Progressive Revival


I got two separate documents on the computer on the same day that made me pause. If we hear the same language long enough, we can begin to believe it. One of those is certainly the relationship between religion and politics in the United States-a connection, incidentally, that never fails to fascinate, amuse, disconcert and amaze my European friends. For an American, however, the association is a firm one, a solid bond, a given.

For instance, one of today’s messages was an alert to Roman Catholics to tell them how important “the Catholic vote” is to the outcome of the election. To make the point, it lists the items which, it says, “matter most to people of faith.” They are, according to this group, “The economy, health care, stalled progress against abortion under President Bush, global warming, torture as an instrument of foreign policy and bellicose approaches to relations abroad.”

It seems reasonable to assume then that these particular issues would be high on party platforms, high on campaigners agendas, high on voters interest scales and high on the list of voters’ determinants. The party that stress these things, the data seems to indicate, is the hands-down choice of the American voting public. Not so fast.

Then I read the second internet message, the one from the The Gallup Poll, and wondered whether we might not all be kidding ourselves about which issues really drive religious voters in elections-at least in this election-in the United States. According to Gallup’s poll of important issues, (Sept. 5-7, 2008) likely voters, when asked the question “Which of the following issues are most important to your vote for president? responded in the following order:

the economy                             42%

situation in Iraq                         13%

energy, gas prices                    13%

health care                                 13%

terrorism                                     12%

illegal immigration                        1%

abortion                                         1%

education                                       1%

environment                                   0.5%

other                                              4% (global warming, torture, bellicose foreign                                                  policy)

So the question is where are all these so-called ‘values voters?”

If the political statisticians are correct and there are 47, 000,000 voting Catholics in the United States, only 470,000 of them or less are choosing their presidential candidate out of their concern for illegal immigration, abortion, education, the environment, global warming, torture, or this administration’s bellicose foreign policy. Only approximately 6,000,000 Catholics will determine their presidential choice over the situation in Iraq or terrorism or even health care.

The Gallup Report does not break those figures down denominationally but the implications are clear: religious issues, values issues, however important some groups define them, are not driving this election.

“It’s the economy, stupid,” that almost half the voting public will take into the voting booth with them.

Maybe we all need to think again about how well the Christian template really resonates in the electoral process. Maybe we even need to think again about how well we who consider ourselves religious professionals are all teaching it in our churches, our synagogues, our temples and our mosques. On test day, it seems, the very issues we say are at the core of the electoral process barely show. Maybe that’s why so many people want the government to legislate them for them.


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