Thursday, July 12, 2007

Religion and politics in the US

Too many Americans want faith-driven decisions by the President

A new poll conducted by Time magazine reveals that, by a two-to-one margin, Republicans want a U.S. president who will let his faith guide his decisions.

By the same margin, Democrats are against this notion, stating they believe a U.S. president's faith in a higher power should not be a factor in how he governs.

That's pretty horrible numbers, since it means that half of the US voters seems to think that faith is a good guide to political decisions. Or maybe not. The questions people answered were this:

Do you think that a president should or should not allow his own personal religious faith to guide him in making decisions as president?


We are a religious nation and religious values should serve as a guide to what our political leaders do in office.

Not quite as bad as the article stated, though I would still say no to those questions. The reason I say it's not quite as bad, is that "religious values" can cover such things as humility, kindness etc., rather than thinking that one should govern by some specific understanding of a book written by a bunch of goatherders nearly 2000 years ago. There is even a question directly related to the use of the Bible in decision making.

"Do you think that a president should or should not use his or her personal interpretation of the Bible to make decisions as president?"

To this, 61.5% of the likely voters answered no, while 29.1% answered yes. Way too many for my taste, but hardly the kind of numbers mentioned above.

Time has of course a number of articles based upon the survey, all of them focusing on the religious aspects of it. However, unsurprisingly, they write the article in such a way to make it sound like the Democrats have a huge problem because of religion.

Well, looking at the numbers from the survey (can be found here), I can't help noticing that there is a lot of other stuff worth mentioning about the poll. I will comment on these things, as I go along discussing a particularly bad article from Time.

TIME Poll: Faith of the Candidates

The hoary joke that a "religious Democrat" is more of an oxymoron than "jumbo shrimp" couldn't be more wrong in this election cycle, in which it's the Democrats who are talking comfortably about faith while their Republican counterparts dodge the subject. Even so, as the results of a new TIME poll show, the conventional wisdom about the two political parties and religion may be so ingrained that no amount of evidence to the contrary can change perceptions. That may very well help Republicans in 2008 despite their various religion issues. And it may also mean that most Democrats, with one important exception, will have to try twice as hard to reach faith-minded voters.

Ok, first of all, let's look at the number of likely voters who said that they would vote for the different parties if there was an electiontoday. 34.3% of the likely votes said that they would vote for the Democrats, while 30.3% said that they would vote for the Republicans. The rest were undecided (29.4%) or refused to answer.

Straight of the bat, it seems like the votes are evenly divided betweent the two parties, which means that the religious vote could have an influence. However, for that vote to have an influence, it would be necessary for the people to vote because of the religious stance of the candidate.

A question if the poll was "Have you ever voted for or against a candidate mainly because of the candidate's religious beliefs?", to which only 12.1% said yes (R.:14.8%,D.:10.4%,I.:8.5%). In other words, religious belief is not the deciding issue when deciding who to vote for, especially not among the important independents.

That doesn't mean that the religious stance of an candidate doesn't have an influence, as the answers to the following question indicates:
For each, please tell me if that characteristic makes you more supportive or less supportive of the candidate.

Catholic: More: 23.6%, less: 8.7%, No diff.: 66.7%
Muslim: More: 6.8%, less: 47.3%, No diff.: 42.3%
Mormon: More: 10.2%, less: 30.2%, No diff.: 56.5%
Jewish: More: 18.4%, less: 10.9%, No diff.: 68.4%%
Fund. Chris.: More: 29.3%, less: 29.4%, No diff.: 35.4%
Atheist: More: 5.3%, less: 60.1%, No diff.: 33%

So, while the candidates religious stance is not the deciding issue, being an Muslim, Mormon, or especially an atheist could be the final straw for many voters.
Given that none of the Democratic candidates belongs to either of these groups, that hardly seems relevant though.

As Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy report in this week's TIME cover story, the three Democratic frontrunners are leading a fundamental shift in how their party thinks about religious Americans, which includes the first party-wide effort to target and court Catholic and evangelical voters. Republicans, meanwhile, have been lining up to receive the seal of approval from Pat Robertson and James Dobson. But at the same time, Mitt Romney has gone to great lengths to avoid talking about his Mormonism, John McCain's religious advisors quit his campaign in disgust, and when the AP inquired as to what church Rudy Giuliani attended, the former mayor essentially told them to mind their own business.

Democratic candidates in the past have targeted Christian voters. J.F. Kennedy didn't talk loud about his Catholicism, but people like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have always been willing to play to the religious base. Heck, Carter belongs to it.

In spite of all that, according to the new TIME poll, only 15% of registered voters believe that Hillary Clinton is "strongly religious," compared to 22% for John Edwards and 24% for Barack Obama. Perhaps more problematic for Clinton is the fact that nearly one-quarter of respondents (24%) say they know she is "not religious" — that's almost twice the nearest candidate, Rudy Giuliani (13%).

On this point, Clinton undoubtedly suffers from the double whammy of being a Democrat and a Clinton. Even Democrats tended to chalk up her husband's religious fluency to his general political skill, the ability to be everything to everyone, while Republicans saw him as a fake who exploited religion for political purposes and pandered to voters. Now Senator Clinton, the lifelong Methodist and one-time Sunday school teacher, is in a bind: So many voters think they "know" she can't possibly be religious that when she speaks about her faith, they interpret it as pure political posturing.

Interestingly enough, it's possible to see what percentage of people who think someone is either strongly religious, moderately religious or not religious )or don't know), and if you add the religious categories together, you get a different impression of how religious people think Clinton is compared ot others.

When you look at the Republican candidates, McCain is considered religious by 57.8%, Guiliani by 51.8% and Romney by 47.7% - funny that the person who probably is the most religious, is considered the least so.

On the Democratic front, Clinton is considered religious by 52.9%, Edwards by 58% and Obama by 60.2% In other words, only McCain among the Republicans, is considered religious by more likely voters than Clinton. Maybe that's not such a big problem after all? Maybe people not obsessed with hating Clinton realizes that she is religious?

Still, for at least one Democrat, another piece of conventional wisdom is working in his favor. Democrats have long outsourced religion to their African-American members, showing up in black churches the weekend before elections to clap along to gospel tunes, and treating black ministers as cuddly social justice mascots. As a result, black politicians rarely need to prove their religiosity-they're given the benefit of the doubt. Obama is no exception. On the ranking of candidates with strong faith, Obama comes in second (24%) among all voters. And even Republican voters put him (18%) above John McCain (17%), Rudy Giuliani (14%), and Newt Gingrich (14%).

Is Gingrich even a candidate? Well, he is considered even less religous than the other Republican candidates (43.3%).
And maybe Obama is considered religious because of him being religious? Remember his Democratic convention speech in which he kept on harping about God? Why is it that Democrats are considered non-religious by default by the writers, having to prove themselves 'religious'? The Republicans don't have to do that (except to the fundamentalists), so why presume the Democrats need to do so?

When it comes to the Republican field, Mitt Romney ranks far above the rest of the pack. Fully 26% of all voters think Romney is a person of strong religious faith, and among Republicans that number rises to 32%. What should worry Republicans, however, is that Romney's numbers are nearly double the closest Republican and still far below George W. Bush's in 2004. They also suggest an opening for Fred Thompson, who is expected the enter the race within weeks. James Dobson may have declared on his radio show that Thompson isn't a Christian, but given the alternatives, social conservatives are likely to disagree.

Ok, time for a reality check.
If religion is really that important to the voters, you'd expect this to refelcted in the number of likely voters who have a favorable impression of people.

Luckily, the poll also asked people what their impression of the candidates were, and funny enough, there were no correlation with the perceived religiosity. For example, Clinton and Edwards are considered favorable by an equal amount of people, and more people had a very favorable impression of Clinton than Ewdards (24.8 vs. 14.3). The Republican most people had a favorable view of, is Giuliani, which 53.7% considered favorable (17% vary favorable).

Could we stop focusing on the damn religion, and instead focus on policy? And maybe we should look at what the poll really show us, if we ignore all that nonsense about religion.

The poll clearly shows that Democrats have a small lead over the Republicans, with a large number of undecided. McCain and Giuliani are considered favorable by a majority of the likely voters (50.4% and 53.7%), with the later currently leading the pack of Republican candidates. McCain isn't too far behind, while Romney is nearly joining Gingrich with single digit backing among the Republican and Republican-leaning voters.

Among the Democrats, all of the three main candidates, Clinton, Obama and Edwards, are liked by a majority of the likely voters, though there is a large group of people who have a very unfavorable view of Clinton (35%) and Edwards (31.9%). While Obama is not out of the race by any means, Clinton is the front runner among the Democrats. Edwards seems to be trailing far behind.

What this poll shows me, is that neither the religious stance, nor the perceived religious stance, of the politician has absolutely no relation to how well they do. In other words, there is no need to try to pamper for the religious vote. Instead, the candidates should try to sell themselves on the issues they stand for.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you refuse to support the pope on small issues like abortion, you have to agree to higher, more secret and military goals as absolution. Giuliani did not fight the mob, he corraled it away from drugs and into Wall Street, where he diminished the Jewish influence to make room for Dick Grasso, mafia boiler rooms and money laundering. The mafia was always the elite gladiators of the molesting fascist popes. Catholics are the most dangerous for our democracy. Roberts and Alito lied to get confirmed. Look at the difference between Ashcroft, whose offbeat religion everyone feared, compared to Gonzalez on the Comey affair. Our litigation explosion began with the election of JFK. They love casuistry. Every martyrdom of Christians under the Romans required a civil lawsuit! They love litigation yet Christ himself Mt 5:25 warned agaist their litigiousness.

July 31, 2007 1:41 AM  

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