Will the Religious Left Take Too Much Credit?

fpl2.jpgThe progressive religious group Faith in Public Life is sending this memo (below) ’round to journalists and talking heads in anticipation of Obama’s expected gains among several important faith communities today.
God-o-Meter agrees with the likely trends that Faith in Public Life has identified. But it questions FPL’s rationale for Obama’s likeky gains among the faithful, which it claims is the result of Democrats’ faith outreach, the rise of the Religious Left, and shifting terrain on hot button issues among evangelicals and the broader electorate.
But Faith in Public Life has left out the biggest reason for the shift of various faith constituencies to the Democratic column. It’s the economy, stupid.
Beliefnet’s recent 12 Tribes of American politics survey showed that economic woes had dramatically eclipsed hot button social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. In one of the most dramatic examples, one in three Latino Christians said social issues were most important in 2004, when Bush won 45-percent of them. This year, only one in eight say those social issues are most important. And 61 percent say the economy is their topmost concern.
The Iraq war, too, has turned off relgious voters to the GOP.
What the newly faith-friendly Democrats and a burgeoining Religious Left have done is to help Barack Obama and the rest of his party take advantage of disenchantment over the economy and the war by making religious voters a lot more comfortable with them.
It’s not so much that religious voters’ increasing support for the Democrats is faith-based. It’s that there’s a lot less faith-based revulsion to the Democrats than there used to be.
Here’s the memo from Faith in Public Life:


TO: Political and religious experts and analysts
FROM: Katie Paris and the Faith in Public Life Team
RE: The 2008 Religious Vote

Changes in voting behavior among key religious groups from four years ago could make the difference for Sen. McCain or Sen. Obama today. This memo draws on polling data from 2004 through this week to identify 5 RELIGIOUS VOTE SHIFTS TO WATCH and points to trends and developments in faith and politics over the last four years to identify 5 FACTORS SHIFTING RELIGIOUS VOTERS.

• GOP grip on Midwestern white evangelicals appears to be slipping. Obama stands to improve upon Kerry’s performance among evangelicals by more than 10% in states like OH and IN. He has not made gains nationally, but even a 5% increase would be significant given the size of this voting bloc.
• Catholic vote overall likely to back Obama, especial Latino Catholics. White Catholics are still a wild card, but Obama appears likely to gain more votes from them than did Kerry or Gore.
• Mainline Protestants are closely divided. After favoring Bush by 10 points over both Gore and Kerry, their preference for the Republican ticket is dissipating.
• Hispanic evangelicals likely to swing to Obama after backing Bush strongly in 2004.
• The broadening of the evangelical agenda. Evangelicals are emphasizing a broader set of issues, including poverty, the environment and global concerns.
• The terrain has shifted on social issues. A common ground approach to abortion emphasizing abortion reduction has emerged and same-sex marriage has lost prominence on the national stage.
• Progressive religious groups have gained prominence while the religious right has faltered. Presidential candidates’ participation in forums sponsored by progressive religious groups demonstrates this shift.
• Campaign faith outreach is a whole new ball game. Obama has pursued religious voters more aggressively than Gore or Kerry, and McCain has not replicated Bush’s connection with religious conservatives.
• Palin effect unclear. While Palin has energized some religious conservatives, her impact among them electorally may be overstated and she may be pushing moderate people of faith away from the GOP ticket.


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posted November 4, 2008 at 2:11 pm

Religion should get out of politics. Left or right, personal religious beliefs should not be the basis of government. This is not a theocracy.

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Charles Cosimano

posted November 4, 2008 at 4:26 pm

The simple truth is that the actual numbers of people who are influenced to vote a certain way by their religious beliefs is not large enough to influence any but the closest of elections. People have lots of reasons for voting for a given candidate and usually the religion thing is only there because it may agree with the other reasons that are not as easily state.

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posted November 4, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Charles, your are correct about there being multiple criteria in voter decisions, but the activist evangelical community is one of the leading influences in how many vote. Today while voting I heard a couple people talking loudly about how they planned to vote the “religious” ticket. There is a big effort on the part of organized evangelicals to affect voting along religious lines, and that is not what America or religion should be about. Christians should be better than that. Jesus would not have approved of what this fringe is doing, especially their intolerance of anyone different than them.

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