The Twelve Tribes of American Politics

After the 2004 election Beliefnet used data compiled from the Fourth National Survey on Religion and Politics to introduce a typology of religious groupings that influence American politics. You can see the twelve groupings and their percentage among the total voting population in the pie-chart below:

Twelve Tribes Pie Chart

You can read a more complete description of each group and how they voted in the 2004 election here, and an analysis of the voting trends here.

The most surprising finding, given common stereotypes of religious people and their politics, was that the Religious Left is almost exactly the same size as the Religious Right, both at about 12.6% of the total voting-age population. It’s good to know that the Religious Right is not as massive it is commonly made out to be. (Even if you combine them with the Heartland Culture Warriors, they still comprise only 24% of the voting-age population.)

According to the description, the Religious Left are:

Liberal on most everything. On marriage, 42% favor same-sex unions and 29% civil unions; 77% are pro-choice on abortion. A majority opposes the war in Iraq. But only a few report that their faith is important to their political thinking, and overall, they oppose the political involvement of religious organizations.

This data also contradicts another assumption that I commonly find asserted here at this blog: that progressive Christians have not been active enough in opposing Bush and the Religious Right. In actuality, according to the numbers, over half of Kerry’s support in 2004 came from these Christians. As the analysis put it:

The rise of the Religious Left was a major factor in the 2004 election… The political awakening of the Religious Left carries several implications for the Democratic Party. For one thing, Democratic leaders cannot view the party as primarily secular. Add up the numbers of the Religious Left, Democratic-voting Latino Christians, Black Protestants, and the modest support from conservative Christians and you have 52% of Kerry’s vote. Secular voters did vote in record numbers for Kerry but only accounted for 16% percent of his vote.

The report did list “Seculars” as a group, comprised of the non-religious, atheists and agnostics, and accounting for 10.6% of the voting-age population. According to the description:

74% of Seculars voted for Kerry, accounting for 16% of his total vote, while 26% voted for Bush, making up 5% of his total vote.

They are:

The group that is most uncomfortable when candidates talk about their personal faith (54%). Very liberal on social issues: 83% are pro-choice and 59% favor same-sex marriage. Liberal on foreign policy, moderate on economics, and quite young (47% under age 35).

In all, I find it very fascinating, and a very helpful breakdown of the various types of religious (and non-religious) voters. It’s always good to bust some stereotypes, IMO, and especially to get past this misconception that to be a Christian means one automatically supports the agenda of the Religious Right. According to this data, it’s pretty much just as likely that one doesn’t.

  • http://www.xanga.com/drew85 Drew

    Hey, you should add a Reddit bar next to the Digg one. Reddit’s a little more politically and religiously inclined, anyway. Actually I’m just making this request because I use reddit and not Digg.

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  • Zafner

    Maybe part of the problem is that everybody seems to have a burning desire to categorize other people and to limit themselves by deciding what little categories they fit into.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Very interesting data. I noticed, though, that the little poll on the beliefnet website only included choices for 10 out of the 12 “tribes”. For example, there was no item for secularists to vote for. That casts some doubt in my mind on the ability of beliefnet to compile and present information… At any rate, there cannot be any correlation between their own poll and the results they present from the Fourth National Survey on Religion and Politics.

  • I like tea

    It doesn’t surprise me that the Religious Right and Left are the same size. The Religious Right is just a lot louder (whining about things like where “In God We Trust” should go on the quarter, for a recent example).

    Not that I don’t take this data with a grain of salt.

  • http://looneyfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Looney

    Well, in my experience the Religious Left is far more politically active than the Religious Right. This reflects core theological differences: The Religious Right views life as something temporary and the main interest is in heaven. They also view that God chooses the leaders, in spite of what appears to happen at the ballot box. For the Religious Left, the here and now is all there is, so that is where the emphasis is.

    That is why it is much more common to see a left wing politician standing at the podium of a Religious Left church.

  • Adrian

    I wonder how the pollsters assigned people to the different groups. I have a hard time imagining people self-identifying as “White Bread Protestant” :)

    It’s worth noting that while the “Religious Right” segment of the pie may appear small, many of the sub-groups such as the “Heartland Culture Warriors” would also be described as being a part of the “Religious Right” by most people, based on beliefnet’s description. The major differences seem to be that the HCW’s are “slightly less orthodox”, which is hardly a consolation.

    I dunno, the numbers seem hinky and beliefnet doesn’t give any explanation of how they extracted their figures. I wouldn’t trust them too far without more details.

  • Claire

    Looney said:

    Well, in my experience the Religious Left is far more politically active than the Religious Right.

    Then I submit that your personal experience has been narrow and non-representative, as everything you said is the opposite of true. Thanks for the good example of why anecdotal evidence is unreliable.

  • Aj

    Adrian,

    It’s worth noting that while the “Religious Right” segment of the pie may appear small, many of the sub-groups such as the “Heartland Culture Warriors” would also be described as being a part of the “Religious Right”

    Yes, a glance at the pie chart makes me think something is way off about this. Seems like a Stephen Colbert style graph. That’s not to say Beliefnet is trying to do this, they seem to have compiled this data to show something different. Lets get a break down of religiosity by conforming to Religious Right principles and see if there’s a correlation. Looking at the Fourth National Survey on Religion and Politics, it would seem as though some of the claims being made here aren’t being supported by the evidence cited.

  • Miko

    It’s always good to bust some stereotypes, IMO, and especially to get past this misconception that to be a Christian means one automatically supports the agenda of the Religious Right. According to this data, it’s pretty much just as likely that one doesn’t.

    Of course, we knew this even before we saw the data, since the U.S. is 75%ish Christian and still manages to elect what we refer to as “left” politicians (and the rest of the world would refer to as “center-right”) fairly often. However, notice that support for liberal issues is weak among the “Religious Left.” Perhaps that’s why this country only has a right-wing party and a center-right party?

    For the Religious Left, the here and now is all there is, so that is where the emphasis is.

    Heh. You just can’t make this stuff up…

  • Miko

    It’s worth noting that while the “Religious Right” segment of the pie may appear small, many of the sub-groups such as the “Heartland Culture Warriors” would also be described as being a part of the “Religious Right” by most people

    Probably the case for the religious left as well. e.g., Black Protestants typically vote Democratic almost as a group.

    In any event, the labels are clearly designed to convey certain impressions. Note that “religious” is split among “right” and “left” while “secular” isn’t. Also, “secular” seems to be implying “nonreligious,” which is not what the word means. Also, I’m guessing that the word “Christian” probably should be used instead of “religious” in a few of these groups in order to describe what they really are.

  • ash

    This data also contradicts another assumption that I commonly find asserted here at this blog: that progressive Christians have not been active enough in opposing Bush and the Religious Right. In actuality, according to the numbers, over half of Kerry’s support in 2004 came from these Christians.

    does voting for the other guy actually mean that you are actively opposing the religious right then? by this logic, as a meat-eater, does this mean i’m actively opposing vegetarians? :roll:

  • Karen

    I think we tend to identify the Religious Right as more politically active because they are the ones who’ve been in power for the past 7 years, and they’ve had unprecedented access to the White House.

    And, like Bush has done, they have aggressively pushed their agenda even though it doesn’t particularly appeal to anyone outside their “base” (I’m thinking anti-gay, anti-abortion, Terri Schiavo, etc) rather than try to reach any kind of consensus with liberals and moderates.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    does voting for the other guy actually mean that you are actively opposing the religious right then? by this logic, as a meat-eater, does this mean i’m actively opposing vegetarians?

    I’m not sure that analogy works. Those seem like two rather different categories.

  • Darryl

    The religious right has dug its own grave (and perhaps the Republican Party with it). The force of real and pressing problems in the country will bury them and their “family values.” Once we emerge from our national nightmare, the religious right will realize that their children care little about stopping gay marriage and adding a right-to-life amendment to our Constitution. I still can’t understand how Christians here had no institutional memory of the disaster that follows mixing politics and religion. Ah, America: the Land of the Forgetters. Viet Nam didn’t teach us. Salem witch trials didn’t teach us. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when, in 2008, I hear Americans interviewed about who they are supporting for president, and despite the fact that Dad has lost his job, medical bills have burned through their savings, and the family is packing up to vacate their home, they’re supporting Mike Huckabee, or Mitt Romney, because of their Christian values.

    It bears repeating: Americans get the government they deserve. From the look of the field, I guess we don’t deserve much.

  • Claire

    many of the sub-groups such as the “Heartland Culture Warriors” would also be described as being a part of the “Religious Right” by most people, based on beliefnet’s description.

    I might add the “moderate evangelicals” to that list, also based on the beliefnet description. They are about half conservative republicans and 64% voted for Bush. That seems to be pretty much on the conservative edge of moderate to me.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Well, in my experience the Religious Left is far more politically active than the Religious Right. This reflects core theological differences: The Religious Right views life as something temporary and the main interest is in heaven. They also view that God chooses the leaders, in spite of what appears to happen at the ballot box.

    It might be more accurate to replace “Religious Right” with “Moderate Evangelicals” in this statement. You’re right that among many conservative Christians there is a certain ambivalence about political involvement. (Not among the extreme Right, that 12.6% perhaps, but among the average evangelical rank and file.) In my experience they’ll generally go along with the views of the RR, but at the same time, their theology leads them to view things like evangelism and church growth as ultimately more important than politics.

    That is why it is much more common to see a left wing politician standing at the podium of a Religious Left church.

    That has been true in my experience. I was in conservative churches for the first 26 years of my life, and I can’t remember a single instance where we had a politician speak in our church. Even for the Religious Right congregations I was in, that would have been taboo. In fact, it always struck me as very strange whenever I would hear about some Democratic candidate speaking at a black church nearby.

    I think the difference is that the Religious Right makes far more use of para-church ministries like Christian radio and television and publishing, than they do actual pulpits, to get their political message out. The pulpit is reserved for preaching the gospel (which, according to them, has nothing to do with politics), but turn on Christian radio and they never stop talking about abortion and homosexuality and supporting the war.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    The religious right has dug its own grave (and perhaps the Republican Party with it). The force of real and pressing problems in the country will bury them and their “family values.” Once we emerge from our national nightmare, the religious right will realize that their children care little about stopping gay marriage and adding a right-to-life amendment to our Constitution.

    I completely agree. I see this more and more among younger evangelicals (I’m 29 myself, so this is my cohort). Most of us care more about the genocide in Darfur, stopping the war in Iraq, and caring for the poor and the environment then we do about abortion or homosexuality – those are our parents issues and they just seem less important to us.

  • ash

    Mike C. –

    I’m not sure that analogy works. Those seem like two rather different categories.

    fairy nuff, i’ll readily admit i’m shit at analogies (but i have no intention of quitting their use!)…the point being that you implied that supporting a different candidate was the same as actively opposing the RR + Bush; i disagree with such an implication. my analogy was attempting to convey that one can belong to a group (food consumer/christian) and make wildly different decisions from another member of that group (omnivore/vegetarian, Bush/Kerry voter) without necessarily having to take a negative stance on the alternate decision.

  • Aj

    From the article, the Religious Right:

    Compared to other groups, more likely to care about cultural issues (40% compared to 20% nationally); 84% are pro-life and 89% oppose marriage or civil unions for gays; very strong supporters of Israel (64% say the U.S. should back Israel over the Palestinians). Four-fifths claim that religion is important to their political thinking. This group strongly supports the political involvement of religious organizations.

    Have a look at how the rest align themselves to the issues of the Religious Right, then come back and tell us how the Religious Right is almost the same size as the Religious Left. There doesn’t seem much difference between “Culture Warriors” and the Religious Right, Moderate Evangelicals support the same principles although put less importance on them, and there’s lots of agreement on these issues from the rest, whether Left or Right, with the Religious “Right”.

    The Religious Left only seem to be able to get about half of other religious moderates, and they’re only real equivalents are the Secularists and Jews (which are probably of the Left, with both secular and religious views). Jews have very high support for Israel like the Religious Right.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    the point being that you implied that supporting a different candidate was the same as actively opposing the RR + Bush; i disagree with such an implication. my analogy was attempting to convey that one can belong to a group (food consumer/christian) and make wildly different decisions from another member of that group (omnivore/vegetarian, Bush/Kerry voter) without necessarily having to take a negative stance on the alternate decision.

    Well, I find it unlikely that someone would have voted for Kerry if they were generally in agreement with the agenda of the Religious Right.

  • Miko

    The force of real and pressing problems in the country will bury them and their “family values.”

    For about eight years, while we have a Bill-Clinton-type fixing up all of the problems. Then they’ll start thinking about which candidate they’d like to have a beer with again and the cycle will repeat.

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  • ash

    Well, I find it unlikely that someone would have voted for Kerry if they were generally in agreement with the agenda of the Religious Right.

    i agree, however that doesn’t mean they were actively opposing that agenda either, which – back to the original point – is the criticism commonly seen asserted at this blog.

    This data also contradicts another assumption that I commonly find asserted here at this blog: that progressive Christians have not been active enough in opposing Bush and the Religious Right.

    home example – i tacitly opposed Blair/labour/their policies by not voting for him; i actively opposed him/his party/their policies on issues i disagreed with by joining marches and petitions. not saying some progressive/liberal christians aren’t active about their opposition, but that just voting elsewhere is not what i’d call active opposition to Bush + the RR.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    “Well, I find it unlikely that someone would have voted for Kerry if they were generally in agreement with the agenda of the Religious Right.”

    i agree, however that doesn’t mean they were actively opposing that agenda either, which – back to the original point – is the criticism commonly seen asserted at this blog.

    Well, personally I do view voting as an active thing – something that one can do to oppose policies that they disagree with. I don’t know how it is in Britain (you don’t actually get to vote directly for your PM, right?), but in America voting is still one important tool we have to take a stand against ideas and policies we oppose. (Though I’ll be the first to admit our electoral system is still in need of a drastic overhaul.)

  • ash

    Mike C., ok, agree to disagree on this one, yes?

    yes, in britain we vote for parties rather than figureheads technically, although it often feels like the other way round. i don’t know of any electoral system that’s perfect, but hey, it’s the best we’ve currently got, so yeah you gotta work with it for now.

  • Darryl

    Ah, Miko, you are so wise.

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