In recent times we have seen a new reemergence of conservative fundamentalism expressed at the polls. Christianity in the United States has had long and combative history especially the Protestant-Evangelical denominations. Although the message has never been overly political or economic, there has been a shift towards a more paternalistic and politicized religious movement using party politics as a universalizing method of legislating “morality”. One particular aspect of this change is the introduction of radical Protestantism into mainstream culture. Unlike the United States, other western democracies’ elected officials do not share the direct belief in Revelations or the apocalypse if you will. Nor do they acknowledge there faith in public policy making. As matter of fact, religion has fallen out of the public arena in Europe and other democratic neighbors as a tool of statecraft. “No other contemporary Western nation shares this religious intensity and its concomitants proclamation that Americans are God’s chosen people and nation” (Philips, 2006 pg.4). The question then becomes what overall effect does religiosity have on an individual’s choice of candidate or party in the United States?
When exploring a topic like religion and voter behavior together, the deep polarizations between liberal and conservative become immediately apparent. Since the division goes deeper than just the parties –Democrats and Republicans- themselves it becomes a virtual phenomenon that has taken on a life of its own embodied in the “red v blue” state conflict. The polarizations that divide this country’s electorate are far more complicated than just simply whether the individual is religious. There are many other contributing factors to this divide, keeping in mind that the deep division in ideology can not be explained by a single problem or trend in the general population. Clearly there are many secondary factors involved in the voter’s method of choice for candidate or party.
Part 1: It’s an Evangelicals world:
Recent presidential elections have drawn attention to the role religion plays in shaping how Americans vote. The election also highlighted the political significance of Evangelical Conservatives, as a considerable influence and a base of support. Evangelicals see themselves in a kind tension with secular society, which affects their political behavior and choices deeply. Conservative Evangelicals say what makes them different from other denominations is there desire to govern themselves under the direct and absolute belief in the bible- its verse and commandments. They also use non-religious sources to bolster there views which makes it difficult to explain them away as simply zealots. “They also seek to gain more influence in the principle U.S. culture, especially through the media which they perceive as dominated by secular liberals” (Giroux, 2005). Thus what makes them Evangelical, there desire to proselytize and spread there values. This makes them an especially potent force in helping shape their chosen party’s or candidate’s platform.
Church leaders generally appeals to these people in there congregations, convincing them that a particular candidate or party will bring traditional American values back to replace what they see as a destructive secular tidal wave. Not only do the leaders of these churches offer the return to “traditional values.” Perhaps more importantly, they offer answers to difficult questions, and comradely with likeminded people in the face of a changing and increasingly uncertain world.
“In the early 1990s an uncertain alliance between Evangelicals and Catholics resulted in a series of joint declarations. There was an original declaration, Evangelicals and Catholics Together, sometimes known by its initials, ECT, and a series of subsequent statements on justification, on the Bible, and on the communion of saints. Prepared by a group of roughly fifteen Catholics and Evangelicals, it was signed by an additional twenty prominent members of the faith” (Lauritzen, 2006). After looking at the ECT document, it seemed a somewhat historical alliance due to the deep resentment that has existed between Catholic and Protestant sects in the United States since its founding. The articles belay “… a strongly dualistic and apocalyptic vision of human existence as a struggle between good and evil, a zealous commitment to missionary work and proselytization, an unapologetic commitment to an unfettered market economy, a conviction that American democracy is the last best hope in the fight against the Evil One, and a belief that secular humanists are the agents of Satan and threaten the very existence of democracy. All of this is tied together by a fierce opposition to abortion as illustrative of everything that is wrong with contemporary culture” (Laurtizen, 2006). With abortion acting as a cement there is consensus among the two denominations that have been practically at war with each other since there emergence. It is the idea of “us against them” that has been used recently by traditional conservative and neoconservative politicians, and is a synonymous part of Evangelical religious rhetoric which illustrates there point of view. It is this thinking in absolutes that good v evil, which is the driving force of our foreign policy: The Bush doctrine.
It is generally stereotyped that all Evangelicals are allied with the GOP. This is not completely accurate. Although it may seem like difficult to believe, there are a great many divides inside both respective parties regarding religiosity. There are a relative number of Evangelicals that fall under the heading of Democratic Party and Independent. “Conservative Democrats are quite religious, socially conservative and take more moderate positions on several key foreign policy questions. The group is older, and includes many blacks and Hispanics; of all the core Democratic groups, it has strongest sense of personal empowerment (Pew Research Center, 2005 pt: 5).” According to a poll done by Pew Research Center (2005) 44% of Conservative Democrats call themselves “deeply devoted to there faith” They also show 55% saying they regularly attend services/bible studies. They show traditional Liberals at 14% on devotion. Only 5% attend service regularly . “Secular individual’s ,those who say they are agnostic, atheist, or say they have no religious affiliation are a significant portion only of Liberals: 22%” (Pew Research Center, 2005 Pt: 6). This creates deep divides with in the Democratic Party.
This divide also exists in the GOP but in a different configuration. For example, Republicans generally agree on social issues, the percentages being very close and hanging at about 50%-55% on homosexuality and belief in a God or a Supreme Being . “Despite differing degrees of religious intensity among core Republican groups, there is little evidence that the current slate of moral and values-oriented issues threatens to divide the Republican electoral base in any significant way” (Pew Research Center, 2005 Pt: 4). Basically, religious intensity and social issues seems to be far more divided on the left than the right.
Part 2: Victory in the 2000 and 2004 elections:
“George Bush won eight out of ten "values voters" in the last election, and the identification of the Republican leadership with the “religious right” has tightened during the struggles over euthanasia and gay marriage” (Green, John C., Corwin T. Smidt, James E. Guth, & Lyman A. Kellstedt, 2004). Using issues like these the conservative coalition and moral majority have been extremely successful at mobilizing their populations at the grassroots. “According to exit polls taken in the Midwest, over 59% of Protestants voted Bush where only 38% cast there vote for Gore in the 2000 election” (Edison Media Research, 2004). When respondents were asked wither the country was on the right or wrong track-morally, over 70% of respondents answered the country was on the wrong track. Almost all of them were Bush voters (Green, John & Smidt, 2004). This seems to show that many people- those of the moral majority- were unhappy with the Clinton legacy and felt Gore was just a continuation of what they saw unacceptable and immoral behavior on the part of one who holds the highest office in the land. During the election in 2000, the most important issue Bush voters cited were “moral issues.” “Two-thirds of voters who attend religious services regularly (once a week or more) backed President Bush rather than Senator Kerry - and they make up 40% of the electorate” (Green, John & Smidt, 2004). The ability of the Republican Party to mobilize its religious base proved to be the decisive factor in what was one of the closest elections in United States history. The aptitude of the Religious organizations, especially conservative Evangelicals have been successful at providing a number of benefits like encouraging members to register to vote, distribute propaganda for there chosen candidate, and publicly presenting political issues in a church setting.
Therefore one can assume that mobilization will spike under single issues like homosexual marriage or abortion. This is the divide where religiosity becomes a key factor in the individual voter’s decision of party or candidate. In theory, many scholars have said that when a group or individual voter becomes connected to a particular party, candidate, or single issue in agreement with their religious identity, that relation is likely to advance and influence the policy positions that party has chosen to adopt. Since those positions are allied with the values of the individual voter’s religious identity. As a result religion has a profound influence on party affiliation and voting tendency of individuals, although the change has been occurring slightly over time. This has led some to believe that “religious affiliation with politics is greater than any correlation between race, gender, or class” (Brooks, Clem & Jeff Manza, 1997). However, historically speaking, “it is […] a rare event for a specific religious group to move decisively toward or away from support for a major party’s presidential candidates” (Brooks, Clem & Jeff Manza, 1997). Much of the research has shown that this is not a systemic trend but rather heavy dependent on single issues that are most salient with the respondents polled. This “alliance” with a political party is a recent on-going trend, but permanent alliance has been rather inconclusive (there is not enough empirical evidence yet). Still, this connection seems to be strongest when tapped by a single provocative issue. For example, homosexual marriage and abortion mentioned above, were the most salient issues for white Evangelical Protestants in the 2004 presidential campaign. “Foreign policy and economic priorities were far more important to the overall vote than social issues, such as abortion or same-sex marriage. However, social issue priorities were most important to Bush’s religious constituencies” (Green & Smidt, 2004). The poll showed that those that voted for Kerry thought that economics were the most important. This shows some very fundamental differences in the two constituencies between religious conservatives and liberals.
It is important to not generalize because there were significant divisions in the Protestant denominations in both elections. In 2004, John C. Green in conjunction with the Pew Research Center did a post election poll quantifying and grouping different divisions in the religious landscape. The overall Evangelical vote was 78% for Bush and only 22% for Kerry which shows he captured a nearly a quarter of that demographic. According to their research several groups within the Evangelical label emerged: Traditional Evangelicals, Centrist Evangelicals, and Modernist Evangelicals with a separate set for mainline Protestants categorized along similar lines. Traditionalist voted over 88% for Bush and turn out about 69%, where centrist voted only 64% and turned out at just over 52%. In what many would see as a contraction the Modernist Evangelicals were extremely split casting only 48% for Bush and 52% for Kerry and sporting almost a higher turnout than there counterparts at 65%. The mainline Protestant vote was far more divided than the Evangelical. The Traditionalist mainline split at 68% for Bush with a turnout rate of 78%. The Centrist cast there vote at 58% for Bush and came out just about 68%. Modernist mainliners voted only 22% for Bush and a very high 78% for Kerry there turnout numbers were just about 71%. Black Protestants were still loyally Democratic voting heavily for Kerry. The Latino population was split far more in the 2004 election than in 2000 almost 10% more went to Bush over Kerry. Catholic Latinos voted 69% for Kerry where there counterparts only caste 37%. Bush’s biggest gain came among Latino Protestants, who moved from the Democratic column in 2000 to the Republican column in 2004 .
Part 3: What does it all mean?
“The single most important group for Bush was Traditionalist Evangelicals, which provided more than one-quarter of his total votes (27 percent). Traditionalist Evangelicals supplied more than twice the proportion of Bush ballots than any other group” (Green & Smidt, 2004). According to the American Religious Landscape and the 2004 Presidential Vote: Fourth National Survey (2004), Evangelical traditionalist, Mainline Protestant, traditionalist according to the study were combined for nearly half of Bush’s total ballots which ran about 47%. The other groups were Centrist Evangelicals and Catholics which were about one third of his total ballots. The other categories in which the support for Kerry was higher, but Bush still got near 50% at least one fifth of the total ballot percentage. This means that given the history of how close the 2000 election was, focusing on the religious base and maintaining its support was critical to a Bush victory. Why was Bush so successful at not only maintaining this demographic but increasing it in comparison to 2000 election results? “[…] the top four Bush constituencies regarded social issues as very important to their vote, exceeding the figure for the entire sample (out of 4 issues social issues, environment, economics, and foreign policy). Each of these groups was also more likely to choose social issues as most important. Here Traditionalist Evangelicals stand out in giving social issues top priority” (Green & Smidt, 2004). However, the overall percentage on the importance of social issues was “rated third in terms of relative importance 49 percent very important and top priority 24 percent most important”(Green & Smidt, 2004) The study not only suggests, but confirms that moral or social issues were a very important to the Bush electorate. Therefore, considering all the evidence, social issues has a direct effect on the individual voter’s decision in choosing a candidate. Bush was successful in convincing his constituency that he shares their most basic religious convictions. The importance people placed on faith as a guiding factor in deciding for whom to vote was overall just over 21% in the general electorate; these people said “faith was the most important factor over any other. ” However, the majority of the Bush supporters claimed faith was most important. “Here Traditionalist Evangelicals ranked first (56 percent said faith was more important than other factors). The exceptions were Centrist Catholics (38 percent) and Centrist Mainline Protestants (31 percent)” (Green & Smidt, 2004). In spite of that religious Kerry supporters “reported that their faith was less important or not at all important to their voting decisions.” What all of this illustrates is the deep divides between those who consider themselves highly religious and those who do not. It also shows that if a particular party or candidate identifies themselves with the religious community they will be highly successful in gaining there support. Simply because religious values are something people feel very personal about, and if a candidate can appeal on a personal level (like Bush did) to individuals and not just on a secular political level they will be able to maintain that groups support. This is a very effective strategy and as old as politics itself. As fear and uncertainty grow especially in the shadow of terrorism and war people will turn to something familiar for answers. Thus there will always be demagogues ready to exploit that fear. Since America has always been a very fearful country, we can expect to see much more of this type of behavior (backtracking) or (claiming traditional American values ).
Part 4: Regions and States
The impact of religiousness on U.S. voting patterns varies by state. Bush and Kerry each won four regions of the country. Cited by Greenberg Center’s Religion in the News (2005), “Bush carried the Southern Crossroads, Mountain West, and south handily and just squeaked by in the Midwest. Meanwhile, Kerry won big in the Pacific, Middle Atlantic, and New England and prevailed narrowly in the Pacific Northwest” (Green, John C & Mark Silk, 2005). What is most important about regions, especially the ones captured by Bush was “moral values” were cited as the issue that mattered most which went against the national average of 26% of the total electorate. “In fact, “moral values” came in first place in all four of the Bush regions and in none of the Kerry regions” (Green & Silk, 2005). This shows that there was a great deal of importance in the saliency of morals in the 2004 election. As it was stated above, this was only an essential issue in regions captured by Bush.
“In all the regions Bush won, moral values trumped Iraq by margins of 2-to-1 or more, while in the Kerry regions the two issues were closely balanced, except for the Pacific Northwest, where Iraq had a 3-to-2 margin over “moral values ” (Green & Silk, 2005). Very much like the national exit poll totals, religious voters tended to name this issue as most important in localities. Regionally, “Evangelicals were the backbone of the Bush moral-values vote in all regions, with the Latter-day Saints making a significant contribution in the Mountain West and Pacific, and Catholics doing the same in the Middle Atlantic and New England” (Green & Silk, 2005). An important issue to look at is regular church attendance in the regions captured by Bush in 2004 as a contributing factor to the level of religiosity encountered at the polls. “Regular worship attainders (once a week or more) regardless of religious affiliation are nationally, 71 percent of the Bush moral-values voters were regular attendees. These figures were comparable or greater for the Bush regions, and lower for the Kerry regions, but still substantially above 50 percent” (Green & Smidt, 2005). The church attendance however has stayed just about the same according to a Gallup poll. It claims 35% saying they attend a church at least once a week . It is only a 1% difference from 1992 and proves that although attendance has stayed consistent, it is a stable trend sitting just above a quarter of the population. “The percentage of Americans who claim to be members of a church, synagogue, or mosque is currently about two-thirds (66%) . Since 1990, this percentage has remained somewhere in the mid- to upper-60% range, with that figure touching 70% in 1992 and 1999 .” The amount of attendance, although it will not decide the individual’s level of religiosity is an important factor. The influence of peer groups and intuitions hold a great deal of sway over individuals and can over time even change there opinions and values. Basically, “moral values” has the greatest influence in those regions Bush captured, where there are the most evangelicals and the largest number of regular church-goers.
Regional culture matters when trying to understand the “why” instead of just the “how.” However, the election is a state-by-state basis and everyone who follows politics knows that states in the same region can be very different from each other. In the 2004 election it came down to Ohio where when exit polls that were taken showed that “[…]Ohio voters named “moral values” as the most important issue, in contrast to the 20 percent of Michiganders who did—a disparity about equal to the difference in the president’s performance in the two states on November 2. That this disparity was rooted in religion can be seen in the contribution made by the Bush moral-values voters to the total vote in each state” (Green & Silk, 2005). Lucky or not for Kerry there were more Evangelicals in Ohio than Michigan which probably helped him win. Although Kerry lost some of his key demographics in Ohio he won others in Michigan like the Catholics and lost most mainline Protestants in Ohio (Episcopalian and Pentecostals) . It is interesting that two states in nearly the same region can vote so differently. Looking at the results it seems morals/values were far more important to the Ohioans than Michiganders. In the end, “Geography matters in American politics today above all because the religious configuration of the country varies considerably from one region to another. In the final analysis, those first-day stories about moral values -and the red-and-blue maps that went with them- conveyed something real” (Green & Silk, 2005).
What has this new trend done for the United States? It has produced “[…] an elected leader who believes himself in some way to speak for God, a ruling political party that represents religious true believers and seeks to mobilize the churches, the conviction of many voters in that Republican party that government should be guided by religion, and on top of it all, White House implementation of domestic and international political agendas that seem to be driven by religious motivations and apocalyptic style, biblical worldviews” (Philips, 2006 p.15). So what have we learned from this trend? As the United States moves into the 21st century we must try to take a lesson from civilization of the past about religion and secular politics. I have found that all religious fundamentalist movements have a common dogma, fear of the modern, an inability to cope with an ever changing scientific and increasingly technological society. As the social structure of old, begins to break down, fear becomes the adhesive of there movement back to “tradition.” Ignorance is there shield against the cosmopolitan, the new, and the diverse. One can never argue rhetorically, politically, or otherwise against them. Since what they fear the most is you’re casting doubt upon there universe and most cherished beliefs that they have come to understand in absolute certainty. They are a constant in any time of major change or flux. Despite all that, there is evidence to support these trends in “church and state” politics will continue to become more influential. The changes in the parties from an election centered more pragmatic approach to a far more ideological platform will dictate greater participation from certain social groups. However religion will continue to be deeply related to individual voter preference and since elections in the United States have been “candidate centered” its politicians will also have a major effect on the continuance of this trend by how they use moral and social issues in there campaigns and parties.
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