Pew gaps about the pew gap

WDobsonIt’s time for another round of “Name That Newspaper.”

Our friends at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life have released another large chunk of their annual blast of data about the state of religion and public life. In newspapers this translates into religion and politics and, this close to an election, that translates into headlines about who is headed up, with God, and who is headed down.

In that spirit, GetReligion readers are asked to guess which of the following two headlines and leads come from The New York Times and which comes from The Washington Times.

Brace yourselves, because this will be really hard.

Few see Democrats as friendly to religion

Liberal or progressive Christians, who make up 34 percent of the population, are disunified on key issues, and only one out of four Americans considers the Democratic Party friendly to religion, a Pew poll shows.

And now, here is our second lead covering the same study:

In Poll, G.O.P. Slips as a Friend of Religion

A new poll shows that fewer Americans view the Republican Party as “friendly to religion” than a year ago, with the decline particularly steep among Catholics and white evangelical Protestants — constituencies at the core of the Republicans’ conservative Christian voting bloc.

And there you have it. If you could not figure out that story No. 1 comes from The Washington Times and that story No. 2 is from The New York Times then, honestly, I don’t know what we can do for you.

But please let me stress that I do not intend this exercise as a criticism of either Julia Duin or Laurie Goodstein, the veteran Godbeat reporters who wrote these news stories. After a quick glance at some of the survey materials, it seems to me that both of these stories are accurate and, frankly, both are pretty obvious to anyone who follows the news or this weblog.

Yes, there are quite a few conservative religious believers in quite a few conservative pews who are not very happy with the Republican Party at the moment.

Meanwhile, the “religious left” has been getting lots and lots of ink in recent months — as well it should. There is quite a bit of evidence that the Democratic Party is, in large part, led by a coalition of people who are either secular or very active in liberal denominations that are defined, in large part, by their opposition to the traditional religious views of believers on the traditional side of the aisle.

kerry communionHowever, the “religious left” itself is rather small when it comes to real people sitting in real pews. It tends to hail from religious groups that are aging and shrinking. Click here for a controversial essay in the Los Angeles Times on that topic.

So, it is one thing to say that the GOP has reason to fear that people in pews may not be all that fired up. It is something else to say this means these core voters will switch to the other side of the social-issues aisle. And, as always, this means that voters in Catholic pews are the great swing factor — as they have been for ages and ages. Amen.

This leads me back to another Pew study that was released a few weeks ago that focused on how Americans feel about social issues. The big lead on this story was that Americans are confused and/or diverse on social issues and, thus, it is wrong to talk about “culture wars.” However, the numbers had not changed that much. Click here to go to that study and, if you wish, click here for the Scripps Howard News Service column that I wrote about it.

Once again, it isn’t all that shocking to find out what core Republican voters believe about issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. What I found interesting in that previous Pew report was the information about my fellow Democrats, especially those of us who are opposed to abortion. Here is part of my column, drawing on an interview with veteran pollster John C. Green. These are some wild numbers.

As expected, Republicans were more conservative than Democrats. Nevertheless, 10 percent of “liberal” Democrats chose the most anti-abortion option and 13 percent said abortion should be illegal, except in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother’s life. Then, 14 percent said abortion rights should be restricted with new laws, which Green said might include a “partial-birth” abortion ban, parental-notification laws, mandatory waiting periods and even a ban on late-term abortions.

“Many of those liberals are black Democrats who are frequent church goers,” said Green. “But those Democrats are still out there.”

Meanwhile, 12 percent of “moderate” and “conservative” Democrats backed a complete abortion ban, while another 39 percent said abortion should be “illegal, with few exceptions,” the choice that Green called a “modern pro-life stance.” Another 20 percent backed legalized abortion, with more restrictions. Once again, church attendance seemed to influence these views.

In all, 37 percent of liberals and 71 percent of centrist Democrats said they supported policies that would not be allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court under current interpretations of Roe v. Wade and other decisions defining abortion rights.

But this does not mean that all of those Democrats are going to vote Republican. The poll numbers are more complex than that.

So if you are really interested in these topics, it pays to read several different reports about the same research and, if you have the time, scan the poll numbers for yourself. These days, it will almost always be available with a few clicks of a mouse.

UPDATE: Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher has a lengthy post up at Beliefnet on this new Pew poll. Check it out.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Larry Rasczak

    GREAT piece!

    (Great L.A. Times piece too… very well written.)

    Slightly off topic question.

    Disclaimer up front. I’m not a fan of Kerry.

    I notice that Bush’s photo… well I noticed two things.

    A) He looks like the Exlax just kicked in. Not the most flattering of photos (this is important later).

    B)I’m not sure, but it was it taken in a church or at a prayer breakfast type function? I’m guessing the latter. I don’t see any kneelers, Bibles, missals, stained glass, etc. and it looks like there are bright TV lights. (this is important later).

    So I’m thinking this was a Presidental National Day of Prayer sort of photo op. President invites religious leaders to White House, (is that Dr. Dobson next to him?) Someone says prayer, President gives a short speech, etc. Looks like the press corps was down front, like they are at Senate hearings.

    Kerry… Kerry looks like his was taken at a real church service, during (since he claims to be Catholic) what my sister the Poor Clare Nun would call “the holy sacrifice of the Mass”. I think that’s a deacon or extrordinary eucharistic minister in the background. (No stole). He is pretty obviously taking communion here… though in one of those tiny cups the Protestants use … so it may not be a Catholic service after all (and is that Howard “I quit the Episcopal Church because of a bike path” Dean behind him??)

    The quality of the photo shows that was obviously staged though. It is VERY well lit for a church…and the worshipers next to Kerry are not praying but have moved back to give the photog a good shot, the photog is right up there at (or behind) the communion rail.

    I’m guessing this was done to show Kerry taking communion, as a way to reassure Catholic voters. I remember that there was a dust up about if she should be allowed communion due to his support for abortion and other things the Catholic Church says good Catholics can’t support.

    Now, at last, to my question.

    Is anyone else here offended by the idea of someone (either party) using the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the sacrament of Holy Communion as a campaign photo op???

  • tmatt


    Next question: What was Catholic Kerry doing taking communion in a Protestant church in the first place? It’s a Baptist church or something like that. Tiny cup land.

  • tmatt

    Oh, and, yes, it’s Dobson just to the left (so to speak) of W in the photo (or to the right, as far as they are concerned).

  • Larry Rasczak

    What was Catholic Kerry doing taking communion in a Protestant church in the first place?”

    Well campaigning of course! (Notice that how his fellow communicants are balanced for a mix of races and genders.) Candidates have long had a tradition of making sure they get go to the local weird ethnic festival and get photographed eating the local weird ethnic delicacy… I guess that Holy Communion now falls into that category.

    The Democratic Party was a “grand coalition” for many generations, and they seem to think that religious people are just another interest group to be “bought off” with a few photo ops and some federal funded pork. They seem to think that you can “cut a deal” on issues of faith and morality, as if they were negotiating a union contract, or handing out pork projects Something like “How about if we agree that abortion IS murder, but only on Federal Holidays, weekends, and during daylight savings time; we’ll let gays get married but we won’t call it “marriage”, AND we agree to fund a museum to Catholic immigrants… sort of like Steamtown only with Saints instead of trains?”

    Such a cynical attitude towards issues of faith and morals really scares me.

    What scares me more is that more than a little of the GOP seems to have adopted the same attitude.

  • Martha

    Good point, Larry. I couldn’t figure out exactly what Kerry was doing, till I looked really, really closely and saw the little plastic cup, when I said to myself “Huh. He’s receiving under both species. Wow, American Catholics use little plastic cups? Let ‘em drink out of the chalice! (The way they do here when the infrequent communion under both species is offered to the laity).”

    And yes, it looks like the press photographer muscled his way right up to the altar rail, shoved a couple of communicants out of the way, and poked his lens right in the face.

    Really reverent way to go receiving, Mr Kerry. Turn it into a paparrazi scrum. As a Catholic voter, *I’d* find that really convincing as to how much your faith means to you.

    “Is anyone else here offended by the idea of someone (either party) using the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the sacrament of Holy Communion as a campaign photo op???”

    Oooh – me! me! me! (As though you couldn’t have guessed). In green little Ireland, we do have the traditional canvassing outside the church gates after Sunday Masses during election times, and politicians of every stripe from county councillor on up make a point of attending every funeral in the constituency so as not to offend the families and lose prospective votes, but they’ve (not yet) gone to the extent of having themselves photographed receiving Holy Communion to prove their credentials.

  • Tope


    I very much doubt he was in a Baptist or evangelical church. They don’t do altar rails. Or, y’know, altars. Maybe it was an Episcopal church?

  • Michael

    It’s like watching conspiracy theorists discuss the Kennedy shooting in Dallas or the World Trade Center falling. :)

  • tmatt

    I’ve seen rails in Baptist churches. But that is a good point, Michael.

    Probably United Methodist or PCUSA.

  • Larry Rasczak

    Well I think Martha hit the point when she said
    “Really reverent way to go receiving, Mr Kerry. Turn it into a paparrazi scrum.”

    No matter the denomination, the focus of ANY Christian Communion service is supposed to be Jesus Christ, and I don’t think anyone who would try to reduce the Creator and Savior of the Universe to a mere prop for a photo-op “gets” what Religion (or the Creator and Savior of the Universe) is all about.
    Taking Holy Communion is NOT the same thing as eating Brautwurst at Oktoberfest to get German-American votes, or having fajitas on Cinco De Mayo to court Mexican-American voters, or wearing green and drinking Harp on St. Paddy’s day. It is NOT something you do to show “Hey, I’m not above doing this, I’m one of the guys, just like you. See? ”

    That the Kerry campaing would reduce Holy Communion to a campaign prop (and that apparently none of their high priced, inside the beltway consultants thought that anyone would object to their doing so) speaks volumes about why the Left fails to “get” Religion, why the Left fails to understand the concerns of religious voters, and why you see the numbers in Pew surveys that you do.

  • Michael

    Ummmm. Even if this was a campaign picture–which we don’t know–and not a news picture, it wasn’t Kerry who politicized the Eucharist. You seem to be forgetting high-placed Catholics leaders who politicized the Eucharist by threatening to whithhold Communion or scolded Bishops who provided Communion to Kerry.

    It was politically-motivated Bishops and priests and punidts–not Kerry–who forced someone to ulitmately shoot that picture. It was the Catholic church and the GOP who turned the Holy Communion into a campaign prop.

  • Larry Rasczak

    Michael …

    First I’m not “forgetting high-placed Catholics” spoke out against Kerry taking communion. I don’t happen agree with your interpretation of that, but there is room on that issue for reasonable people to disagree. I respect your point of view on the issue, even though I don’t agree with it.

    It is however not relevant to this discussion. Nobody “forced someone to ulitmately shoot that picture”. No guns were involved, no hostages were taken. The Kerry campaing claims to be all growed up and adult. They should take responsibility for their actions.

    Secondly, when you say you don’t know if this was a campaign picture or a news picture you are trying to introduce a distinction without a difference, and you are smarter than that. I am suprised.

    Candidates are stage-managed and the press is handled to the point that there is little, if any, difference between a “news picture” and a “campaign picture”. The Kerry Campaign in particular was very picky about this. (Remember the flap about the pic of him in a “bunny suit” at NASA?) Who signs the paychecks of the photog that took the shot is irrelevant; the point is the shot was obviously conceived, lit, and staged by and for the Kerry campaign. They wanted a shot of Kerry receiving Holy Communion for their campaign. THEY decided that GOD would make a great prop.

    More importantly, there is something you need to get.

    God, in His role of Creator and Savior is all-powerful. Einstein discovered special relativity, but it was God who though it up in the first place. It was God who laid out the plans of HIS Universe long before the big bang. It was God who thought up gravity and calculus and the laws of motion… Newton just figured them out. It was God who thought up DNA, electricity, sub-atomic particles, fission, black holes, fusion, anti-matter, electron shells, buckyballs, and the semi-permeable membranes that make your lungs work. Science is nothing more than some smart humans figuring out how (some) of Gods creations work.

    God eternal. God was around before the Sun started to shine. In fact, since the Sun is a population II star; it and our solar system are made up of atoms formed in earlier suns that were formed, burned out, and died… so God was around before the Sun BEFORE our Sun.

    God was here before the Earth, God will still be here long after the Sun goes all red giant like and turns the Earth into a charred pile of overheated rock.

    God was here when all the life on Earth consisted of a few wandering strands of protein. God was here in the Cambrian, the Pre-Cambrian, the Devonian and the Jurassic. God was here when people were nothing more than a bunch of particularly bright apes picking lice out of each other’s fur.

    God was here before there was a United Sates and God will be here long after the United States has gone the way of the Persian Empire, the Romans, the Czars, the Byzantines, the Republic of Venice, and the Delian League.

    In short, God is bigger and more important. God is bigger and more important than you, than me, than Kerry, Bush, the USA, the Human Race, the Earth, or the Universe it self. In short

    You don’t USE the Supreme Being

    Not you, not me, not Kerry, Not Bush, not ANY HUMAN. Not for ANY reason.

    You don’t USE the Supreme Being

    If you honestly don’t get that, I think you have just proved my point for me.

  • Michael

    Actually, it was likely a new story picture connected to this story where Kerry attended a nondenominational service after being subjected to politically-motivated calls to deny him Communion. Those, Larry, are the people who used the Supreme Being to make political points. Feel free to send your important post about politicizing God and Communion to the RNC and the National Review.

    BTW, anyone who has sat in a Congressional hearing which is well lit and staged so the visual press can get pictures knows that your suspicions about the lighting are just as likely in a news event.

  • Michael

    Actually, I’m wrong (about the location of the photo), The pic, taken by the AP (not the campaign), was at an AME church in Boston.

  • Stephen A.

    I’m glad to hear from Michael that only the Right is politicizing God and religion. I’ll remember that when Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton or some other person on the Left speaks from the pulpit of a church – such as an AME, methodist or UU church – to denounce President Bush.

    Sure, the Republicans speak from churches’ pulpit’s too, but the Left gets extremely agitated that the Republicans do it, and forget they use religion as a prop, too.

    (Nice biased lead in that MSNBC article you linked too, Michael. A hit piece on Bush and the GOP “using” God.)

  • Michael

    Actually, Stephen, we were discussing politicizing the Eucharist which is a whole level above politicizing religion. I agree that both parties politicize the pulpit and I remind my liberal friends that cracking down on pulpit visits would hurt Democrats, who can’t campaign unless they show up at the largest Black church in the city. While Democrats don’t usually show up at “white” churches, attending Black church services is de rigeur of campaigning.