Red state, blue state — pshaw

newredblueAfter reading stories about the New Hampshire election results last night, I remembered that 12 years ago Mark Penn and Dick Morris, two all-powerful pollsters for President Clinton, had discovered a remarkably effective polling technique.

Voters were asked five questions about their moral and religious values, including how often they attended church. Those who gave a liberal answer on three of the five questions voted for Clinton, while those who gave a conservative answer on three of the five went for Bob Dole. (Click here for an old tmatt column on that issue and, well, secularism.)

Except for race and party affiliation, the technique proved to be a more reliable guide to voter behavior than any other, more reliable than gender, social class, or age. It certainly was prescient in forecasting the red-state, blue-state divide that characterized the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

Unlike last week, when the Edison-Mitofsky poll inexplicably failed to ask voters about religion, its pollsters did so yesterday. So did reporters write about voters’ religiosity? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but no, not really.

The Boston Globe focused on female, young, and independent voters. The Chicago Tribune wrote mostly about female voters. The Washington Post offered nothing. The New York Times did write about the evangelical vote, but the block quote below was about the extent of it:

As for Mr. Huckabee, his advisers say he has not written off Michigan and believe that his evangelical credentials will appeal to the large swath of Dutch Reformed evangelical churchgoers in western Michigan, while his populist rhetoric about his empathy with working people will strike a chord with the state’s blue-collar voters.

Hey, I know the main story last night was the two “comeback” victories of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. I will also concede that in the primaries, the voters of women, young people, and independents are telling indicators of a candidate’s strength. But do reporters really think that voters’ religious affiliation and frequency of church attendance aren’t worth writing about?

If reporters choose to analyze the voting returns in terms of religion, they will find plenty of material. Barack Obama won the secular vote handily. He beat Hillary Clinton 45 to 29 among those who have no religion. Almost two-fifths of Democratic voters (37 percent) say they never attend religious services. Mike Huckabee won only 7 percent of the Catholic vote and only 4 percent of those Republicans who have no religion. More than a fifth of Republican voters (22 percent said they never attend religious services.

All those sound like interesting and relevant stories to me. So why haven’t reporters written about them? GR readers, we need to hear from you.

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  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    One trouble with using attendance at religious services as some sort of benchmark. For example, my mother was Protestant and so were all the members of her large family. They were also strong Protestants in belief, attitudes, and behaviour. But for many Protestants like them who built up this country, starting in Revolutionary War times, attending religious services may have been promoted, urged, pushed, but was not necessarily the mark of someone who was of strong religious values and faith. Daily Bible Reading was the real benchmark.
    On the other hand, for Catholics to miss Sunday Mass for no good health, etc. reason has always been considered a serious matter, even a sin.
    As for Catholics not voting for Huckabee–his stands on moral issues on BOTH economic and family values issues is probably the closest of any candidate to the whole package of Catholic teachings on BOTH. Frequently I have seen comments that Catholics won’t vote for a former Protestant clergyman.
    Yet when I read or hear the comments of local Catholics, like myself, here in the Boston area it seems local Catholics have been brainwashed by the Boston Globe–Kennedy–liberal Democrat triumverate that Catholics have no business voting for people whose values and morals are the same as theirs (unless pristinely liberal, of course). It is amazing how many Catholics think it is virtually un-American to vote for a pro-life, pro traditional family candidate (because the Catholic Church is so pro-life, pro-family) they agree with–and that is their problem with Huckabee– BUT it is almost a sin to vote against a liberal candidate who agrees with the Church on economic or defense issues.
    I hear very little from Catholics about having a problem with Huckabee for his previous occupation, but a lot of negative stuff from secularists and atheists about it.

  • Palladio

    Deacon John is correct, I believe, in every regard.

    Having lived in MA for twenty years, I can say how un-Catholic, I am afraid to say, Catholics there have become, unfaithful to Church teaching and poor worshippers–I am tempted to name the parish, in Cambridge, but I won’t. That sort of Catholicism is hard to tell apart from liberal Protestantism, and so from the Globe and the Dems (who run opposed throughout the Commonwealth).

    Anybody who upholds traditional Biblical morality is bound to please genuine Catholics–I’d like to think I’m one–since the Catholic Church published the Bible in the first place.

  • Harris

    As to religious breakdown, Katie Barge at Faith in Public Life rightfully notes that the polls only asked Republicans if they were evangelical. So certainly a less the full picture of the religious make-up of the D vote.

    As to Michigan and the Reformed. West Michigan is largely McCain territory (McCain was in town today). It’s a vote that might be sympathetic, but Huckabee still has to show up. Paradoxically, were Huckabee to come in and emphasize more of his populist themes, he would probably scoop up some of the religious (evangelical) Ds who are rather left out in the cold with the one-sided Dem Primary.

  • tmatt

    BTW, here are the five questions mentioned in the Atlantic article, used by the Clinton pollsters:

    Is homosexuality morally wrong?

    Do you every look at pornography?

    Would you look down on a married person who had an affair?

    Is sex before marriage morally wrong?

    Is religion very important in your life?

  • Tom Stanton

    “Is homosexuality morally wrong….”

    Ahhh – the Clinton Quintet!

    Looks like direct and poignant questions are better predictors of behavior than subtle questions which often cause people to wander aimlessly in their answers.

    Who would have guessed?

  • Brian Walden

    That makes me wonder, could the tmatt trio could be used in polling to determine who will win the presidential election?