Religion and the Parties

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Key West, FL

Mike Gerson
and Bill Galston just gave the first presentations here at the Pew Forum’s biannual conference on religion and public life. Gerson talked about the growing split between the new generation of Evangelicals and the one before, and Galston talked about Hillary and Catholic voters.

Some juicy data points and theories after the jump.

Galston illustrated that there is disproportionate support for Hillary Clinton among white Catholic voters (and he suggested that the 2008 reflects a real shift in the way Democratic leaders relate to and use religion in general). (One of his arguments is that parties change dramatically — in their demographics, in their platforms — after “unexpected defeats.” 2004 is one of them. Why 2000 doesn’t count has not been addressed.)

From PA exits polls, he pulled out numbers that showed Clinton doing better among white Catholics than among Protestants by:

• 13 points overall

• 12 points among non-college grads

• 14 points among college grads

• 9 points among those making less than $50k

• 12 points among those making more than $50K

• 12 points among men

• 13 points among women

• 3 points among 18-44 year olds

• 15 points among 45 y.o. and older

He offered a few theories as to why Protestants skew toward Obama and Catholics to Hillary:

• “Reform” is Protestant idea, “Catholics are generally on the side of the ‘the regulars.'”

• Clinton’s focus on “bread and butter” issues appeals to Catholics’ concern with social injustice.

• Catholics associate age with leadership (in other words, they believe that Obama’s too young).

• And one that he put out in very, very gentle terms: Catholics might be uncomfortable with electing a black president. (On this point, one questioner asked if Protestants’ belief that they have “something to make up for” — racial reconciliation over slavery — might make them more sympathetic to Obama’s candidacy.) UPDATE: It was actually Gerson that fielded this question, and he seemed to basically agree.)

I asked Galston if it was possible that Hillary also benefited from Catholics being more accepting of her decision to stay in a troubled marriage. Or, rather, she was not penalized for it as she might be among voters who see divorce as a legitimate option in similar situations. His response was cautiously affirmative: Catholics, he said, are much more likely to believe that “there are some things you don’t change… once you have chosen to be in a situation, you stick with it… there is a narrative of suffering that is very important in the Catholic world view,” and, he continued, the narrative of suffering is a part of her narrative.

As to how the support of Catholics might shape a Hillary Clinton administration (hey, it’s a religious conference, we believe in miracles!), Galston said that the one area in which Catholics actually are reformers is in labor, and he suspects that Hillary would be more proactive in enacting the “trade time out” she talks about and that labor might benefit “at the margins” in other ways.

Gerson said that young evangelicals are alienated from “traditional” Evangelical institutions, and “homeless in the rigorous partisanship of American political culture.” These young people are markedly different from their peers in their strong support of pro-life legislation (“they see it as a social justice issue”) but also see a deep connection between their religion and global social justice issues (they’re active in the Sudan, global warming, and poverty activism). His evidence for the possibility of a coalition between these young evangelicals and the Democrats was striking: Among Democrats polled about America’s role in those global issues, the strongest area of support for America taking an active role was among college-educated voters; the group least supportive of that mission: blue collar workers. In the Republican party, the split is most noticeable as a measure of religiosity: Secular, libertarian conservatives were against it, Evangelicals supported it.

He also said he thinks Obama has “blown” the opportunity to capitalize on this coalition, largely because of what Gerson thought was an inadequate initial response the Wright stuff. Galston concurred, and referred us to this piece written after Obama’s Philadelphia speech, which he generated the most hate mail he’s ever gotten.

Discussion is continuing. Will try to file more reports as the conference proceeds.