrats and 49 percent for the Republicans.
If one looks at these three large white Christian communities – evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics – one could conclude the partisan gap in those communities narrowed because the Democrats picked up votes in each case, but especially among Catholics. But look at the rest of the table – unaffiliated voters, non-white voters, Jews and other faiths – among these groups the gap actually widened. Here religious groups that were already Democratic in 2004 and 2002 became much more Democratic in 2006.
Thus, the Democrats made gains everywhere in 2006, but they made the biggest gains in groups already most in their favor. Part of what happened in 2002 was the Democrats ate into Republican religious constituencies, but they were also able to mobilize more votes from their own religious constituencies. In these data, the group that had the biggest percentage gain was Jews. It’s a small community, but, again, in certain races it could have been critical, such as in the Northeast where Democrats did very well.
Another one of the largest changes was among unaffiliated voters. The unaffiliated voters have tended to vote Democratic for a long time, but notice the consistent change over time from 2002 to 2004 to 2006. That is a very important change a lot of people haven’t noticed.
Let’s turn to Table 2 and Table 3. These tables look at worship attendance, a powerful predictor of the vote. These tables measure religious behavior, which is connected to religious beliefs. The exit polls don’t have any beliefs measures. Thus, we actually can’t look at a “God gap” per se; all we can look at is a worship-attendance gap.
Table 2 looks at attendance in the way that it is typically portrayed, dividing respondents into those who attend weekly or more and those who attend less than weekly. You can see quite a difference. The weekly attenders tend to be Republican, even in 2006, and the less than weekly attenders tend to be much more Democratic. But notice the shift in the Democratic advantage across the tables. At the bottom, we calculate the gap, and even in this fairly simple measure, it was bigger in 2006 than in 2004. So while in some measures of religious affiliation, we saw the partisan gap narrow, it widened by other measures.
To see what is really going on, one needs to look at Table 3, where the frequency of worship attendance is fully displayed. The Democrats made gains at all levels of frequency, but the biggest gains occurred among those who attended least. For instance, among “more than weekly,” they picked up about 1 percentage point over 2004 and 2002. But among respondents who say they never attend, they picked up 12 percentage points over 2002 and 7 percentage points over 2004. They also picked up 4 to 5 percentage points among weekly attenders, but that is less than they picked up among those who never attend.
This reinforces what we saw with affiliation in Table 1: while Democrats improved everywhere in 2006, they improved most among people who were already in their favor.
Indeed, if one calculates an attendance gap based on this expanded attendance data, one can see it increased quite a bit (the bottom row of Table 3). For instance, in 2006, the gap in the Democratic vote is 29 percentage points between the most observant and the least observant voters. Back in 2002, it was just 18 percent.
What is going on here? In 2002 and 2004, The Republicans got more votes from less observant people than they did in 2006. To put it another way, the Democrats exploited the less observant end of the attendance gap much more effectively in 2006 than they have in the past.
We can put these two things together in Table 4 for the three largest Christian groups, breaking out the weekly and less than weekly attenders.
First of all, notice that in 2006, for all three of these large religious communities, weekly attenders were much more likely to vote Republican than the less than weekly attenders, who were much more likely to vote Democratic. But notice that the effects of affiliation still matter. In the evangelical community, both groups are on balance Republican, even though their weekly attenders were much more Republican.
Among the white mainline Protestants, the less-than-weekly attenders are on balance Democratic. And among white Catholics, the difference by attendance is almost symmetrical, with a slight advantage for the Republicans among the weekly attenders and a slight advantage for the Democrats among the less observant.
So the worship attendance gap occurs within the context of religious affiliation. Faith-based politics is complex these days in part because we have these two things going on: the impact of affiliation, but also the impact of religious behavior, and presumably religious belief as well.
Just to focus on white Catholics for a moment: notice that the Democratic gains occurred both among regular attenders and the less observant. There were shifts across the board among Catholics – probably for different reasons, but it occurred in both places. Thus the attendance gap still remained between regular mass attenders and those who attend mass less often. It’s just a bit narrower in 2006 than it was in the past elections.
One thing these data do show is what a unique figure President Bush has been with the religious voters, among evangelicals but also among Roman Catholics and the regular-worship-attending mainline Protestants. Bush has had a very special relationship with these groups and, in the 2004 race, did very, very well among them, much better than Republicans typically do. If one looks at the congressional vote, one can see a more accurate measure of the baseline partisan attachment of these religious groups. It is unlikely the Republicans will be able to repeat Bush’s success with these religious groups in the near future.
Let’s turn to Table 5, which contains information on voter priorities in 2006. We have here two measures of voter priorities for a list of seven issues, listed down the left-hand side of the table. For each of the issues, the first row is taken from a post-election survey done by the Pew Research Center. In this question, respondents were asked to pick the most important issue to them from this list of issues.
The second row for each of these issues comes from the 2006 exit polls. Here the respondents were asked if each of these issues was “extremely important,” “important” or “not important at all” to their vote. The second row reports the percentage of people in the exit polls that said that particular issue was “extremely important.”
Taken alone, these data are potentially misleading on the relative importance of any given issue to voters. But if one puts them together, as in Table 5, the two measures compliment each other. The first row in each case reveals the voter’s top priority, and the second line provides a sense of the overall importance of the issue. As you can see, people regarded lots of things as important, and not everybody in the country was a “single-issue” voter.
The two measures show some interesting things. For instance, look at the first column in the table, the “all” column. When asked to choose one important issue, the war in Iraq came out on top: 29 percent said it was the single-most important issue with regard to their vote. The second issue was the economy at 21 percent and “moral values” came in third at 19 percent. For those of you who remember the 2004 exit polls, you’ll notice it is exactly the order that occurred in that election (although the question was asked in another way).
If one puts together the different questions, one can compare social issues to economic issues to foreign policy issues. If one adds “terrorism” to the “war in Iraq” category, then foreign policy was an even bigger concern.
But notice the patterns if one looks only at the second row for each issue. The largest number is corruption, with Forty-one percent of the people said corruption was “extremely important” to their vote.
Very briefly looking at the religious communities: the “values voters” were back in 2006. Among white evangelical Protestants, 45 percent said these value issues were the most important thing to their vote, and nearly 60 percent said they were extremely important.
However, for white Catholics the single most important issue was the economy. Thirty-one percent said it was their top issue. That isn’t the top in terms of the exit poll measure, but it’s very close to the top issue. So among Roman Catholics, there were a lot of “economic voters” in 2006.
And for white mainline Protestants, the top issue was the war in Iraq, on both measures. The same pattern held for the white unaffiliated and for the non-white voters. This pattern also held for Jewish voters, 100 percent of whom reported the Iraq war was the top priority. No doubt this figure reflects the very small number of Jewish respondents in the sample. (Laughter.)
UNIDENTIFIED: With the margin of error, that could be 104 percent.
GREEN: It could be 104 percent. (Laughter.) Or it could minus four percent.
Anyway, the data shows there were different priorities among different religious groups in 2006. It makes the building of coalitions in elections complicated and exciting. It also helps explain why we have had such close elections in recent times.
Let’s turn to the final table, Table 6, and then I’ll conclude with a couple of general remarks. These are measures from two Pew Research Center surveys, one right before the election and one right after the election, about the campaign contact among religious voters. The rows marked with stars are regular political contact: being contacted by a campaign by telephone, in person or by e-mail. The ones with the little crosses – that was entirely by accident (laughter) – are religious contact, like voter guides and clergy urging people to vote.
As one can see, the biggest source of contact was by telephone. The other categories are quite interesting. For example, if one adds together the two forms of religious contacting then about 30 percent of the people surveyed said they were contacted that way, and that is about equal to the percent that said they were contacted either in person or by e-mail. These figures provide a sense of how important religious-base contacting is overall. It is not as important as the telephone (or for that matter television, which is not reported in the table), but it is as important as many conventional forms for campaigning.
Looking briefly at the religious contact “information at house of worship,” white evangelicals stand out. Twenty-eight percent of them reported information was available in their houses of worship. But notice black Protestants actually had a higher number, and 24 percent of Jews said they had that kind of information in their synagogues. Either there is a big sampling error or something new is happening in the Jewish community we haven’t seen before. White Catholics were about 17 percent. That is a good bit higher than it would have been in the past. So this kind of contacting occurred in many religious communities.
For the really interesting figure, though, look to the bottom of the chart. Only 6 percent of white evangelical Protestants said their clergy provided them information or direction on how to vote – compare that to 14 percent of white Catholics. This measure doesn’t tell us the partisan bias of the clergy, but as many of you know, there was quite an effort on the part of both liberal conservative Catholics to distribute voter guides and mobilize voters in Catholic churches in this election. This may explain the uptick in such contacts among Catholics.
Let me summarize. These data show a fairly clear structure for faith-based politics and elections in the United States. Both political parties have strong religious constituencies based on affiliation and attendance. Some groups are up for grabs, swinging back and forth from one election to another.
It’s a complicated structure, but it’s clear and firm. Individual campaigns tilt that structure one way or another. In 2002 and 2004, the structure tilted in favor of the Republicans. In 2006, it tilted in favor of the Democrats. So this basic structure of faith-based voting under girds the vote, but exactly how it plays out depends upon the candidates and the issues. Thank you very much.
KARLYN BOWMAN: It’s a pleasure for me to be here. There are a number of journalists in this room whom I have spoken to over the phone for years, but have never met in person. It has been nice to meet you here in Key West.
I would like to begin with a disclaimer. I’m not an expert on public opinion on religion. My work at AEI involves collecting data from the polls your media organizations conduct. I cover many different subjects. I’m as likely to be looking at data on public opinion of Medicare Part D as I am to be looking at data on religion or the war in Iraq.
Much of what I have learned about public opinion on religion comes from people in this room. In particular, I am indebted to John Green, who has been a wonderful teacher over the years. I also recently read a chapter called Polarized by God that E.J. Dionne has written for a new Brookings volume on polarization, which I urge all of you to read. It is a wonderful summary of the things John has been talking about.
There is also a paper I recommend written by James Q. Wilson, which became one of the Tanner Lectures at Harvard. I don’t know how much you, E.J., and James Q. Wilson agree on these days, but you agreed in large measure on the picture painted by the religion data, particularly the fact that while religion is important, so, too, are many other factors in voting decisions. Both of you also agree that the very religious and the very irreligious are only a small minority of the electorate.
John has provided a wonderful look at how the various religious groups voted in 2006, and how those patterns have changed in recent years. I would like to take a different tack and make three simple points today.
First, as many of you already know, the God gap, while real, is only one of the many gaps in our politics and it is not the largest. Second, we see powerful continuity and stability in many questions about religion. Some of this is surely what Peter Berger called yesterday “vicarious religion,” which I agree is important. Third, although we are polarized and divided on paper, we do not appear to be polarized in practice, and by that I don’t mean religious practice; I mean in ordinary life.
I have brought two handouts. The first handout (PDF) (Table 7 is a simplified version) looks at how different groups voted in House elections. I too include the caution John did: The 2006 data are still being cleaned, so some of those numbers may change a little.
The relevance of the first document for this session is as a reminder of those other gaps in our politics. They are larger than the God gap. In the 1960s and 1970s, we talked about the generation gap. Many people argued that young and old would be deeply divided on issues such as Social Security and that we would have generational warfare. More than 40 years later, we are still waiting for that to happen.
The attention religion has received in recent years is healthy, but it is nonetheless interesting why the God gap appears to get more attention than the gap between married voters and those who are not married, between blacks and whites, between voters with a high school education and those with a post-graduate one. The religious attendance gap, which came to public attention about the same time as the gender gap in the 1970s, is fairly new, and that is surely one of the reasons for the attention.
Frequent church-goers, as John Green has pointed out, were more likely to vote for Nixon and for Reagan, but the attendance gap doesn’t clearly emerge in presidential voting behavior until 1992 when we saw a double-digit attendance gap.
I remember a conversation I had with the late Richard Beal, who worked with Richard Wirthlin, who polled for Governor Reagan and President Reagan. Rich told me not only were they looking at 22 different groups of women in their gender-gap analysis in the 1980s, but that they were also using a religiosity index as a voter screen, in addition to a patriotism index, which told them a lot more about how people were going to vote than did the familiar broad polling question, “if the election were held today, for whom would you vote.”
If you look at John’s Table 2 and calculate the net for the gap in attendance overall, you see in 2006 the gap between those who attended church weekly and those who did so less than weekly was 36 percentage points. That is up from 33 points in 2004 and 27 points in 2002. It is about the same size as the gap you’ll see in my handout between married and non-married voters – 32 points this year – and smaller than the gap between voters with the lowest and highest reported incomes – 37 points this year – and is obviously dwarfed by the race, partisan, and ideological gaps overall.
Just as a point of comparison, in Gallup’s recall data from the 1960 election, there was a gap of 80 percentage points between Protestants and Catholics in the presidential vote.
The second handout (PDF) is a compilation of poll data from different sources, which tells a story of remarkable stability and continuity. Because it’s probably so familiar to you, I didn’t include Gallup’s question first asked in 1948 about whether or not you believed in God, when 94 percent said they did. When Pew repeated the question in August 2006, the response was 91 percent. Nor did I include a question first asked in 1952 when 87 percent told the pollster, Ben Gaffin, they were absolutely certain that God exists. Forty years later, absolute certainty has declined somewhat, but it is still a fairly healthy 72 percent.
As the first page of the handout shows, in 1937, 73 percent of those surveyed by Gallup said they were members of a church or a synagogue (Table 8). In 2006, nearly 70 years later, that response was 64 percent. Although there are reasons to be skeptical of reported church attendance figures in polls, Gallup’s question on the top right (Table 9) [about church or synagogue attendance] shows remarkable stability over nearly seven decades. The question Gallup has been asking for the past 15 years about church attendance – on the bottom of the first page of the handout – again shows great stability, so too the question about having a Bible in your home (Table 10).
If the vast majority of our voters claim to believe in God, can belief in God be so clearly linked to political differences? The second page of the handout looks at views about how George Bush talks about his religion and uses it in governing. I wish these were fuller trends but they are not. But if the country were deeply polarized by God, these numbers would look much different. In the Pew trend, around a quarter think Bush talks about his religion (Table 11) too much with around about 10 percent saying too little. A solid majority say it’s about right.
There has been a decline in the proportion in the CBS question (Table 12) saying they like the way Bush talks about his religion, though it is still a bare majority. It’s unclear to me whether that decline is about Bush’s discussion of his religion or about a more generalized dissatisfaction with him. The CBS question at the bottom of the page (Table 13) is particularly interesting. Far more people say big business has too much influence on the Bush administration than feel that way about the religious right.
The data on religion in public life on page four again suggest to me we are not deeply divided on religious matters or on the role of religion in public life. The Fox News question in the upper-left-hand corner (Table 14) shows a significant number of people think religion is under attack. The CBS question on the right (Table 15) shows more people in 2006 than 2004 think people with strong religious beliefs face discrimination.
When you care deeply about something, as Americans do about their religion, you tend to worry it’s under attack or losing its influence. Those aren’t surprising responses. People who think religion is losing its influence in our lives and on our government leaders overwhelmingly see that as a bad thing, as the question in the middle left of the handout shows. There is strong national agreement that religion should not be excluded from public life and that the courts have gone too far in taking it out of public life. The data on the top of page four (Table 16) generally show people feel the Republican Party is more friendly to religion than the Democratic Party, but only small numbers regard either party as unfriendly.
On page four, I have included a question I wish Gallup would ask again about acceptance of candidates of various religions for president (Table 17). Gallup first asked this type of question when they asked if you would vote for a woman for president if she were qualified in every other way. (Laughter.) They obviously changed the wording of that question very soon after that. Over the years, they have been adding many categories to this question, and I only included the ones related to religion here.
Solid majorities say they would be willing to vote for a black for president, or a Jew, or someone who is homosexual, but people are still divided about whether or not they would vote for an atheist for president.
The larger picture shown by all of these data suggests to me an enormous amount of stability and movement towards more tolerance and acceptance, not the divisions emphasized in the “gapology” literature. We see worries about religion losing its influence in public life, but overall, a public that does not appear to be deeply dissatisfied with the role that religion is playing in public life.
MARK PINSKY, ORLANDO SENTINEL: John, what might be the sweet spot for Democrats who want to turn swing states and swing districts their way? White evangelicals are my focus here: weekly attendees, self-described evangelicals who do not believe in Biblical inerrancy – which in your last study was about 38 percent – and those 55 percent of white evangelicals who thought same-sex marriage and abortion were not the most important issues. If the Democrats were looking for a pool of potential peel-aways, it would be in those three categories. Would you agree?
GREEN: I would agree with that. The evangelical community is by no means monolithic, either in religious terms or in political terms. It is more homogeneous than some other religious communities, but there are large minorities of evangelicals that have the views you just described, and those would be exactly the targets the Democrats would want to pursue all across the country.
Evangelicals tend to be very similar just about everywhere – maybe a little more conservative in the South, though they have a lot of diversity there too. If the Democrats could win 35 percent of the white evangelical vote, many races, even in the South, would become very competitive. Once races are competitive, there is a chance to win them. In the big swing states of the Midwest, 35 percent of the white evangelical vote might guarantee a Democratic victory when added to Democratic groups.
So, yes, Democrats do have targets of opportunity among evangelical voters, and Democrats don’t have to win an absolute majority to win elections. Many Democrats in the past have not paid attention to these groups, but also they have not had the ability to target those elements of the evangelical community. The change in targeting technology has made it increasingly possible to target those sorts of people.
The Democrats did not make quite the gains in the congressional elections among evangelicals they had hoped for overall, but if you look at particular races, then you can see they did achieve something close to what you are describing.
PINSKY: It’s also true in states where things are very close. Take Florida, for example, or congressional districts in the Deep South that have a higher percentage of African-American voters: It wouldn’t take 35 percent of the white evangelical vote to turn things from red to blue.
GREEN: You’re right. Thirty-five is just a benchmark overall, but in some places it could be less.
JOHN DICKERSON, SLATE: John, given the wave nature of the election, the pickup for Democrats among white evangelical Protestants and white mainline Protestants in (Table 1) seems to me incredibly small. If Democrats couldn’t move the needle more, given everything else going on in that election, doesn’t that tell us something about the extraordinary resiliency of the relationship between evangelicals and Republicans?
The second question is for either of you. How should we look at this data in the midterm election versus in the general [election], given that in the general, values issues can play a larger role? In a midterm, Democrats can run on local issues and move away from religious issues. How will campaigns pitch to voters in the general election coming, based on conclusions they may draw from this data?
GREEN: You make a good point. While Democrats did make some gains among white Protestants, evangelical and mainline Protestants, it was lower than many people expected given the wave nature of the 2006 election, and also given a lot of polling running up to the election, which revealed discontent among white Protestants. At the Pew Research Center, we wrote some things along those lines because we thought there would be greater erosion.
There are two reasons why that didn’t happen. One is that there was an extraordinary campaign to keep white Protestants, particularly evangelical Protestants, in the Republican column. In many ways, this campaign paid off. This effort was primarily done by Christian right organizations, but also by Republican Party operatives and individual Republican campaigns. It wasn’t enough to prevent the Democrats from taking over the Congress, but it certainly did help hold those particular voter groups.
The other reason is that Democrats had their greatest success with white Protestants, including evangelicals, where candidates worked very hard to appeal to them. There are some good examples. I mentioned earlier Ted Strickland in Ohio, to some extent Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, Heath Shuler down in North Carolina – these were test cases, where there was a real effort to reach out to evangelicals, and it seems to have paid off.
The small change you noted masks the places where the change was actually big. I don’t know if the strategies of those particular candidates could be replicated in a presidential campaign – perhaps not, but they certainly could be replicated in lots of other states and localities. In some sense 2006 was a good experiment for the Democrats; they saw they can move even strongly Republican constituencies if they go about it the right way. This is going to add fuel to a debate among Democrats about how to wage campaigns, particularly when it comes to appealing to religious groups.
Karlyn, do you want to talk about the difference between presidential and congressional?
BOWMAN: Democrats did successfully nationalize this election; in that way, it was like a presidential election. In off-year elections, you turn out your base and the people who care most about elections. Both Democrats and Republicans did a good job of turning out their core supporters; the Democrats just did much better.
GREEN: Karlyn is absolutely right, this was a national election. But presidential elections are by their nature nationalized, and so it’s easier for a full range of issues and constituencies to be engaged. That’s why, in the tables we’ve looked at, we have 2002 and 2004 for comparison, because presidential elections are different than congressional elections.
KAREN TUMULTY, TIME: I’m struck by the question, “Would you vote for a Mormon for president?” (Table 17) You’ve got a 75-percent yes in 1967, a 79-percent yes in 1999, and then switching to the L.A. Times data, it suddenly drops 28 percentage points between 1999 and 2006. What is going on?
BOWMAN: I confess I don’t understand what is going on. The L.A. Times polls have done extraordinarily well, and that 37 percent [saying they would not elect a Mormon] seems too high to me. I wish Gallup would repeat the identical question they asked [in 1967 and 1999]; I’m not sure why they haven’t because it would give us a better sense of that number. Other things I have seen suggest that 37-percent number is high.
The wording of the question between the Gallup and the Times polls – is different. I looked at the context of where that question came in the entire poll, and that didn’t explain it to me either. So I confess to being very puzzled by this 37 percent.
TUMULTY: Do you think people tell the truth on this question in general?
UNIDENTIFIED: On the Mormon question?
TUMULTY: On all of these questions. “Would you vote for a – fill in the blank?”
BOWMAN: There is a lot of lying that goes on in public opinion polls, and some questions about voting for a candidate of another race appear to produce a higher level of acceptance than we actually see on election days. That is why you look at over-time trends, to see what is the socially acceptable response and how that changes. But I trust the trend data in particular. Since we don’t have any other data [besides] the L.A. Times poll, I want to see more data before I am confident of that 37 percent.
PETER BERGER, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: My ignorance about political polling is enormous, but on the Mormon question, I can think of two reasons for the drop. One is there is now a candidate who is quite visible, so it becomes more real. The other is, I think all these stories about polygamy can’t be helpful to Mormons.
BOWMAN: It’s possible.
TUMULTY: That is what I was wondering.
BERGER: Just a guess.
GREEN: One interesting thing about the L.A. Times poll. I was surprised by that number, too. When people look at this number, they immediately think of religious affiliation, “Evangelicals don’t like Mormon’s; the Southern Baptist Convention says Mormons are a cult.”
But it turns out that evangelicals were not the only thing driving this number; another factor driving this number was secular voters. Maybe they don’t like Mormons because they think they are a deeply religious group, but it might be the polygamy question that people picked up. It’s a strange finding, but maybe not that surprising under the circumstances.
BOWMAN: I called Gallup and asked them to put the question, the whole series, on another poll, and I don’t know whether they will or not, but I really want to see it done.
GREEN: If Karlyn Bowman called me, I’d put it on. (Laughter.)
ROSS DOUTHAT, THE ATLANTIC: One of the debates on the right after the election has been about the question of a backlash against the religious right and the supposed extreme religiosity of the Bush administration. It seems you have data that points in both directions. On the one hand, if you look at the issues people cite as most important (Table 5), values issues seem to be way down the list, particularly for secular voters, and Iraq and the economy are much more important.
On the other hand, the data by worship attendance is really interesting (Table 2) and the fact that people who never go to church broke so heavily for the Democrats this time. Even in the data Karlyn was looking at, where people say big business has too much influence over the GOP compared to the religious right (Table 13) – but you do see in the 2001 to 2003 period roughly 20 percent saying the religious right has too much influence, and then in 2005, suddenly you have 40 percent saying the religious right has too much influence.
Could either of you talk about that generally? Secondly, has there been any attempt to directly ask people, “Was your vote impacted by the Terri Schiavo affair” or [some other specific issue]?
GREEN: We often talk about the problems Democrats have had assembling a coalition of seculars and religious voters, including the traditionally religious. But the Republicans have a similar problem. There are a lot of libertarian Republicans, and there are Republicans with more secular outlooks who have never been happy with the inclusion of evangelicals and other conservative religious people in their coalition.
CROMARTIE: Which side has the more intense problem?
GREEN: The intensity has been more on the Democratic side, but that is partly because the Republicans have been winning until recently, and parties that win have ways of smoothing over their differences more easily than parties that don’t. But, Ross, I have heard a lot of talk among more moderate Republicans pointing at exactly these numbers, and saying, “Here is the problem. Bush won a very close, hard-fought election in 2004. Yes, he had religious conservatives, but he did well among the less religious people and that gave him enough to win. Those less religious people have been driven away.”
When you look into the data though, there is not a lot of hard evidence of that pattern because more secular, moderate Republicans are focused on other types of issues, such as foreign policy or economic questions. There may well be a problem there, but most of the direct evidence doesn’t suggest it’s a big deal. It could be that those secular voters, those non-attenders, who flocked to the Democratic side in 2006 were doing so because of Iraq.
One could reasonably conclude there is a “Bush problem” in these data, but whether it’s the religious part of Bush’s coalition or the Bush foreign policy is hard to tell.
BOWMAN: I agree with John, particularly about the seculars. A lot of evidence throughout the campaign suggested it was Iraq, Iraq, Iraq.
E.J. DIONNE, JR., THE WASHINGTON POST: Romney, by the way, is very aware of this polygamy issue. I am told he is saying to audiences, “We Mormons believe in family values; we believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and a woman, and a woman” – (laughter).
I want to take Karlyn to task for her excessive humility. Saying she is not a specialist in this is like a .375 hitter saying I’m not a specialist at hitting fastballs because I can also hit curveballs, knuckleballs, sliders. (Laughter.)
There are three questions I wanted to ask. First, though, I’d like to get everybody to read John Green’s 2004 election study, which is on the Pew Forum website. Rarely does a social scientist get instant confirmation of an important finding. I would point you to Table 4: under religious affiliation, see white evangelical Protestant. Note that 22 percent of the voters are white evangelicals, but they are split into two groups, the smaller group being the frequent attenders who are overwhelmingly Republican. The slightly larger group, that attended less often, showed a substantial gain for Democrats; indirectly that is exactly what John predicted in his 2004 paper.
Here’s my first question: I was struck by the difference between white evangelical Protestants and white Catholics. The percentages are small enough we could be overstating the difference, but clearly, it appears among white evangelicals, the non-attenders were much more open to the Democrats, whereas among white Catholics, if anything, their gains were greater among the attenders. Could you comment on that?
The second thing is on Karlyn’s wonderful table (Table 7), it’s striking how much more polarized the electorate is by ideology and party, than if you go back through time. Just take 1980 compared to 2006: If you look at liberals, even with Ronald Reagan at the top of the ticket, 28 percent of liberals voted for a Republican presidential candidate. That is all the way down now to 11. A third of conservatives voted Democratic. That is now down to 20 [percent].
Similarly on party ID, there was a lot of bleeding from the Democrats in 1980, pretty much all the way through to the 2004 election. Now you have very firm party solidarity. Then there is a big regional shift: If you look at the East and the South, you have got a kind of inversion, with real Democratic solidarity in the East, and a flip for a Republicans in the South.
Could both of you talk about the interaction between the regional shifts and the religion factor? One of the puzzles here is to try to figure out what causes what, which direction the arrow points in.
The last question is, on Karlyn’s excellent summary sheet, I was struck on the first page, “How important would you say religion is in your own life.” The group answering “very important,” from 1952 to 2006, is way down, 75 to 57. Right next to it is “Do you think religion as a whole is increasing its influence?” The number saying “increasing” is down from 69 to 40. Then on the next page, we see a big increase in the number willing to vote for an atheist.
I wonder, are we talking about the importance of religion in politics at a moment when it has actually gone down? Is our whole conversation backward in that it’s a very important thing because of the intensity at each end, rather than some big change that we are becoming a terribly religious country?
GREEN: That was very insightful, E.J., to point out the big change among the less frequently attending evangelicals. That goes back to Mark’s question at the beginning. There are elements of the evangelical community open to persuasion by the Democrats. Democrats have to do the persuading, but there are some real opportunities.
One of the frustrations with these data is we cannot divide up the communities with any more precision because one finds in all of these communities lots of people in the middle. I like to call them “centrists,” but other people call them different things. These are people who take their faith seriously but aren’t particularly doctrinaire. These folks are particularly open to persuasion. That is one place where Democrats have some real opportunities, and where they have been able to make some big gains.
The situation in the Catholic community is very different, and that is because of the differences in Catholic doctrine and belief. Many traditional Catholics, regular mass attenders and so forth, come to the American party system with a great deal of ambivalence. The teachings of the Church on social issues push them towards the Republicans, but the teachings on social justice push them towards the Democrats.
What happened in 2006 with some of the successful Democratic campaigns was an attempt to resolve that ambiguity. Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, for example, who was pro-life, reduced the ambivalence on the social issues and then strongly campaigned on a social justice platform. There were traditional Catholics open to Casey because of that particular mix. Whether that can be done in other places or nationwide is another story, but this is why religious affiliation matters. The Catholic community does have a different mix of values than the evangelical community, and it creates a different kind of politics.
BOWMAN: To your point, E.J., are we focusing on something that is becoming less important? I confess, I think so. Certainly it’s healthy to talk about religion; it’s very important in American life, but I can’t quite understand the fascination with the God gap, not because I think it’s less important but because so many gaps – as you pointed out, the partisan gap, the ideological gap – are much larger overall and play much more of an important role politically.
GREEN: Not long ago, I was at a political science meeting with a very good political scientist, Morris Fiorina. He made the argument that beyond the parties and elections, the country isn’t particularly polarized. An exchange developed between Professor Fiorina and other political scientists, and someone said, “Mo, what you’re telling us is the country is not polarized in any way, except by elections.” (Laughter.) That is what we see here: A lot of diversity on issues, but a polarized vote. Religion does play a role in that polarization, but it is complicated.
E.J., you pointed out regional effects. Part of what is happening is white Southerners have become very Republican. Some of that change is for religious reasons, and some of it is for economic reasons. Meanwhile, the Northeast is becoming very Democratic. Some of that is for religious reasons; some of that is for other reasons. Religion operates as part of the regional context, and regional context has its own power.
We see the same thing with partisanship. Some of the most intensely secular people in the United States have become strongly Democratic. Some of the most intensely religious people are very Republican, but many members of most religious traditions are somewhere in the middle, with partisan leanings, but open to persuasion from either side.
So religion becomes important when a lot of other pieces of the political puzzle are in motion at the same time. It’s often hard to parse out exactly what the order of causality is.
DICKERSON: On the left of Table 4, about [white mainline Protestants] who attend less often. Couldn’t you make the case that values or religious issues are not at the top of their list, and therefore they could have been the ones to vote solely on Iraq, which has nothing to do with the Democrats appealing to them, but everything to do with the nationalized election and Bush’s poor performance on Iraq?
GREEN: It could have a lot to do with that. Also, they are not as susceptible to counter-mobilization by religious conservatives and Christian-right groups because they are not churches where the voter guides were passed out.
DIONNE: I appreciate Karlyn’s remarks on the paradox we’re facing, yet it’s impossible to get rid of the religious effect. When I did that paper, for those of you who play with data, I tried to control for everything. I tried to get rid of the religion gap. I did everything I could to try to get rid of it, and you can’t get rid of it; it’s still there across class, across region. There is a reality to it, but there is this other reality parallel to it, and that is the difficulty of getting your arms around it.
MIKE ALLEN, TIME: Karlyn, do you mind talking about the other gaps you think are changing and are maybe more significant? Also, do you have any thoughts about these shocking journalists and the public” numbers?
BOWMAN: Yes, talk about a gap (laughter). The gap is 103 points on that question about “which comes closer to your own views, even if neither is exactly right.” There is a chasm between journalists and the public. I think that was the only question in that survey that asked about religion. I probably shouldn’t compare 2002 public opinion data with the 2004 sample of journalists, but that is all I had available.
One of the reasons the God gap gets so much attention is probably because many journalists themselves are interested and feel a little uncomfortable with the whole issue, and see themselves as being very different from the public as a whole.
ALLEN: It seems exotic.
CROMARTIE: That is why we have this meeting.
BOWMAN: As to other gaps, I’m looking at some of the ones Ruy Teixeira and John Judis have identified as the groups they think are going to move most significantly in the Democrats’ direction. They are looking at the married/single gap, and the growth of singles in the electorate. It is going to take time for singles to grow substantially, but they are going more and more Democratic; they certainly did in this election.
[Teixeira and Judis] are looking at Latinos. I think we have overestimated significantly Latino’s participation in elections; again, that one is going to take time. That group is going to be a very volatile voting block because, and this is a gross generalization, it’s a much more emotional voting block, drawn to people.. That group is going to move around. They also are looking at post-graduates who are leaning more and more Democratic over time. These are three groups I am looking at.
But I confess, when I start looking at elections, I look at the familiar groups. I look at white Catholics. I look at moderates. I look at groups that are really going to swing elections overall. My favorite group, and one that no one pays any attention to, is a group pollsters call, “some college.” It’s a very large group in the electorate. It’s not a great name. I cannot come up with a sexy name for it. If I could, I’m sure I would have the next big-gap story in our politics. (Laughter.)
But the “some college” group is an especially interesting one. They are a very large slice of the electorate, 31 percent this year. They are upwardly mobile; they believe in the American dream and they are a classic swing voter group. They swing just like moderates and white Catholics. They are going to be very, very important in the future because they are a growing group. They are the people who go to the Microsoft University. Some of them are office-park dads. But they do see themselves as upwardly mobile. They are living in areas that Brookings demographer Bill Frey talks about in terms of the exurbs. They are ones to watch.
CROMARTIE: I wonder if the word “swing” is the right word to use there.
ALLEN: Previously, was there a smooth continuum between the more educated you are, the more Democrat you vote.
CROMARTIE: The other way around.
BOWMAN: The other way around, yes. The college-educated group tended to be pretty Republican for a while. The post-grad group is looking more and more Democratic over time. The “some college” is swinging.
UNIDENTIFIED: Some college means how many years you went to college?
BOWMAN: It means less than a four-year college education or going to a technical or vocational school.
JEFF GOLDBERG, THE NEW YORKER: Could you give me a little more definition of “office-park dad?”
BOWMAN: Office-park dad was a phrase coined two election cycles ago by – was it Mark Penn or Doug Shoen? In any case, he was looking at these people who live in the exurbs or beyond, who see themselves as upwardly mobile, believe in business, families – that is about as close as I could get.
DIONNE: The some college group used to be called the working class. (Laughter.)
BOWMAN: That’s right.
JAY TOLSON, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Is there any application of age cohort voting patterns to these marvels, particularly within the religious groups? Do young, frequent-attending white evangelicals tend to be more fluid in moving toward the Democrats?
The second question is about the Hispanic vote. I see a couple of confusions about the category of white Catholic. How firm is the polling here that white Catholic excludes or includes some Hispanics? The other interesting datum is, in Table 1, the shift from 2002, when 22 percent of non-whites went Republican, and in 2006, that number went up to 24 percent. That surprises me a little because I thought the Hispanic vote would have gone the other way with the immigration issue heating up. How do you explain that?
BOWMAN: Age voting in particular is interesting. What interested me most in this election was the 65 and older [category] that broke evenly and were the Republicans’ best group. That was something we didn’t expect given all the coverage of Medicare Part D and other issues.
Younger people, Democratic leaning in most elections, turned out in higher numbers in 2004. We don’t know whether they turned out in significantly higher numbers in the House elections yet.
I was interested in a chart that ran in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago using Pew data. Young people today have the largest Democratic edge we have seen in a very, very long time. They are a peculiar generation. There is a Reagan-era generation, that is people who came of age politically during Reagan’s presidency, that still looks more Republican than the generations that came before or after them.
In the 2004 election, the most Democratic age group in the country was 18- to 24-year-olds; the second most Democratic age group was people 75 years and over, those people from the FDR generation who carried their Democratic identification with them as they aged, just as the Reagan generation appears to have carried its Republican identification as it has aged. We have no clear suggestion that there is a 9/11 generation at this point, or that there is any other distinct or identifiable generation other than those two big ones right now.
PINSKY: On the age cohort thing, I found in my interviews that younger evangelicals, particularly and distinctly, are less fixated on gender and orientation issues. The culture has changed them in a way that it has not changed their parents and grandparents.
GREEN: Measuring race and ethnicity is very hard to do with precision. It’s almost as hard as measuring religion. As far as the exit poll data, I have always had some question as to whether they were really getting it right. But this has to do with the problems of exit polls: They have to be done quickly with limited questions.
Other survey data suggest the immigration issue did have a big effect on Hispanics and moved them remarkably in a Democratic direction. Some of the Pew Research Center data suggest the Republican leanings of Hispanic Protestants were almost erased in 2006 because of the immigration issue. I haven’t been able to look at the exit polls in enough detail to be sure, but these data do suggest that what was expected actually happened.
DIONNE: The exit polls show a big Latino shift. The problem with this category [“non-white voters”] is it’s a mismatch of Asians, Latinos, African-Americans – the African-American vote didn’t move much because it was already so overwhelmingly Democratic. It’s hard to figure out what that category –
TOLSON: I was trying to get at whether that might account for the change in white Catholic vote, the move to the Democratic Party, if Hispanics were included in the white –
DIONNE: It’s 55 percent if you include Hispanics in the Catholic vote overall.
GREEN: The Democrats got a solid majority of Catholics at large, and they did it for two reasons. Minority Catholics, particularly Hispanics, did move more Democratic, but also white Catholics moved more Democratic. Combined, those two things together created a solid Democratic majority.
CARL CANNON, NATIONAL JOURNAL: John, in response to a question from Mark Pinsky you said if the Democrats could get even 35 percent of the evangelicals, the whole country is in play in the South. But it strikes me the data you gave (Table 3) is quite different. By far the largest movement towards the Democrats was among people who never go to church or who go a few times a year, maybe on Easter and Christmas. Among the “never” attenders in 2002, 55 percent go Democratic; in 2004, 60 percent; in 2006, 67 percent. Among the “few times a year,” it’s 50 percent in 2002, 55 percent in 2004, 60 percent in 2006. That is 40 percent of the electorate.
Maybe this is a strategy question, not a polling question. (Laughter.) A lot of the Democratic scare talk about a theocracy, which we have heard some of in this very room over the last couple of days, is taking its toll. How would you continue to push this vote, which you need, which alone might have given Congress to the Democrats, while appealing to this other very different [religious] group at the same time? I’m not sure you can do that.
GREEN: Democrats have been struggling with this dilemma because the more secular constituencies are important to them. Part of the issue here is geography. The unaffiliated population tends to be concentrated in the East and West Coasts, areas where Democrats are already doing well and did particularly well in 2006.
Part of what Democrats have been worrying about, appropriately so from a strategic point of view, is how to be competitive in the Midwest and the South. In presidential politics, making Tennessee, Arkansas and North Carolina competitive is important because even if they end up losing them on Election Day, just making them competitive changes the dynamics of the campaign.
The gains Democrats experienced among the less religious, the more secularized population, was an important part of the 2006 story, but the distribution of those individuals might not help them as much in a presidential campaign.
BOWMAN: John, wouldn’t you argue Republicans have probably made nearly all the gains they are going to make in the South in congressional races? If you go down and look at the state legislative races, they are still making gains, but I don’t see Republicans, unless it’s a wipeout election, making additional major gains in the South.
GREEN: I agree. The Republicans are coming very close to their maximum. There are a still a few seats they can pick up. The Republican road back to power is in the Midwest, where they lost a lot of seats this time, many of them seats they had held for many years. So the Republicans have a geography problem as well.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, NPR: A friend of mine called Tom Schaller wrote a book, Whistling Past Dixie I’m not sure I believe the premise, but the basic thesis is the Democrats can just forget about the South. I’m wondering whether the Democrats might be able to forget about the evangelicals, too. There was a lot of talk about Democratic strategies having to get faith and reach out to the values voters. But if you look at the large proportion of non-religious people who are increasingly taking up the Democratic Party, together with the Rick-Warren-type evangelicals who think about the environment, not abortion, not homosexuality, do you think the Democrats really have to worry about evangelicals?
GREEN: The Democrats can do anything they want. (Laughter.)
HAGERTY: Why bother?
GREEN: Three reasons. First of all, the Democrats do have to worry about the Midwest, and the Midwest has lots of evangelicals. Secondly, these younger, less doctrinaire evangelicals are nonetheless evangelicals. They have to be pursued if the Democrats want their votes. But thirdly, it is probably a bad idea for a national party to write off whole regions. It might well be that Alabama is unreasonable for Democratic presidential candidates, but Alabama is not the entire South. Likewise, it would be a big mistake for Republicans to write off the entire Northeast. Certain portions of the Northeast may be beyond their reach, but there are places where they could do well.
Even if it’s only to make the other side defend their base, it’s very important in presidential elections to compete in all regions. If elections come down to the Democrats basically ignoring the South and winning by winning only the available states, Democratic campaigns become very risky propositions. It doesn’t mean they will lose, but it means they have shrunken the playing field. So the third reason they should pay attention to evangelicals is to expand the playing field.
JANE LITTLE, BBC: How much do you think we’re going to see in 2008 the Democrats continuing and even ramping up the strategy of reaching out to religious voters? Are we going to hear Biblical quotes flying between Obama and Hillary Clinton? What are the dangers, the pitfalls, for the Democrats in their religious outreach effort?
GREEN: We’re going to hear a lot about faith and values from the Democrats and the Republicans in 2008. But you have to think about it in three different pieces. First of all, there is the Democratic presidential primary. My sense is there are Democratic presidential campaigns being predicated on appealing to religious voters of one kind or another. That has to do with how one assembles a winning coalition in the primary. Once the nomination has been settled, then of course the general election comes, and there will be a lot of focus on appealing to religious voters. How much will depend on who the nominee is, of course.
A third thing to focus on is Democratic Party leaders, not candidates or elected officials, but party leaders, who are very interested in cultivating religious voters. They look at some of the successes Democrats had in 2006 in places that would have seemed unlikely right after 2004, and their thinking is the party needs to invest in this type of outreach no matter what particular candidates do.
I get lots of calls from party leaders who ask me things like, “If I wanted to talk to Rick Warren, do you think he would talk to me?” (Laughter.) I say, “Why don’t you call him and find out?” (Laughter.)
GOLDBERG: Honestly, he’ll talk to anybody.
GREEN: So, there are three different levels where we’ll see the role of faith play out in 2008: in the party structure, in the presidential primary campaign and in the general election. It is too early to tell exactly what it will look like, but these numbers suggest there are religious groups in motion. Clearly Democrats would like to get their share of those votes.
BOWMAN: I don’t see a downside for the Democrats. I cannot believe the most reliably Democratic groups, be they seculars or Jews, are all of the sudden going to switch to the Republican Party because of more God rhetoric from the Democrats. Party will trump.
LITTLE: Authenticity seems to be a big issue – how [2006 Tennessee Democratic Senate hopeful] Ford might get away with making a TV ad in a church or Hillary.
BYRON YORK, NATIONAL REVIEW: This is about John’s Table 5 on the importance of issues. Could either one of you talk about why the number of white evangelicals who thought Iraq “mattered most” was so much smaller than everybody else, with the exception of white Catholics? I thought that 17-percent number was quite low.
GREEN: White evangelicals have been among the strongest supporters of the war in Iraq. Back when most Americans supported the war in Iraq, they were the strongest supporters, and they still are the strongest supporters, even though their numbers have declined substantially. It’s not at all untypical today to find white evangelicals 15 to 20 points more supportive of the war than Americans as a whole.
I’m not sure that’s because white evangelicals were particularly interested in the war in Iraq; I think it’s because they were particularly interested in President Bush. They really like him, and so they backed his foreign policies. By the way, their views on the war in Iraq track their views of his job performance, and they are still among his strongest supporters overall. To me that number makes sense. It was just not a high priority for them given the investment they had in Bush.
The number of white Catholics who said the war in Iraq was the “one issue that mattered most,” frankly, did surprise me. I thought it would be higher because that’s a community that has not been as supportive of the war in Iraq and was one of the first communities to fall away as the war begin to lose its popularity. Many Catholic religious leaders had been against the war from the beginning, and maybe some parishioners are coming to see the wisdom of their position. So that number was more puzzling to me than the evangelicals’.
BOWMAN: That is a cumulative total, isn’t it? The way the question is asked, “values” is the overwhelming issue for white evangelical Protestants and other issues simply fall behind because the numbers total to a hundred.
ALAN COOPERMAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: First, I’d like a quick piece of technical advice. I noticed, Karlyn, you are not including the 2002 election results in your long list, and that’s in line with what my pollsters at the Washington Post told me. They say don’t use the 2002 data. The exit poll blew up, and it’s not reliable; don’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. But I see John uses it regularly. John, do you think I’d be safe using 2002 data? Or anytime I use 2002 data, ought I make some mention it’s not that reliable?
GREEN: I think the 2002 national sample from the exit polls is reliable. What blew up in 2002 were the state samples and they have not been released. It was that debacle that ended the Voter News Service, and now we have the National Election Pool instead of the National Election Poll – it seems to be my mission in life to explain to editors everywhere it’s really the National Election Pool and not “poll”; they all think it’s a typo. But a panel of pollsters and scholars were assembled to review what wrong with VNS, and they concluded the national sample for the 2002 exit poll was as reliable as any of the other exit polls. They released it under those circumstances.
I must admit, I was skeptical. But I read their technical report, and I ended up agreeing with them. Then I did a lot of work with the 2002 exit poll data. I think the national sample is quite usable. But because many people know about the problem with it, it’s worth mentioning there is this difficulty.
COOPERMAN: My real question is President Bush recently said we are in the midst of – I think he got his numbers wrong – the third Great Awakening. Let’s forget about whether it was the third or the fourth or the fifth. In all this data you have looked at, some of which you’ve given us today, is there any empirical evidence for a rise in any measure of religiosity? I see a 1-percent increase since 1954 in “do you have a Bible at home” (Table 10) – 1 percentage point. If there isn’t any empirical evidence, then nonetheless, do you think the president is on to something; that there is heightened interest in religion?
BOWMAN: I didn’t hear the speech. Perhaps he was speaking globally. I think he was talking about what Peter Berger talked about yesterday, and there certainly is evidence of a religious revival globally. The ISSP data and the Pew Global data show an uptick worldwide in interest in religion.
I was on a panel with David King from Harvard’s Institute of Politics a while ago – they’d been doing studies of college students’ attitudes – and he said to me young people today are more conventionally religious than young people in the 1950s. I didn’t get to ask him about that, but it surprised me. He sees something happening at the younger end of the spectrum. That could indicate some sort of a revival.
GREEN: Yes, the only way I could interpret Bush’s comment as being accurate was if you look around the world, where there is an upsurge in religiosity. Whether you want to call it a Great Awakening or not depends on what you mean by a Great Awakening. If you take what historians call the first and second Great Awakening in the United States, most of the characteristics of those historical periods are not present today in the United States. For instance, we do not have extensive and countrywide revivals. We don’t have the creation of large new denominations and religious movements. But there is one feature we do have, which is a heightened discussion of religion, particularly religion and public affairs. One out of three ain’t bad, I guess, particularly if you’re in the White House and you have a lot on your mind.
DIONNE: To defend the president, not my usual posture, I think he was talking about – Robert Fogel wrote a book –
BOWMAN: He said the same thing.
DIONNE: Fogel argued we are in the middle of a new Great Awakening. So the president could be leaning on this respected historian.
DOUTHAT: The one thing I’ve seen, and I think it was in Pew several years ago, that might support something along these lines is an uptick in religious intensity among people who are religious. The data show if you believed in God in 1970 you were more likely to say “I believe in God strongly.” Now, you’re more likely to say “I believe in God very strongly” when they do those lukewarm to hot studies. That might have been what he was referring to.
PINSKY: But it’s also the case that there’s an increase in political engagement among people who used to be called fundamentalists, who had huge political involvement through the ’20s and ’30s and ’40s. In the last three decades, they’re not more religious but they’re more in the political –
GREEN: That’s a good point, Mark. If you look at the United States over the last three decades, you’ll see two contradictory tendencies. There is evidence of secularization in the United States: the number of people who don’t have a religious affiliation, the decline in frequency of worship attendance, and so forth. But at the same time, there are some religious communities that have intensified, and expanded. The United States is often referred to as an exceptional place. One of the ways it is exceptional is it’s exceptionally complicated and lots of things are going on simultaneously.
ALLEN: I asked the president what he meant by this. As Carl knows, what the president said was, he was referring to his personal experience – people on rope lines telling him they pray for him, which he seems to feel intensely and mentions frequently as helping him.
COOPERMAN: I referred to that because I know he made it explicit in follow-up comments that he was referring to the United States. John mentioned heightened discussion of religion, and somebody else said heightened interest. Is there any empirical data? Any way of quantifying that?
ALLEN: Carl, do you agree that that’s what the president seems to be referring to?
CANNON: Probably, but Pete Wehner is sending out emails from time to time on this. I know that book E.J. mentioned was read in the White House. It could be several of these things.
CROMARTIE: Anybody else have an anecdote from the president?
COOPERMAN: Michael, my question is how do we know there is heightened discussion of religion in America today as opposed to a generation ago?
UNIDENTIFIED: Do content analysis.
DIONNE: Attendance at this conference. (Laughter.)
GREEN: There is some evidence in surveys that public perception of religion as playing a bigger role is up somewhat. That’s just public perception, and those numbers do fluctuate a good bit. To that extent, there is some evidence. But it’s not particularly solid evidence.
BOWMAN: Robert Lichter has almost a generation’s worth of data at the Center for Media and Public Affairs. I would call him to see if he can look at that.
CANNON: Isn’t there a poll, E.J. or Karlyn, that for the first time ever, high school students are going to church more than their parents? Does that ring a bell?
BOWMAN: Yes, I’ve heard about it.
CROMARTIE: Tell us, Peter, the point you were making yesterday about Christian Smith’s research, which says kids are religious, but its content –
PETER STEINFELS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Christian Smith’s research says adolescents are overwhelmingly more like their parents than not like their parents; that they do go to church; that they do like their congregations. These are all things cutting against stereotypes of adolescents as in a state of rebellion. When he does a closer analysis of the content of their faith, though, he finds it doesn’t have much to do with the traditional narratives of biblical Christianity or Judaism. It is much more therapeutic – that was a quote from the book. God is a cross between a divine butler and a cosmic therapist, and he outlines a set of tenets. He doesn’t say this is necessarily bad, but it might be of concern to people who consider themselves keepers of traditional faiths.
CATHY LYNN GROSSMAN, USA TODAY: Part of the problem is there is not much real data to show whether the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd, which may fall into the secular category or the religious category, is in fact a pretty thin gruel. It’s one of those nice things people say to pollsters because they don’t want to say they’re not religious. I think the seeker numbers are highly overrated. There are not actually that many people out there searching for the meaning of life as portrayed. You can get more statistics on that from George Barna. Even though Barna himself as an evangelical would love everybody to answer that they’re born again, he’s pretty ruthless about finding numbers that show in fact they’re not. As Peter says, the content of this religiosity is all good people go to heaven. There’s not a lot of doctrine; there’s not a lot of knowledge; there’s not a lot of actual biblical rooting. It’s youth group-ism: They’re going to church because the youth group has a really cool basketball team.
ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE, THE ECONOMIST: There is an interesting new book coming out by Stephen Prothero demonstrating Americans believe in God and believe every word of the Bible is true, but don’t bother to read the Bible. He has a lot of interesting data about how content-less religion is.
On the other hand, he looks at the rising number of people who define themselves as secularists. He’s got some data on what they actually believe – do they believe in God and the afterlife – and they’re not so secularist as all that. What they mean by being secularist is they don’t like the religious right, so they don’t want to identify with organized religious groupings.
KATHY SLOBOGIN, CNN PRESENTS: I wonder if something in this handout might constitute evidence. The percentage of people who consider the United States a Christian nation has gone from 60 percent to 67 percent since 1996. That’s about a 10 percent rise. Is that evidence of anything?
GREEN: Yes, I think so. That question needs to be interpreted very carefully. Most of what that question is telling us is people’s sense of who the other people in the country. If you ask people, is the United States a Christian nation, the response seems to be, “Yes, most of the people in the United States are Christians.” One of the reasons we think those numbers have increased is because there’s been this increased discussion of religion, particularly by Christian groups.
SLOBOGIN: You don’t think that’s people saying it should be a Christian nation?
GREEN: No, I think it’s a demographic response. Because when one looks at other items that ask about that specific question – should we amend the constitution to declare the U.S. a Christian nation – then one gets much lower numbers.
DAVID VAN BIEMA, TIME: You have to be careful when anybody talks about a third or whatever Great Awakening, because that’s so much a pillar of Christian hope. You very often will be hearing hope language, rather than statistical language. I would say “suspect until statistically proven,” and I’m not hearing anything in the statistics from you guys suggesting that. Jane asked whether there was going to be more God language by the Democrats, and I may have misread this, but it seemed to me Jim Wallis responded to Bush’s radio address. If he was responding on behalf of the Democrats, then it’s open season.
What may be more important than what Wallis does is what a more pivotal figure does. You had the fundamentalists and anti-abortion activists coming out against Warren for allowing Obama to speak at his AIDS conference. It seems to me it should have been the Republican political operatives coming out vocally against it. To have the seal of approval from Warren, even just by association, seems to be very valuable currency for a Democrat, potentially more so than Wallis’.
COOPERMAN: I almost drove off the road when I heard Jim Wallis give his thing. The first thing he said was, “I am not responding on behalf of the Democrats.”
VAN BIEMA: Yeah, but he was. (Laughter.)
CROMARTIE: And he was asked because he was nonpartisan.
COOPERMAN: He said he was asked by the Democrats.
CROMARTIE: The second sentence is they wanted a nonpartisan person to comment.
VAN BIEMA: Right, but just the very notion of this is mind-bending and really interesting.
Barbara asked whether the Democrats can basically forget about the South and the evangelicals and just make do with the rest. My question is related to that. Mark was talking about younger evangelicals not caring as much about some of the values issues. And you have Warren who is much more moderate. I wonder whether the Republicans have basically topped out, whether that’s a saturated area, and all they can do at this point is lose people. If that’s the case, do either of you have any notion about the percentages that might be vulnerable?
GREEN: I think President Bush’s vote in 2004 among white evangelicals is probably the topping-out point. In the exit polls, that was 78 percent. For a community as large and diverse as evangelicals, for somebody to get almost four-fifths of the vote, we’re pretty close to the theoretical maximum there. Most assuredly it would drop back down. The congressional numbers of somewhere around 70, 72, 73, would be pretty good numbers for the Republicans in 2008. I wouldn’t be at all surprised though if it dropped down into the 60s. I do think they’ve been to the mountaintop, and it’s probably downhill from here. That doesn’t mean they won’t work very hard to keep those numbers from sliding too far; I think they will.
PINSKY: Also, they’re running out of space on the gay marriage thing. There are just no more states left.
UNIDENTIFIED: Ban it again.
PINSKY: Right, and the stem cell thing turned out to be not such a great idea, at least in Missouri.
DAN GILGOFF, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORTS: Paralleling the Democratic faith effort to reach out to evangelicals and other religious voters is this Republican offensive in recent elections – in 2004 and seemingly less successfully in 2006 – to reach out to African-American voters. There was a lot made in 2004 of Bush’s numbers among African-Americans in Ohio, which the election once again came down to in 2004, jumping from 9 to 16 or 17 percent. A lot of this has been done through trying to appeal to the social conservative streak among the African-American constituency and their high churchgoing numbers among black Protestants. I’m wondering if that effort has borne any fruit. This year you had [Ohio Republican] Blackwell running [for governor], and it was a terrible flop there. He didn’t seem to do really well among anyone, let alone black churchgoers. Certainly, what Karlyn passed out seemed to suggest Democratic support among African-Americans has stayed pretty steady around the 90-percent range.
But the Republicans don’t seem that they’re about to let this strategy go. Is there any evidence either of you have seen that the appeal to black voters by Republican candidates or by the party, particularly on these social conservative issues, is bearing any fruit?
BOWMAN: In some races in some states, they’ve done better. If you look at the Joint Center studies, younger African-Americans are considerably less Democratic. They’re not more Republican; they’re independents. They’re moving slowly, but there is an opportunity with younger African-Americans who feel differently about the Democratic Party. The Republicans have had some successes in individual races, but in a close race, any group can make the difference, so you use whatever arrows you have in your quiver. But it is a monolithically Democratic vote at this point.
DIONNE: You had the case of [Maryland GOP Senate hopeful] Michael Steele, who ran a very good campaign and did better among African-American men than women. But even Steele couldn’t crack the vote. He bumped up the numbers among African-American men is what it looks like.
GREEN: The attempt by Republicans to get African-American votes didn’t start with Karl Rove and George Bush; it’d been going on for quite some time. By historical standards, the Bush-Rove era was one of some success. They’ll keep trying, but I think their reasonable expectation would be to break 20 percent. They couldn’t expect to do much more than that. But just like the Democrats getting 35 percent of the evangelical vote, 20 percent of the black vote would be a very significant thing.
ERIC GORSKI, DENVER POST: This goes to what Mark mentioned about gay marriage. A couple of years ago, groups like Focus on the Family took a lot of credit in states like Ohio for getting out the vote by having the measure on the ballot. It passed everywhere that year; I think there were 11 states. This year, there were gay marriage amendments in eight, and one of them shot it down – Arizona. The gaps seem to be narrower other places.
Along those same lines, a couple years ago, there were many traditionalist Catholic bishops who were vocal about how Catholic politicians and voters should vote and behave. Although you noted, John, the church has different positions on social welfare versus hot-button social issues, those bishops were saying abortion trumps everything else and should take precedent when you vote.
Looking at the results this year, what do these things says about the so-called wedge issues?
GREEN: The Catholic bishops are pretty diverse. Some of them have a hard-line position on abortion; some of them don’t. Overall, they oppose it, but there are different political tactics and different views. My reading of the poll evidence from 2004, and a lot of anecdotal evidence from interviewing Catholic leaders and laity, is there was a pretty negative reaction to the heavy-handed tactics of some of the bishops and priests. But a lot depends on what’s at the top of the agenda. Certainly, many Catholics still oppose abortion and did so in 2006, but the 2006 election wasn’t really about abortion for many people. It was about other issues. I don’t think we’ll see this emphasis on conservative social issues go away, but its importance will rise and fall given what else is happening in particular elections.
I don’t know that the same-sex marriage amendments tell us very much about wedge issues in general, but they do tell us something about the issue of same-sex marriage. Americans continue to oppose same-sex marriage by solid majorities. On the other hand, people’s attitudes towards things like civil unions are changing rapidly. Part of the issue here is the sense of immediacy. What made that question so important in 2004 was same-sex marriage had just been legalized in Massachusetts, and out in San Francisco, gay people were being married, apparently in contradiction to state law. That sense of immediacy was largely gone in 2006. A bit of the immediacy came back towards the end of the campaign with the New Jersey Supreme Court decision, but even then, it didn’t reach the same level. I wasn’t surprised one of the amendments failed, but I was surprised it was in Arizona. I thought it was going to fail in Wisconsin. That shows you how good I am at predicting elections.
As Mark pointed out, not only are they running out of states where they can amend state constitutions, but the immediacy around the issue has faded. It may not be as important in the next several years as it was in 2000.
BOWMAN: The polling data were clear. If you look at the large variety of questions on whether or not we should amend the constitution, the public was skeptical of that idea. Many Americans wanted this to go away. It was not only losing the immediacy, but a public that was also divided on some aspects of it.
TOLSON: I’d like to make a case for saying if it hasn’t been a Great Awakening, it has been a “Pretty Good Awakening.” I think your data proves this. We’re coming to the end of the Pretty Good Awakening. The Awakenings are not just about increasing intensity of religion, but also about a redefinition of the religious in relation to the social or the political. It has to do with structures of religions, sometimes with new denominations as in the second Great Awakening – the first, with Jonathan Edwards, being more about structures of authority – and in third, if you want to call it that, you start getting more of an emphasis on the social gospel associated with populism.
This Great Awakening originated around a number of hot-button social issues and how various parties and individuals responded to those issues. We’ve seen this going on for 45 years – heating up – and now shifting down, in an almost bipartisan way. Maybe both parties have figured it out, so it’s less of a hot-button, explosive matter. The Pretty Good Awakening might be drawing to a close.
It’s hard to quantify, but you see it. Maybe you subject it to content analysis literally, how it’s talked about in the media, the frequency of the use of the word “God” and “God-gap” and so on. It’s on people’s minds. Your data suggests maybe this one is coming to a close, that we have a new configuration.
VAN BIEMA: Maybe we have a political Awakening, maybe a public impression Awakening, more so than an organic Awakening?
TOLSON: All of the above. This had to do with so many things: mass communication, the nationalization of issues of curriculum, school prayer, abortion. All of these issues became political in a new way. It’s not as though religion hasn’t always been political in American life; it just became political in a different way. We had to figure out the partisan dynamics of it.
CROMARTIE: Maybe we should do a future session in Key West on this topic, because let’s be clear about one thing: When Awakenings occurred, the social indicators dropped immediately, and everybody said what happened? In Wales in 1905, everything happened overnight. The liquor stores closed down; nobody went anymore. The thing we ought to discuss is what are the social indicators. I know, Carl, that’s not the kind of Awakening you want, but – (laughter).
CANNON: Jay, maybe I was wrong to not worry about it. (Laughter.)
CROMARTIE: Isn’t that right though, John, the indicators were obvious?
UNIDENTIFIED: Journalists are always the last to figure it out.
HAGERTY: I have two questions. One, do you see any indication conservative evangelicals might feel so disappointed with George Bush and politics in general that they might withdraw, as they have in the past, from the political arena?
Two, looking ahead to 2008, what you would tell a strategist for Hillary Clinton about how to approach the faith vote? I think she might have a John Kerry problem in that Kerry, I think, has a deep religious faith or some kind of faith, but he just couldn’t talk about it. I don’t think Hillary is Obama; I don’t think she could pull off “we worship at the house of God.”
GREEN: I’ll answer the first question, and Karlyn can answer the second question. (Laughter.) Conservative evangelicals are very unhappy with the GOP right now. They’re less unhappy with President Bush than they are with the party as a whole. But I don’t see any indication they are about to withdraw from politics. As much as they are unhappy with the Republican Party, they see the Democratic Party as worse. At least for the next election cycle, they will stay activated.
CROMARTIE: Advice for Senator Clinton?
BOWMAN: I’m glad I’m not in the position of advising Senator Clinton, but I think you have to be authentic in politics. It comes through if you’re not. She does go to church; she does seem to know her Bible fairly well. If she can convey that, I don’t think she’ll have a big problem. Whether she’ll gain any adherents is another question. But you can’t fake it.
HAGERTY: So she shouldn’t not talk about it –
BOWMAN: I think she should talk about it if she feels comfortable talking about it.
UNIDENTIFIED: She should not speak in tongues. (Laughter.)
GROSSMAN: Maybe she’ll take a page from her husband during his reelection campaign, the famous values campaign. Unlike people who were saying, “Here are the values I stand for and everybody should go by,” he was saying, “I’m going to campaign to let you live by your values.” He may have had some values, God knows, but he wasn’t going to impose his values. Can that work now or is it way too discredited?
TUMULTY: One time when I was interviewing somebody very close to the Clintons on this subject, this person explained to me that the difference between his ability to use religion in politics and hers is the difference between the fact that he’s a Baptist and she’s a Methodist. Methodists are looking for a mission, and Baptists think they are the mission. (Laughter.)
YORK: What religious leaders do you find truly influential, who people should be listening to? Could you could comment on Rick Warren, specifically, because he’s been mentioned a number of times. What is this guy’s influence politically and which way does it cut?
GREEN: Rick Warren is part of a new generation of leaders in the evangelical community who want a broader agenda. They are not willing to abandon the hot-button social issues; maybe they want to make them a little less hot, but they’re unwilling to abandon them because they believe in them. However, they want to broaden the agenda to other kinds of issues. The public explanation is biblical values apply to a lot of things and not just to sexuality, as important as that may be. But there is a subtext that is not always public, which is, “We might have more progress on some of these other things, because we can make alliances with people in other religious traditions. We can reach across the aisle.” This represents not only a generational change but also a maturation of the evangelical community in politics, an understanding that politics is an ongoing phenomenon in which today’s enemies are tomorrow’s friends, an understanding that one has to be practical about politics.
There is about to be a major change in evangelical leadership because of generational change. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are rather long in the tooth, and Jim Dobson is also about that age. So there is going to be a transition in leadership. If you go out across the states, you see the successors of Falwell and Robertson. In Ohio, Rod Parsley would be a good example. He’s a televangelist and a political guy. There are a lot of these folks around. Many of them have not achieved any kind of national stature yet, but they’re going to get that opportunity because of the changing of the guard.
Right now I think James Dobson is the single most influential evangelical leader. Of course, he’s not a religious leader: he’s not a denominational leader or a pastor. But he’s not going to be around forever. So there’s a lot of flux in the evangelical community. Someone like Rick Warren could potentially have enormous influence on this broadening of the agenda. But one of the reasons Rick Warren could have influence is precisely because he holds very traditional views on the basic things evangelicals agree on.
Outside of the evangelical community, it’s different. The Catholic community has an institutionalized leadership. We’re going to see the Catholic bishops speaking up on a lot of issues in the near future – not that they’ve been silent in the recent past. There does seem to be turmoil among mainline Protestants. We’ll see a lot of their leaders speaking out. When you talk about mainline Protestants speaking out, that means on both sides, because there are real divisions in those churches. I see a lot of turmoil among the leadership of these major religious communities, and I’m not sure it will be sorted out by 2008.
COOPERMAN: John, what’s the evidence, if any, of growth in those that might be labeled the religious left?
GREEN: The term religious left is fraught with all kinds of definitional issues. There are at least two groups of people that fit under that label. There are people who have very liberal theology together with very progressive politics. Some evidence in our surveys and other people’s surveys suggest that group of people is somewhat larger than it was a few years ago. I don’t know that the religious side has grown so much as the political side has. This group of people has become more politicized in the last few years.
In the other group are people who are either moderate or perhaps even conservative theologically, but who adopt liberal political positions. In some ways, Jim Wallis would be an example of that. We don’t see that growing very much, but it’s always been there. It seems to be really stable.
If those two groups could get together, you could have a pretty significant bloc of voters. Remember, religious blocs in the United States tend to be small – it’s such a diverse country.
Our 2004 surveys showed something like 9 percent of the American public fit under the core definition of the religious left if you disregarded denominational background; another 9 percent or so were peripheral to the definition. We haven’t had a chance to look this year, but my sense is it might be even bigger now, because there has been a tremendous effort on the political side.
GOLDBERG: I have a question about secular Americans who are so secular it’s almost a religion – the orthodox secular, I don’t know what you would call it. Could you talk about trends in that area? The numbers of people who are profoundly unaffiliated with any religious organization seem to be going up. Do you see that as something we need to be paying attention to? Is it going to be a counterweight eventually to evangelical strength?
GREEN: The number of unaffiliated people in the United States has been growing fairly steadily for a while now. It took a big leap in the 1990s. The best surveys show it to be about a sixth of the adult population. Not all unaffiliated people are the hardcore seculars you are talking about; many of them actually have religious beliefs of one kind or another. Probably the largest group of the unaffiliated are people simply indifferent to religion. They’re not hostile to it, just indifferent. But the militant secular group does seem to be growing. One piece of evidence is the number of self-identified atheists, which is going up. It’s over 1.5 percent of the adult population in many surveys.
GOLDBERG: It’s a juggernaut; sounds like the Vilsack campaign. (Laughter.)
GREEN: But if you add in the militant agnostics – a militant agnostic says, “I’m absolutely convinced I can’t know anything” – the group is larger –
CANNON: John, there’s a bumper sticker – “Militant Agnostic.” Have you seen this?
CANNON: “Militant Agnostic,” it says. “I don’t know and you don’t either!” (Laughter.)
GREEN: That reminds me of a piece circulating on the Internet a year or so ago called the Unitarian Jihad.
But if you add the agnostics and the atheists together, they’re about 3 percent of the population. Measures of hostility to religion are very high among that group.
Three percent, how important is that? That’s larger than the Jewish community. That’s about the size of all nominal Catholics – that is, people who claim to be Catholic, but don’t report any Catholic beliefs or behaviors. So, atheists and agnostics are a small but a significant group. Atheists and agnostics tend to be well educated. They’re probably more represented in elite circles than they are in the population as a whole, so I think it is an important part of the religious landscape.
DIONNE: Andy Kohut believes seculars, which he defines less strictly, are one of the fastest growing groups in the country. As I recall, he gets his seculars up to 10, 12 percent. Would you talk about that group as opposed to –
GOLDBERG: That doesn’t include belief in God to self-identify as secular, right?
DIONNE: It’s based on a scale. He puts together answers to a whole series of questions, which mostly suggest not necessarily absolute certainty about being agnostic, but every behavior suggests no connection with organized religion. Do you have a view on the counting of the seculars, which is a larger group?
BOWMAN: John, yours is also a scale question, based on a lot of different indicators. Andy does say it’s a fast-growing group.
GREEN: Andy is right about that. There are just different ways to measure it. The simplest way to measure this is to start with people who claim to be unaffiliated. There you get 8 to 9 percent of the population saying regularly in surveys that they’re unaffiliated. But as with so many other things in measuring religion, it depends how you ask the question. If you ask the question in the most sensitive way, you can get even a larger number than that. But then Andy likes to add to it people who might have some kind of religious affiliation but show no evidence of any commitment to that affiliation. Those would be some of the nominal Catholics I was just mentioning. In our surveys, we do the same thing. As Karlyn indicated, it’s a slightly different set of measures, but our affiliation measure produces a little higher number of straight unaffiliated people.
By any of these approaches, you end up with a group of people that are not engaged in organized religion. Some of them have beliefs. Some of them even occasionally attend worship. In pre-tests of surveys, we sometimes ask people what this is all about, and they say things like, “My wife makes me go,” or “I’m a car salesman and that’s just a great market.” (Laughter.)
GOLDBERG: As a follow-up: Do polls ask atheists and agnostics and seculars what their vestigial affiliation is? In other words, what community did they abandon or what faith are they no longer involved in?
GREEN: Some do. It’s very diverse.
GOLDBERG: Is there any indication?
GREEN: It’s very diverse.
BOWMAN: The pure seculars will continue to grow. Many in this group have post-graduate educations and that group is continuing to grow.
PINSKY: John made a reference to this coming generational transition of evangelical leadership, and I think that’s true. I’ve argued in the last few months in the L.A. Times and the Guardian that there is an ideological overlay to this generational shift. It’s not a left-right shift; it’s a right-center right shift. There is a movement toward the center-right movement, with mega-church pastors in particular who are supportive of the agenda-broadening position.
If you’re looking for some names, I’ll suggest a few. One, despite his recent ill-fated match-up with the Christian Coalition, is a mega-church pastor from my part of the country named Joel Hunter at Northland Church. A very articulate guy, he did the voiceover for the greenhouse gas emissions television campaign the evangelicals put forth about a year ago. He’s a guy to watch. On the Catholic side, I’d also have a look at our bishop, Thomas Wenski, who is now the bishop spokesman on foreign policy. He came up through asylum and refugee status. He’s only in his late 50s, and he’s another comer to watch for.
VAN BIEMA: Hunter was the guy who the Christian Coalition picked up and then let go, right?
PINSKY: No, they picked him up, and then he stepped out.
VAN BIEMA: It depends on who you talk to.
PINSKY: There’s a real question whether he jumped or was pushed, frankly. He saw that as an opening to reach a national stage. When I talked to John after he was appointed, he voiced his doubts as to his prospects for broadening the agenda, that this was not the venue to do it. They balked. He stepped aside, but I think he was thrown under the bus.
VAN BIEMA: This happened before with the National Association of Evangelicals report on global warming, which they were about to put out and then pulled back at the last minute. In some ways, that generational change is already expressing itself, although in a stuttering sort of manner.
PINSKY: It’s not a smooth process.
VAN BIEMA: The thing that prompted my question in the first place was atheists. If you talk to atheists at any great length, they will tell you their point of pride is an atheist stands the least chance of being elected president. I was interested to see if the L.A. Times polling is correct, and they might lose that distinction to the Mormons. (Laughter.) That wasn’t a serious point.
GILGOFF: It’s amazing how much attention the Christian Coalition gets in the mainstream media, given how eviscerated they’ve been over the last decade. You were pointing out Hunter as a good go-to person. Dobson is going to be fading from view in the next decade, but he’s such a unique figure. There doesn’t seem to be anyone waiting in the wings to replace him in his power to cross denominational lines. That, paired with the fact that the evangelical political world is becoming more decentralized – single leaders like Falwell or Robertson don’t really matter as much as we in the media give them credit for.
How do you recommend we journalists, when we’re covering evangelical developments or politics and evangelicals, avoid going to those leaders and giving them too much credit and influence and still cover the movement in a meaningful way?
GREEN: It’s important to talk to state-level leaders. Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs is useful to talk to, the Family Research Council in Washington is very accessible, Tony Perkins has good quotes and so forth. But there are companion organizations in many state capitals. I’ve always found those folks to be well worth talking to for a couple of reasons. One is they’re much closer to the grassroots. Also, they often have quite different views about tactics and strategy than the national figures do.
One interesting thing about evangelical political activity is that while evangelicals do not stress religious institutions as some other faith traditions, they create institutions at the drop of a hat, and invent new ones all the time. They have this extraordinary ability to create organizations. That mostly happens at the state and local level. A whole new set of organizations were created around the same-sex marriage bans, and. some of those organizations undoubtedly will live on into the future.
PINSKY: Mega-church pastors are halfway from the pew to the national level, and they’re really in touch with their congregation.
BOWMAN: I just have one quick point to make about the Mormon question. The first asking, as you see here, was in 1967 (Table 17). I appreciated Peter Berger’s point that we have a Mormon candidate running right now, and that may explain the L.A. Times answer. But a Gallup archives release pointed out the fact that Romney Sr. was considering running in 1967. That was an active issue and you still had only had 17 percent in 1967 saying they wouldn’t vote against a Mormon.
DOUTHAT: Is there any significant demographic research on the composition of seculars and unaffiliated? There is the stereotype that everyone who self-identifies as secular or not affiliated is one of those 85 percent of journalists or something. But a lot of those people are at the lower end of the income and education spectrum, and they are dropping out.
If it’s true that church-going and involvement in religious activities tracks with political participation, voter turnout, and so on, isn’t there a built-in advantage for the Republican Party? It benefits them in turnout and activism.
GREEN: There is an advantage to a party that has supporters among regular church attenders. The reason is regular church attenders turn out and vote in higher numbers than people who attend less often or attend not at all. In recent times, that’s tended to benefit Republicans. But it could conceivably benefit Democrats. Regular church attenders among African-American Protestants are very solidly Democratic. People who are less involved in organized religion are harder to mobilize politically, partly because they’re a lot harder to find. One of the real advantages of voter guides in churches is you know people are going to be there to pick them up.
But beyond that, there is not that social connection. One of the things we do know about the secular population, and particularly about atheists and agnostics, is they’re much less involved in social organizations than other types of people. They also tend to be older, and they tend to be male. Some of them are very well educated, but not all of them. Many of them have more modest levels of education. So the evidence on this diverse group doesn’t quite conform with the stereotype of the atheist on the news desk or the professional agnostic in the Harvard faculty club.
WOOLDRIDGE: What you’re saying is they’re more disorganized, they’re poor, uneducated, and not easily led. (Laughter.)
GREEN: Very good, Adrian, very good.
ALLEN: There were a lot of stories in the run-up to this election speculating that because of disappointment with Bush and the Republican Party, evangelicals would stay home. I think it turned out there was no evidence they stayed home. We know their leaders, including Dobson, told them they needed to turn out; you don’t have influence by going on strike. What data or anecdotal evidence do you have to explain why evangelicals did not go on strike? Was it because of leaders like Dobson?
GREEN: The exit polls do suggest they turned out in at least their rate in the population, which means they turned out at the same rate as other people. Remember, in midterm elections, turnout is down compared to presidential elections overall. So it appears that evangelicals did not sit out the 2006 election. I suspect it’s partly because leaders like James Dobson and others made a very strong case they should turn out. In his radio address the week before the election, he said a lot was at stake, and that Democratic control of Congress was going to be very bad for the social agenda.
ALLEN: He said it was a sin not to vote.
GREEN: Right, and that’s part of it. But also, there were additional organized efforts. A lot of contacting went on – stuff happening in churches, telephone calls.
But there was another thing going on. Take Dobson’s point that it’s a sin not to vote positively, then being a good citizen is part of being a good Christian. That idea has become very strong in the evangelical community in the last generation. There was a disposition among many of these people that they really ought to go out and vote. That helped keep the turnout up.
DOUTHAT: John, did you ever see any evidence for the famous Karl Rove comment about the 2000 election that 5 million evangelicals or whatever it was stayed home? It always seemed like an urban legend of Republican politics.
GREEN: It’s interesting you should ask, because I spent a long time trying to find that number. There is some evidence, but I could never find a strong warrant for 4 million. Why not 3 million; why not 6 million? Rove and Bush didn’t get the turnout they’d been hoping for, but the specific number was hard to pin down. Because I was interested in this, I started talking to Republican pollsters. They were all over the block too.
I think the number itself may be mythical, but sure enough, they didn’t get the turnout they’d wanted in 2000, and a lot of the strategy in 2004 was directed at getting increased turnout among evangelicals. And they got it. In 2004, of course, everybody’s turnout went up. So evangelicals didn’t stick out in this regard, but at least the Republicans were able to move that constituency up along with other constituencies on the Democratic side.
CROMARTIE: Ladies and gentlemen, join me in thanking both of these terrific individuals. (Applause.)
This transcript has been edited for clarity, style and grammar by Andrea Useem.