Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Politics of Religion

I'm sure we all heard the old maxim about not discussing sex, religion, and politics. I previously looked at politics and its relationship on such issues as race and gays in the military in this series. Now, we're going to wade into the issue of politics and religion, so it's obvious that I don't listen to old maxims.

As previously discussed, the Republican Party has historically been mostly WASP types---White Angle-Saxon Protestants, although early on, many blacks belonged to the GOP thanks to its most illustrious representative, Abraham Lincoln (that changed during Depression Era and the creation of FDR's "Grand Coalition"). Other large minorities, such as Germans, Irish, Jews, and Catholics, tended to belong to the Democratic Party; a trend which seems to continue on to today and includes Asians, Native Americans, and Hispanics).
Religion has always been important to Americans. Although it's a popular myth that America was founded as "Christian" nation, the fact is that America was founded as, and remains, a religious nation. Perhaps it's due to our Puritan heritage, or the large number of Huguenot descendents who came to our shores. One can't overlook the Quakers or German Protestants either (Jews, by and large, didn't come until much later). The fact is, however, that our Founding Fathers wanted to create a nation without a state sanctioned religion. In their day, one has to belong to the Anglican Church of England to own property or participate in government (it was even a requirement for certain professions. Even if you belonged to a different religion, you were still required to pay a "Church tax"). This wasn't unique to England. France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, and Russia had similar restrictions.

Many of the Founding Fathers left the Anglican Church (or Episcopalian Church as it was called in America) and became Unitarians (which included Deists) or Congregationalists, which would morph and subdivide into dozens of other faiths during the "Great Awakening" and subsequent religious revival periods, in additional to the introduction of other faiths brought by new immigrants. Catholicism remained strong among the early Spanish, Portuguese, and French settlers. But, what about today? How does religion break down along party lines, and how is that factor in deciding elections?

According to a 2009 Gallup Poll, 49% of Republicans considered themselves to be "highly religious". 37% of Democrats thought of themselves as "highly religious" while only 10% of Independents did so. In a slight reversal, among those who simply regarded themselves as "religious", the highest number, at 44%, went to Democrats. Close behind with 42% were Republicans and Independents rounded out the "religious" category with 12%. Among those who responded that they were slightly religious, 37% were Republicans, while 48% were Democrats and 12% were Independents. The last group, the "not religious", showed that the overwhelming, 56%, were Democrats. 26% were Republicans and 16% were Independents. The results clearly show a strong divide. Democrats and Indies are least likely to be strongly religious while Republicans, as a whole, were the most likely to be religious ("religious" being defined as regularly attending services and active participation in religious holidays, etc).

When this was broken down along racial lines, the results become even more significant. Blacks are more likely than not, to be aligned with Democrats and have traditionally made up the core of the Democratic Party. While Democrats, as pointed out, are least likely to be religious, 80% of Blacks consider themselves to be "highly religious with 82% saying they are "religious". 78% identified themselves as moderately religious, and 79% said they weren't religious (the number among black Republicans across the board is steady at around 11%). As addressed in my last article, blacks, who are the third largest population, behind whites, and Hispanics, have shown a decline in population growth, meaning that their influence within the Democratic Party is also declining while their responses regarding religion would appear to show a closer tie to the Republican Party on social issues.

The population with the largest growth by far are Hispanics. Here again, we see a reversal of what one would expect. While Hispanics are strongly either Democrat or Independent, 46% identify as "very religious" while 48% are "religious". 54% say they are not religious and 51% indicate that are slightly religious. Of the ones who indentify as Republicans, 24% say they are "very religious", while 26% are religious compared to 21% who are not religious. Among Independent Hispanics, the number is fairly consistent at 22% across the board. Again, there is a significant religious oriented Hispanic population which appears untapped by the GOP for some reason.

The largest minority population is of course whites. Perhaps not unexpectedly, 62% who indentify as Republican also indicate they are "very religious" compared to 28% who are white and Democrat (only 9% of Indies fall in this category). White and Democrat polled at 36% "religious" compared to white and Republican at 53% (again, only 9% are Indies). The numbers break close to even among slightly religious white, either Republican or Democrat with 43% and 44% respectively. Non religious white Democrats reach their peak at 56% compared to 28% of the Republicans. Interestingly, this is also the high water mark for Indies with 15%.
What this appears to show us is that there is a significant population within minorities who, based on their religiosity, fall closer to current Republican ideals than they do to Democrat. This, presumably would include most social issues. The fact seems to be is that there is a large, generally conservative population among blacks and Hispanics, though the predominately white Republican Party has failed to take advantage of, which could be key to the survival of the GOP and conservative movement given the continuing decline of whites as a core population. As a result, I thought it would be interesting to take a brief look at denominations with regards to party affiliations as well.

Among Republicans, 55% indentify as Mormons. Conservative "Mainstream" Protestants were the second largest with 38%. Pentecostal, Christian, and Baptists were 38% and 37% (tie) respectively. Those belong to other Protestant churches were 31% likely to be Republican. Catholics were 28% likely as well. Among Muslims, 19% identify as Republicans as did 13% of Jews.
Among Democrats, Jews made the overwhelming population with 54%. Non-traditional religions made up 40% followed by Baptist with 39% and Catholics at 36%. Muslims were 35% likely to be Democrat, which ties with others of Eastern religions (such as Hindu or Buddhists). Those with no religious affiliation were 30% likely to be Democrat. Mainstream Christians made up 29%, along 24% Christian and 23% some other Protestant denomination. The least likely group to be Democrat were Mormons, at 14%.
As for Independents, who are the largest political group in America, 43% have no religious affiliation. 79% belong to a Eastern or other religion. 39% of Muslims are likely to Indies. 30% indentify as Christian and 29% say they are Catholic. Mainstream Christians are 28% with 27% for Jewish and various other Protestants denominations. Among Mormons, 26% say they're Indies compared to 24% of Pentecostals and 22% of Baptists.

So, what does this mean? I think, perhaps not unexpectedly, the more conservative religious denominations tend to be Republicans with Mormons leading the way (Mormons have always tended to be fiscally conservative, so I'm not surprised here), whereas Jews have tended to be the most socially liberal, and, therefore, the largest group among Democrats (given the history of the Jews, this too is no surprise). The trouble for the Republicans is that their demographics are declining. Whites, who are the core group of the GOP and the ones most apt to be "very religious" or "religious" are shrinking in terms of overall population, and the with the increase of religious diversity in America, are declining in terms of likeminded conservatives vis-a-vis the total population.
On the other hand, blacks, who are the core group for the Democrats, are looking at a similar problem. Blacks, as a percentage of the population, are declining. While a significant number are "very religious" or "religious", the Democrats appears to be drifting away from traditional Western religions. Part of this is due to the increase in religious diversity mentioned above. As a result, some, more socially conservative blacks, are likely to feel increasingly isolated from their traditional political home. With the GOP not reaching out, and the increase in the Hispanics population, blacks could find themselves politically isolated.

Hispanics appear to hold all the cards at the moment. They are the second largest minority, which means most federal dollars previously directed toward blacks, will now be redirected their way to reflect their new status. This will increase their economic, and thus political clout. Given their religiosity, 46% and 48% respectively considered themselves religious or very religious, a good sign for the GOP. With Hispanics traditionally being Catholics and the Catholic Church's often archaic stance on social issues, this should further make them ideal candidates for the socially conservative GOP. However, Catholics comprised only a midpoint within the GOP with 28%, but a high midpoint within the Democratic party at 36%. Therefore, we may see either more Hispanics look to the GOP, especially on social issues, or to become more liberal on social issues and remain with the Democratic Party. Again, it will depend on who is more successful in reaching out.

Lastly are the Independents. In keeping with their political nature, it's not surprising that the majority espouse no religious affiliation (43%). However, we know too that Hispanics make up a sizeable portion of their ranks, and that Indies are the already the largest political population and that number is increasing. Also of note is that 29% of Catholics are Independent, which may reflect in part the Indies' Hispanic base. In our increasingly diverse landscape, it's worth noting again that non-Western religions comprise the top 1/3 of Indies.

Taken in totality, America's political future appears to be in the hands of the Hispanics and Independents with white and blacks populations declining along with both the GOP and Democratic numbers. What is reflective here, and in the previous two articles, is that the most Americans are in the middle as shown by the large numbers declaring either slightly religious or not religious while both major parties are dominated by populations on the religious extremes. America appears ripe for either a return by either party to a committed centrist stance or to a new centrist political party which, of course, does not preclude the rise Independent challengers to high office.

Belief vs. Behavior: Religion and Political Party Preference

Religious Intensity Remains Powerful Predictor of Politics

Two Corpmen I Once Knew

The Politics of Race

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