Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Saturday, August 02, 2003  

The Pew Research Center has the results of a new poll out about religious beliefs and politics. Some of the findings were predictable, some less so. Of the predictable results were the findings that people aren't particularly alarmed by the entwining of church and state. Seventy percent felt that there was the right amount (29%) or not enough religious expression in politics (41%). Furthermore, "a 62% majority thinks Bush strikes the right balance in how much he mentions his religious faith, and nearly as many (58%) believe the president's reliance on religion in policymaking is appropriate."

Americans have grown more anti-Muslim (fears are on the rise since March 2002) and strongly pro-Israel (Americans are three times as likely to support Israel than the Palestinians). Connected to this is a strong minority belief (by a third of Americans) that the establishment of Israel represents a Biblical prophesy about the second coming. "The differences are equally stark when it comes to views of Israel as a fulfillment of the Bible's prophesy of Jesus' second coming. Three times as many white evangelicals as white mainline Protestants believe this is the case (63% vs. 21%)."

Not surprisingly, the Republican party is far more linked to religion than the Democratic. Interestingly, however, views on specific policies are swinging back away from the fundamentalist Christian view. In 1996 41% of respondents were "strongly opposed" to gay marriage as compared to 30% now. Over the same period, support for the death penalty has slipped from 43% to 28% ("strongly favor"). And Americans are now in favor of legislation like Oregon's "Death with Dignity" law (54% approve). But perhaps the most important finding is about health care and tax cuts.

Fully 72% of Americans agree that the government should provide universal health care, even if it means repealing most tax cuts passed since Bush took office. Democrats overwhelmingly favor this proposal (86%-11%) and independents largely agree (78%-19%). Even a narrow majority of Republicans (51%) favor providing health insurance for all even if it means canceling the tax cuts, while 44% disagree.

In addition, most Americans ­ especially those who support repealing tax cuts to provide universal health coverage ­ see this as a moral issue as well as a political issue. Just a third believes this is strictly a political issue, while a narrow majority (52%) views it also as a moral question. A big majority of those who support this proposal ­ 61% ­ think of it as a moral as well as a political issue, while most opponents tend to see this in strictly political terms (58%).

Finally, in a contradictory finding, nearly half of Americans (44%) now say that religion plays a major role in causing wars (up 10% since March 2002). I think in this finding you see the effect of the rising anti-Muslim sentiment; Americans may not see all religious belief as causing war, but they now link Arab violence to Islam. Anyway, that's the only way I can reconcile these findings.

This is actually all fairly interesting going into the next election. The way I'd break it down is this: religious faith tends to trump all, and Americans tend to trust the Republicans to lead with their faith more than the Democrats. However, their own views about policy are becoming increasingly divergent from the Republican party. The split seems to be taking place mainly between evangelical Christians and "mainline Protestants" (the Pew's term, not mine): whereas evangelicals are hanging tight with the hard core views, among mainliners, the views are softening considerably.

For Democrats, the message is that they need to seize this sizeable opportunity to reach out to religious Americans and link their own popular, compassionate policies to Christian beliefs. It's not surprising: although the hardcore views are steeped in "moral clarity," when they come from the leadership, they tend to be divisive and aggressive--qualities Christians don't associate with their own interpretation of the words of Christ. A positive, generous, pro-future, encompassing message will appeal to a number of Christians who don't like the policies of the Republican party, and are just waiting for a reason to jump ship.

posted by Jeff | 10:16 AM |
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